Over the last year, Telangana Chief Minister and TRS Chief K Chandrashekar Rao has been seen as warming up to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Prime Minster Narendra Modi.
He had supported the idea of joint polls before suddenly declaring early polls in Telangana and, as recently as August 2018, KCR had sent out indications that he is even open to a possible post-poll tie up with the BJP.
KCR and Modi at Loggerheads
But there seems to be a twist in that “friendly” tale with the BJP, and in the last three days, the Telangana campaign has been dominated by an acerbic Narendra Modi versus KCR, in an exchange of statements and allegations.
First, the prime minister, speaking at a campaign rally on 26 November, Monday, questioned the TRS claims on development and its performance in Telangana and even said, “it is good that he (KCR) has dissolved the assembly early; you can get rid of your troubles early”. He further went on to even take a personal dig at KCR’s beliefs in astrology and numerology.
Hitting back at Modi, KCR, speaking at a rally in Mahbubnagar, alleged that the prime minister was “spreading lies for votes” and even referred to him as a “foolish” prime minister. He further stated that he was “not scared” of the prime minister like his political rivals.
So, how does one make sense of this? Is it just an act, if yes then why?
Telangana’s Dependence on Centre
Firstly, KCR’s principal rival in the state is the Congress party and hence it is necessary for him to have a cordial equation with the BJP. Further, Telangana as a newly-formed state is heavily dependent on the Centre and hence, he needs a good equation with the prime minister.
However, Telangana was a region ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad before India became independent, and has an estimated 13 percent Muslim population.
This population is not just centred around Hyderabad city where it even has a majority in some assembly seats, but is spread across the state and can be decisive in districts like Nizamabad or even KCR’s bastion Mahbubnagar.
KCR and the TRS seem to have a friendly equation with the most powerful voice of the Muslims in the state, the All India Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi, but there is no open alliance with the MIM and there are fears that Muslim voters may alienate the TRS as it is being seen as close to the BJP.
This is why the KCR-Modi exchange, according to Congress party leaders, is a “drama” and a “friendly match”, to create an ostensible rivalry, aimed to help TRS consolidate its position amongst the Muslim voters.
TRS ‘Desperate’ to Consolidate Muslim Votes
There are also serious doubts over KCR’s gamble of calling for an early election. Ground reports indicate that the Congress has regrouped itself, and the alliance it has formed with the Telugu Desam Party, Left and the Telanagana Jana Samithi has formidable arithmetic on the ground.
The combined vote share of the allies was nearly 40 percent in 2014 when the TRS managed to win just over half the seats with 34 percent vote share.
KCR is all alone and the party is worried that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. In this backdrop, with only the MIM as a “friendly” party, the TRS is desperate to consolidate itself amongst Muslim voters in the state. This is already seen by insiders in the TRS as a “battle for survival” and a great amount of “nervousness” has set in, according to them.
The political dynamics seem to lend weight to the Congress’s allegation that the rivalry between KCR and the prime minister is ostensible. However, the fact that the TRS has an alliance with the MIM, which is formidable in Hyderabad, is a headache for the Congress. TRS leaders also point out that the TDP had an open alliance with the BJP before shifting sides, and hence, the Congress’s grand alliance (Maha Kootami as it is called in Telugu) is an alliance of opportunity and not one of values.
What’s In It for BJP?
But, in all this, what’s there for the BJP?
Firstly, the Bharatiya Janata Party clearly hopes for a Congress defeat in Telangana. As a party, its stakes are minimal in the assembly polls, and hence, its ideal result would be a TRS win. However, in the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP desperately needs allies in the south of India, and TRS is a potential candidate.
This is why the BJP may be more than willing to woo KCR, fully aware that he’s not exactly the most trustworthy ally.
But BJP leaders insist that they want to create an independent identity in the state and the prime minister targeting KCR is a message, that the party cannot be taken lightly by regional players.
Finally, the nature of the attacks the two leaders made against each other was fierce and personal, and the language suggests that it needs to be taken seriously. But then, real life politics is stranger than fiction, and the sharper an exchange, the stronger the perception of being rivals!
(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav .This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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