What is on the BJP’s mind in Telangana? Does the aggression displayed by Central and state BJP leaders within the last few months over the state of affairs in Telangana suggest it is trying to disturb the TRS government by engineering a coup? Or has it merely begun the spadework for a strong show in the 2023 Assembly elections by getting the people’s mandate? Whatever its intention, in public perception the BJP is slowly replacing the Congress as the principal opposition party in Telangana. The ruling TRS and various government agencies are fending off fierce attacks by the BJP with knee-jerk reactions almost a daily basis, which is another indicator of the changed political dynamics.
Consider this: during Narendra Modi’s first stint as prime minister between 2014 and 2019, the state BJP leadership was clueless on how to tackle Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. For, KCR supported almost all initiatives of Modi, be it demonetisation or the introduction of GST with more gusto than any BJP leader. Of course, no one in the BJP has the oratorical skills to match KCR. And there were claims that Modi used to trust KCR more than any other non-NDA chief minister during that phase. But the bonhomie that existed up to a few months before the Lok Sabha elections, disappeared after the polls, perhaps because KCR was meeting political leaders in other states to form a non-BJP, non-Congress coalition at the Centre. It has turned into a chill ever since Modi’s landslide win in the general elections, picking up four Lok Sabha seats in Telangana in the process.
Interestingly, KCR after becoming chief minister for a second term called on Modi, but there was no such meeting after the latter won the mandate as PM for a second term. Also, TRS MPs are not frequenting Union ministers as they used to earlier.
Also, for most of Modi 1.0, visiting Union ministers had a predictable routine: inspect schemes in Telangana, laud KCR, call on him in Hyderabad and shower more praises on him. All that made the local BJP leaders squirm. In Modi 2.0, the wind is blowing in a different direction. Central ministers have almost stopped coming to Hyderabad. It’s senior BJP central leaders who are frequenting Telangana now, and it’s only to criticise KCR. No customary visits to the chief minister either.
In Modi 1.0, it was the Congress that used to make pungent statements and allegations against KCR and the functioning of the state government. The grand old party has since quietened, but the BJP has picked up that thread. For example, the BJP is accusing the TRS government of massive corruption in Mission Kakatiya, Mission Bhagiratha and Kaleswaram irrigation projects without providing any material to substantiate its claims. It has also conveniently forgotten that it was the Modi government that gave all permissions and sanctioned estimates for the schemes. Also, the Centre neither sanctioned a single rupee for these schemes nor granted Kaleswaram the status of a national project.
The BJP also launched a mega membership drive and invited leaders from various parties to join it, especially those opposed to KCR. In sum, the BJP in Telangana has now become more aggressive and offensive. Nothing wrong in that if it plays by the book.
But BJP leaders are also stirring the TRS pot, claiming dissidence within the party and adding that several TRS MLAs are in touch with them. Their one-liner: what happened in Karnataka today will be replicated in Telangana tomorrow. Whether tomorrow stands for the next Assembly elections or earlier is anybody’s guess. It opens up the possibility of the BJP’s dirty tricks department getting to work to subvert the mandate given to the TRS. Things will hopefully be clearer in the coming days, especially after BJP national president and Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit in September. It will indicate whether the party is preparing for any political adventurism or is just using hyperbole to maximise political gains.
Ch V M Krishna Rao
Resident Editor, Telangana