Three months ago, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao was the first to talk about floating a non-BJP, non-Congress front with regional satraps leading the space. He was quick to follow up on the idea with visits to Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru and also meeting Akhilesh Yadav in Hyderabad. He adroitly positioned himself as the leader of this front, with his supporters arguing that KCR, despite a catchment area of only 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, could do an HD Deve Gowda in 2019.
Which is why it was surprising that KCR was nowhere on the scene when the nucleus of a possible federal Front " a group of four chief ministers " chose to express solidarity with a fifth chief minister. On Saturday evening, Mamata Banerjee, Chandrababu Naidu, HD Kumaraswamy and Pinarayi Vijayan pushed all the right buttons on Opposition unity ahead of 2019. They asked for permission to meet Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has been protesting inside the Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal Raj Niwas for six days. That was not granted, after which they requested time to meet Baijal. That, too, was not accommodated and they trooped to Kejriwal's residence and thereafter addressed a press conference.
The Congress, thanks to its own myopic approach and narrow tunnel vision, stayed away. Letting Sheila Dikshit and Ajay Maken decide the party strategy " the two leaders whose aversion to Kejriwal is well-known " meant the Congress put its ego ahead of the desire for Opposition unity. This, when one of its own chief ministers,V Narayanasamy, is embroiled in disputes over turf matters with Baijal in Puducherry, Kiran Bedi.
But if KCR's word was to be taken at face value, this was just what the doctor ordered. A group of non-BJP, non-Congress chief ministers fighting for the cause of another chief minister of the same DNA. It is natural that eyebrows went up over KCR's no-show.
At least KCR's decision to skip Kumaraswamy's swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru last month was understandable as the Vidhana Soudha was playing host to Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, and sharing a stage with the two senior Congress leaders would have been anathema to KCR. After all, the Congress is his principal political rival in Telangana. His office has not confirmed if KCR was invited to be a part of the impromptu meeting since he was already in Delhi.
This will only add to the suspicion that KCR's proposed front is only a proxy to help the BJP return to power. No one would be more glad than the BJP if KCR manages to ensure the Congress is not in the federal front's scheme of things. That would mean there will be no one-on-one contest in most states, helping the BJP to gain from a split in the Opposition vote.
There is frankly no reason for KCR to go after the BJP beyond a point. The party is of no relevance in Telangana and in fact, will only help split the anti-TRS vote in urban constituencies to a limited extent. Like any other regional satrap, KCR is also looking at Delhi through his own local prism. Unlike most of the others, the BJP does not give him a migraine. And that explains why he does not suffer from the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah phobia that many other chieftains suffer from.
Besides, keeping Prime Minister Narendra Modi in good humour can help KCR get more financial goodies for Telangana, besides the defence land that he is eyeing in Secunderabad for building a brand new Secretariat and Legislative Assembly building. He needs Modi to take that call in his favour, especially since environmentalists and civil society have been opposing the idea and pointing out that it will rob the city of its green lung space. More so, when the existing Secretariat and Assembly are in fine condition.
The BJP's showing in Karnataka with 104 seats also meant KCR cannot rule out Modi's chances in 2019. Therefore, the Telangana chief minister is in no mood to make political enemies at this time.
KCR would also look at Kejriwal with suspicion because the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was an option the chief minister's bÃªte noire M Kodandaram was seriously considering in Telangana. The AAP, which is looking to expand in other states, was considering piggybacking on Kodandaram's popularity, but did not pursue the plan after its reverses in Punjab. While Kodandaram has now launched his Telangana Jana Samiti, KCR would always be wary of his plans to join hands with the AAP at a later stage. Though Kodandaram is likely to ally with the Congress, his party's cadre base of youth and AAP's template of doing street politics would find synergy as well.
Also, the four chief ministers who rallied behind Kejriwal do not have an issue with the Congress, in the way that KCR does. While Kumaraswamy is already doing business with the Congress in Karnataka, the Left has decided not to shut its doors on the Congress. Naidu and Mamata do not have to worry about the Congress, as the party is a weak entity both in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
KCR also will not like to be in a position where he is not clearly seen as the leader of the pack. In the present situation, Naidu, by virtue of prior experience handling coalitions in the United Front and the NDA era, has positioned himself as a convenor of sorts. Mamata, who is sure of winning more than 30 seats, naturally postures as the leader of the front. It is no surprise then that KCR would have preferred to watch the football World Cup on Saturday night rather than risk scoring a self-goal by playing with an untested political team.