Hyderabad: Speaking immediately after the massive mandate his party received in the just-concluded municipal polls that cover approximately 40 percent of the State’s electorate, TRS boss and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) announced his intension to lead anti-Modi crusade focusing against the controversial Citizenship Amendment act (CAA).
However, this is not the first time that KCR has spoken about rallying political forces outside Telangana. But, in a marked contrast, he now talks about embracing even Congress in what he calls a secular fight. Earlier, he was primarily talking about a non- BJP, non-Congress Federal Front.
He has already announced his intension to hold a conclave of all the Chief Ministers opposed to CAA and NRC. Political pundits are perplexed over the deeper intent in KCR's message. Is it an acknowledgement of BJP emerging itself as a chief contender for power in Telangana by even cutting into the Congress vote? Or is KCR sensing a political space in the national polity amidst speculation that he is more than keen on installing his son KT Rama Rao on the Chief Minister's gaddi, while he is physically and politically calling the shots.
The BJP suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2018 Assembly elections when KCR cleverly delinked it from Lok Sabha polls by calling for premature dissolution of the state Assembly. The results proved how KCR intelligently strategized despite critics deploring his move. The BJP could retain only one of its five sitting seats pooh-poohing its claims of emerging as an alternative to TRS.
However, the political mood underwent a significant change with the (Narendra) Modi-sponsored military nationalist narrative that swept the nation during Lok Sabha polls. Across the nation, the BJP did fairly well when compared to the Assembly elections held before or after the Lok Sabha polls in several States. The Telangana polity was no exception.
The Saffron party won four Lok Sabha seats inflicting a serious damage on TRS. The BJP’s penetration into TRS strongholds like Northern Telangana was much more unpalatable to KCR. In fact, realizing the deficiency during the Lok Sabha polls, KCR floated the Federal Front narrative to justify TRS space in national polity. The TRS converted Lok Sabha poll campaign as a sort of vote for KCR’s foray into national politics.
But, with Modi-led NDA winning a massive mandate with BJP alone registering an emphatic victory, KCR found no immediate place in national politics. His ‘Front’ did not receive any traction either before or after the 2019 mandate. The Federal Front idea was a non-starter before elections as the regional and smaller parties barring YSR Congress and Biju Janata Dal, found no use in the proposal to build a national front against BJP without the presence of the Congress. In fact, non-BJP, non-Congress parties viewed KCR with suspicion. Political circles saw in KCR, Modi-Shah’s Trojan horse to dissuade the regional forces away from the leadership of Congress.Post-2019, the opposition was further divided when the BJP’s juggernaut rolled on. The clear margin for BJP and NDA left little or no scope for KCR to initiate into a national polity.
But, gradual decline of BJP since 2019 Lok Sabha result seems to be altering the political landscape in the country. The BJP lost Jharkhand, Maharashtra and won Haryana by default. The party is expected to fail in its attempt to dislodge Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi. Subsequently, the party has to reckon with hard political battles in Bihar and West Bengal. Party insiders too predict a tough going as it bids to retain Bihar and a not-so-easy going, especially post-CAA, in West Bengal too. Contrary to BJP’s expectations, the anti-CAA protest proved to be unique in both its diversity, reach and sweep with Modi’s vote-bank millennial and young voters deeply disenchanted with politics of exclusion. The economic recession is adversely impacting its political fortunes.
Against this drastically changing political landscape, KCR’s national political ambitions have come to the fore, all over again. With Congress making a comeback in several States, KCR seems to be ready to embrace even the grand old party. He cannot be oblivious to the emerging political reality. He now faces an Odisha-like political situation. With Congress still remaining the main rival, the BJP is a force in waiting.
Meanwhile, the BJP, despite its ignominious defeat in Assembly polls, is now enthused by the spectacular show in Lok Sabha elections. The defections from the party and lack of inspiring leadership seriously weaken Congress. Any further decline in Congress can give a fresh lease of opportunity to the BJP in the State. The municipal elections came exactly in such a political juncture putting a sort of examination to the claims and counter claims of various political parties due to contrasting verdicts in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
The TRS, not surprisingly, proved to be the leader of the municipal elections too by polling as many as 43 percent of votes. Thus, fall in vote during Lok Sabha elections remained a matter of aberration for the TRS. In fact, the fight was more for the second position between the Congress and the BJP. The Congress polled 21.71 percent votes
with BJP standing much behind with only 14.94 percent votes.
The BJP’s tally is substantially higher than the seven percent vote it polled in the Assembly elections and less than nearly 20 percent vote it polled in Lok Sabha polls. This clearly indicates that the party succeeded in retaining a significant chunk of the electorate it received during the Lok Sabha elections.
However, its claim of emerging as an alternative to TRS is still a distant dream. But, given its history, such a possibility is not beyond the realm of reality. Thus, the political battle in the State is not between TRS and Congress any more. It is certainly turning into a three-cornered fight. Any surge in national political mood in favour of BJP would develop into a triangular contest. Any further lack of clarity in his approach to BJP may cost him dear politically as it may lose its committed vote due to polarization for and against Modi government’s agenda.
KCR is quick to read this fine print. The BJP can no longer be wished away. It polled in the range of 30 to 40 percent votes in four municipalities, and in the range of 20 to 30 percent in as many as 14 municipalities, in the range of 10 to 20percent votes in as high as 40 municipalities. This indicates the geographical spread of BJP’s political expansion in the State.
Meanwhile, KCR has already laid out his succession plan. By making his son and Minister for Information Technology, KT Rama Rao (KTR) the party Working President, KCR effectively put an end to all the speculation inside and outside the party. Sonia Gandhi did wrong by not installing her son as Prime minister in 2009. Mulayam has handed over the leadership mantle to his son well in advance. Chandrababu Naidu is struggling to even chalk-out a succession plan despite his advancing age.
Having carefully studied all these varying experiences, sources close to KCR confirm that he has come to the conclusion that leadership will be handed over to his son early in his second term to facilitate him politically and organizationally consolidate much before the next Assembly elections. This cannot be done without KCR finding an honourable space in national politics. His talk of leading the anti-CAA protests is a manifestation of the grand strategy to refurbish the secular image of the party while executing the political succession plan.