Telangana Chief Minister and TRS supremo K Chandrasekhara Rao, probably did not expect the Congress to move so swiftly and extend support to JD(S) to form the government in Karnataka. His meeting with former prime minister and JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda, amid hectic electioneering in the state, left him with a feeling that JD(S) was likely to join hands with the BJP to defeat the Congress’ game plan. However, that did not happen.
Now, the TRS supremo is facing brickbats from political pundits who think that his idea of forging a non-Congress and non-BJP political front has turned out to be a major flop, and that too at the very threshold of his entry into national politics. Critics have also started comparing KCR with his Andhra Pradesh counterpart N Chandrababu Naidu, who was earlier very active in the Delhi scene, and has now restarted his old game by attending the swearing-in ceremony of HD Kumaraswamy of JD(S) and G Parameswara of Congress.
The urge to draw a comparison between these two leaders, who wish to play a key role in national politics in 2019 (separately, of course), is unavoidable. As far as playing politics at the national level is concerned, Rao appears to be a novice compared to Naidu. Since 1989, Chandrababu Naidu has played a key role in Delhi in all non-Congress government formulations.
Meanwhile, KCR, who was with Naidu till 2001, was at a vantage point to closely observe these moves and countermoves, especially when it comes to changing loyalties, commitments and statements to suit changing political situations.
That doesn’t mean KCR lacks experience in lobbying with major political leaders. It was only due to his persistent efforts, ever since he joined the UPA-I Cabinet—where he successfully convinced various national party leaders on the need for grant of statehood to Telangana—that the UPA-II took a decision to carve out a new state.
Chandrababu Naidu, on the other hand, has changed tack several times in the past, and as a result has drawn both bouquets and brickbats. In 1996, he, along with others, showed an inclination to form an alternative government to prevent the BJP from coming to power. With the outside support of Congress, he and others formed the United Front that came to power. But the same Naidu, at a later date, forgot his secular preaching and switched sides to join hands with the BJP. Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the then general secretary of CPI(M), described Naidu as a rank opportunist for taking the support of the Congress to form the United Front government and later denying support to the grand old party when they sought his help in electing the Lok Sabha Speaker.
After sailing in the NDA boat for six long years, the same Naidu snapped ties with the BJP after losing the 2006 general elections and called the saffron party “communal”. Forming an alliance or seat adjustment and snapping ties with the BJP is nothing new to Naidu as he has done it thrice already. However, in the game of opportunistic politics, which is in vogue among present-day leaders at the national level, forgetting the past and quick forgiveness are the key to forging alliances for tomorrow.
The numbers game alone has been the concern of both UPA and NDA, going by past happenings. One fitting example of opportunistic politics was when the late NT Rama Rao, founder of TDP, floated the National Front in 1986. He was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and his party was the main Opposition group in the Lok Sabha with 30 MPs. Till the 1989 general elections, it was NTR who called the shots, rather than the co-founder of National Front and Jan Morcha chief VP Singh. But in the ensuing elections, NTR not only lost power in the Assembly, but was also able to return a mere two MPs to the Lok Sabha.
When NTR went to Delhi in his capacity as chairman of the National Front, he was not received or respected. He was not even consulted in Cabinet formation, as was the practice earlier. An angry NTR had to return to the state the same evening citing humiliation and insult. Since then, both Naidu and KCR have realised that only numbers count in Delhi politics.
As far as the present political situation is concerned, Chandrababu Naidu, the longest serving president of the Telugu Desam Party, which was founded by NTR to oppose the Congress tooth and nail, attended the much-publicised Bengaluru anti-BJP conclave at the swearing-in of the JD(S)-Congress government. He was probably hoping for the support of all non-BJP parties in case the Narendra Modi government indulges in a witch hunting campaign against him for having left the NDA over grant of special category status to Andhra Pradesh.
Secondly, the Congress is not the principal Opposition party in Andhra as its vote share fell drastically to just 3 per cent from the 40 plus in the 2014 elections. Due to massive desertions by cadre who jumped ship to TDP or YSR Congress, the grand old party has lost any hope of revival in the state over the last four years. At this juncture, Naidu has also said that he will be in the company of non-BJP parties and will go to any extent to oppose Modi in the coming elections, which obviously is the primary binding principle for any post- or pre-poll alliance that might take shape in the coming months.
For Chandrasekhara Rao, his reading of the happenings is totally different from that of Naidu. Unlike in Andhra Pradesh, Congress is the main Opposition in Telangana and it’s trying to forge an alliance of all parties that are opposed to the TRS and the BJP. In case KCR had decided to be part of the non-BJP company at the Bengaluru event, he would have been criticized for attending an event that goes against his own federal front doctrine for formation of a non-BJP and non-Congress parties’ front. His meetings with Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Deve Gowda and MK Stalin did not serve the purpose he intended as they were all in favour of working with the Congress.
KCR is engaged in Mission-2019 in Telangana for securing 16 out of 17 Lok Sabha seats and, of course, a proportionate number of seats in the Assembly. He is shrewd and knows how to play the politics of power. After all, he was trained under Chandrababu Naidu, a great qualification for someone looking to survive in the politics of manoeuvre.
Ch V M Krishna Rao
Resident Editor, Telangana