When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a mammoth rally in Hyderabad on Monday evening, he claimed there were five main forces in Telangana – the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Congress, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
While the battle is now primarily framed as one between TRS and the Maha Kootami, each of these five actors has a distinct public narrative about what it stands for and its own private motivations. Conversations with political players and informed observers indicate that while this election is a battle for Hyderabad publicly, for each party, the aim is to strengthen its hand in the battle for Delhi.
TRS chief and caretaker chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has said that he called for early elections because he wants to get over with state polls and focus on creating a non-Congress, non-BJP federal front nationally.
This may be true. But what is also true is that the TRS’s primary rival in the state is the Congress. And because the Congress’s primary rival nationally is the BJP, which is a minor player in Telangana, KCR has a shared political interest with the BJP. This perhaps explains why his party has repeatedly supported the Modi government at the Centre; and why the TRS is one of the potential allies of the future post-2019 National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formation.
KCR’s manoeuvring space is now even more limited because his arch rival, Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, has placed himself firmly as one of the anchors of the anti-BJP alliance nationally. So the election is a high-stakes one for the TRS.
The Congress’s main claim is that while the TRS government has been marked by family rule and corruption, its own alliance will offer a new template of clean and progressive governance.
Privately, four factors are driving the Congress. One, it has felt that despite taking a major political gamble in creating Telangana and destroying its interests in Andhra Pradesh, it was never rewarded. This election is about winning that prize and putting itself in a better position to win the 17 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019. Two, it is motivated by a recognition that if the TRS wins, the BJP can count on it as an ally nationally.
Three, the Congress is in power on its own in two states (Punjab and Puducherry) and in an alliance in a third state (Karnataka); its prospects in the fourth state where it was in government, Mizoram, is uncertain. If it wins Telangana, it will mark a degree of political revival and it opens up possibilities of greater resource collection. And finally, the Maha Kootami for the Congress – a grand state specific alliance – is also a test of whether the arithmetic of a united opposition can take on an entrenched leader. If it succeeds, expect a similar alliance in the Andhra Pradesh assembly polls next year and more in 2019.
Telugu Desam Party
For Chandrababu Naidu, whose party is contesting only 13 seats, the Telangana election brings both local and national strands together.
The first motivation is political revenge. Naidu has never forgiven his one time protege KCR for going on his own, and eventually carving out the state which came at great cost to Andhra Pradesh. A strong KCR in the neighbouring state is anathema to Naidu. Instead, if he can have a friendly government of which the TDP is a part, Naidu will feel a sense of vindication that he still has a say in how Hyderabad is governed. Also, it is not certain that the TDP will remain in power in Andhra Pradesh next year, given the strong anti-incumbency it confronts. The BJP is also said to be tacitly backing the YSR Congress Party in Andhra. To ensure that Andhra remains safe for him, Naidu wants to weaken both the TRS and BJP here.
Nationally, a win will catapult Naidu — an architect of the Maha Kootami — as a central player in the anti-BJP front.
Asaduddin Owaisi has thrown his lot with the TRS: and this gives KCR an advantage because his AIMIM is expected to win around half-a-dozen seats in Hyderabad. If the TRS falls short of a majority, it can then reliably turn to Owaisi’s legislators.
While his rhetoric is sharply directed at the BJP, his main political competition is with the Congress — for local Muslim support in Hyderabad and Telangana, but also nationally since Owaisi wants to emerge as a Muslim leader across states. The continued national hegemony of the BJP, rather than the return of Congress , suits Owaisi because it gives him a stronger case to suggest to Muslims that they need a party of their own.
And finally, for the BJP, the Telangana election is important because locally, it offers the party an opportunity to expand its organisation, build a pool of leaders, and eventually become an important force. But as of now, it remains a minor player.
The BJP’s main objective is to prevent the victory of its arch rivals in the Maha Kootami. Having the TRS in power means that even if the BJP does not run Telangana, it does not have a hostile force in power. It will also give energy to the opposition nationally and those who wish to have a grand alliance.
The BJP is well aware that in its core areas of north, west and central India, there will be a dip in 2019 elections. It will make gains in the east. In the south, it will rely on post-poll allies. The TRS is one such ally. And having it perform well now, and in 2019, at the cost of the Maha Kootami, is the best bet in a situation where the BJP itself cannot win.
First Published: Dec 06, 2018 07:42 IST