The upcoming presidential poll has once again highlighted the relationship between the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), that rules Telangana, and the BJP. The TRS has decided to throw in its lot with the BJP-led NDA’s choice of presidential candidate, like Nitish Kumar in Bihar, bucking the trend of leaders of non-BJP ruled states joining Opposition ranks to contest the poll.
Unlike the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, which is an NDA ally, the TRS has no overt ties with the BJP. However, barring Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s recent attack on BJP president Amit Shah after the latter’s visit to the state, both parties appear to pull their punches with one another. This is curious as the BJP has made no bones of its intent to grow the party in Telangana.
Shah is expected to return to the state and spend nearly a week here after the presidential polls, all part of a strategy to increase its presence in the south.
However, the TRS has stood apart from other Opposition-led governments in South India in siding with the Centre on demonetisation, and maintaining a studied silence on the controversial new cattle trading rules that drew outrage from other state governments. This, despite the impact the rules are likely to have on leather, meat export businesses and the state’s already distressed farmers. The two parties continue to fight on isolated issues but when it comes down to it, the TRS acts like a virtual ally of the BJP.
This seems to be a peculiar move for the TRS. Ostensibly, its aim is to, along with the BJP, eradicate the Congress from Telangana. The Congress, which failed to capitalise on its role in ensuring the creation of Telangana, has been considerably weakened in the state. However, it retains pockets of support as evidenced by the response to party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s public meeting recently. Even the Congress was reportedly surprised by the response, with more than a lakh in attendance. If indeed it is the TRS’s aim to ensure the end of the Congress in Telangana by joining hands with the BJP, it would appear to be a remarkably short-sighted approach.
The TRS hopes to become the sole party of consequence in the state, as does the BJP. This will undoubtedly set them up for a clash at some point in the future. If the BJP’s forays into Telangana are ignored or facilitated by the TRS, for short-term gains, the argument can be made that it is the TRS that is likely to suffer in the long-term.
The TRS may believe that it has covered its bases by trying to cater to virtually every section of the electorate through a range of targeted schemes — from Brahmins, to Muslims, to tribal communities — but it is virtually the same schemes that the BJP is likely to exploit to polarise communities and reach disaffected voters in the state.
Already, the hike in quota for Muslim communities — that may never become a reality as it faces legal hurdles — has become a rallying point for the BJP. Meanwhile, Shah’s visit to Nalgonda district, a Congress stronghold, raised memories of the atrocities committed by the Razakars, a private militia that supported the Nizam in pre-Independence Hyderabad.
There is a third partner in this curious alliance, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, whose leader Asaduddin Owaisi represents the Hyderabad constituency in the Lok Sabha. The party, though technically a member of the state Opposition, functions as an ally to the TRS, as the TRS does to the BJP. In fact, its opposition to the NDA presidential candidate is perhaps the only time it has broken ranks with TRS recently. Politics in Telangana has little subtlety.
The TRS may take solace in the limited growth of the BJP in the south. In fact, the annual Mood of the Nation Survey conducted by Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, revealed that while the BJP is on a nation-wide roll, its popularity has fallen in just two states — Punjab and Telangana. Further, the survey found that support for Narendra Modi as PM fell below a third of the respondents in only four states — Punjab, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Out of every 10 respondents, less than three mentioned Modi as a preferred PM candidate, the report said.
However, the BJP is unlikely to be daunted by these results. Unlike the TRS, which is a party virtually organised around one family, the BJP draws from saffron cadre spread across organisations in the parivar. Given that the BJP swept Assam on the basis of work done by the RSS over the years, the TRS should watch its back.
Assistant Resident Editor, Hyderabad