The political landscape in Telangana has significantly changed during the last decade and this can be clearly felt as one drives through rural Telangana. The people who spearheaded and supported the movement for statehood have a lot to cheer and can look back in satisfaction at the progress being achieved by the youngest State of India. In fact, in more ways than one, there is a stamp of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and its leader K Chandrashekhar Rao.
But the BJP is now attempting to make a mark in the State in a hurry through a cocktail of ‘good performance’ of the Modi government and the alleged poor performance of KCR. This strategy was at work during the recent visit of its president Amit Shah to Nalgonda district, where he sparked off a controversy by accusing the State government of not spending enough on pensions and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Little did Shah know that he is running into tough terrain. Chief Minister KCR has come up through a people-centric movement riding on Telangana ‘atmagauravam’ and is well versed in the rough and tumble of politics. Regional politics is all about regional pride and, therefore, Shah has committed a mistake by attacking KCR.
Incidentally, the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh was the original hub of ‘regional politics’ where NT Rama Rao took on the ‘mighty’ Indira Gandhi’s Congress government in the 1980s successfully. KCR’s strong rebuttal, seen from the perspective of Telangana atmagauravam, is likely to not only go down well with the people of the State, but it will also make Shah’s political charges feel like an ‘insult’ to Telangana’s honour. Such a scenario can hasten the end of the road for the BJP in the State.
KCR’s counter-attack by charging Shah with propounding ‘falsehoods’ with fake statistics and eating food brought from outside in a Dalit’s home hit hard. To be fair, the Congress also deserves its share of kudos for its contribution to the creation of Telangana.
Change is a constant in politics and some finer aspects are emerging in the socio-political arena of the State. The M Kodandaram-led Telangana Political Joint Action Committee (T-JAC), which was part of the KCR-led Telangana movement, seems to be moving away because its members feel that their romance with idealism has gone haywire since the Chief Minister is “not accessible and not connected to people and intellectuals”.
In this scenario, there is a possibility that such disgruntled sections could look towards the BJP, resulting in a direct shift from the vote bank of the TRS. Hence, KCR needs to fine-tune and attack aggressively on Modi’s sops and bias towards Andhra Pradesh. It is clear across the political spectrum that the strategy of Shah in Telangana has failed to gain any ground owing to the more than equal counterattack of KCR, and this strategy of the Chief Minister that delivered round one needs to be further sharpened.
Any growth of the BJP would mean the split of anti-incumbency vote between the BJP and the Congress, which will be a big political advantage for KCR. The BJP believes the State government’s pro-Muslim tilt vis-a-vis the Assembly resolution for 12% quota in the State could give it a head start, and that is why it has intensified its activities.
But one needs to note that the ground reality of Telangana is such that people in the State, especially in rural areas, are bound by a culture of brotherhood. The masses have been following the secular ethos right from the Nizam’s days and BJP’s efforts to divide people on communal lines will be rejected. Moreover, the lack of a credible BJP leadership at the State level will also prevent the saffron party from gaining ground.
Capturing Congress’ Space
Many believe that Shah is essentially eyeing the principal opposition space by diminishing the Congress. The other regional forces – TDP, YSR Congress and the CPI – are now left with a heavily eroded support base. Nalgonda district is a Congress bastion. Despite a strong anti-Congress wave in 2014, the Congress won five of the seven Assembly seats and also the Lok Sabha constituency.
It will not be off the mark, therefore, to believe that the BJP chief’s entire game plan is only aimed at winning this opposition space by weakening the Congress in its strongholds. The political confabulations and mixed signals, both from the local BJP leaders and KCR, give credence to this strategy.
In November 2016, amid the all-round attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for demonetisation, KCR backed the Prime Minister unequivocally. Locally, this was seen as his strategy to send some cautious signals to TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu, who is part of the NDA. But the TRS chief needs to be cautious of the BJP game plan. If the Congress is BJP’s target today, next on the radar will be his party. The powerful Union government, PM Modi’s face and BJP’s unmatchable resources, could pose a major challenge for the TRS, perhaps even more than the Congress.
The TRS leadership, therefore, needs to be politically agile and must not allow the BJP to gain any ground. The Congress too realises it well that BJP’s gain would be only at the cost of the Congress. Senior Congress leader S Jaipal Reddy’s attack on Shah is a clear indication of the Congress’ reading of the political challenges ahead.
(The author is founder of Prof GV Sudhakar Rao Foundation)