On Sunday night, a few hours after K Chandrasekhar Rao addressed the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) public meeting on the outskirts of Hyderabad, leaders of the Telangana BJP were closeted with Amit Shah, their national president at the city airport. The meeting that started at 11 pm went on for the next three hours.
The Telangana BJP made no bones about its unhappiness with KCR’s likely decision to advance Assembly elections in the state, delinking them from the Lok Sabha polls in the summer of 2019. The state unit that won only five Assembly seats in 2014, is conscious of its lack of pan-Telangana appeal barring the urban pockets and the absence of a tall leader. Which is why it believes that if the two elections are held together, the Narendra Modi factor would come into play, helping it both in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
“KCR has the right to dissolve the Assembly whenever he wants to, it is his prerogative. What can we do?” was reportedly Shah’s response. It was a clear indication that the national leadership of the BJP was willing to let KCR have his way with early polls this winter, most likely along with the three north Indian states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
In July and August, KCR met Modi thrice. His last trip to Delhi was particularly significant as it came after a senior advisor to KCR had already met the Election Commission to explore the possibility of early polls. BJP sources claim the TRS chief discussed his plan to dissolve the assembly with both the prime minister and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. It was important for KCR to keep the BJP in the loop because he cannot risk the EC or the executive subsequently playing hardball citing a paucity of EVMs or Central forces.
The BJP in present-day Telangana or united Andhra Pradesh earlier has always felt let down by its Delhi leadership. In the past, former ally Chandrababu Naidu used to deal directly with Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Modi, keeping the local leadership out of the loop. The state BJP’s grouse is that it was never allowed to grow, forced to compromise on its interests by feeding on crumbs thrown by Naidu. The leaders fear the KCR story seems headed in the same direction.
The decision of the national BJP to warm up to KCR is ironically because of the Naidu factor. After the Telugu Desam Party chief broke up with the NDA in March over the issue of special category status to Andhra Pradesh, the BJP believes Naidu was trying to stitch together a narrative that the Modi-Shah duo is anti-alliance partners and anti-south India. The priority was to dispel this notion.
The party has realised that we need friends because some people have left us. The election to the post of the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha was an opportunity where we found new friends in the TRS and Biju Janata Dal,” says a Telangana BJP leader. The BJP is also aware that it could find itself short of numbers in the next Lok Sabha, forcing it to make overtures to regional parties. Since it is unlikely to improve upon its 2014 tally in the Hindi belt states, the Peninsula has to be its catchment area. The TRS in Telangana, YSR Congress in Andhra and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu are therefore on its radar as potential post-poll allies.
The Telangana-specific argument therefore is that the BJP would be better off seen as helping KCR at this time, greenlighting early polls, rather than antagonising him now and having to land up at his doorstep in Hyderabad asking for help in May 2019. With very little at stake in Telangana, the BJP is seen as having little to lose if elections are advanced.
In the midst of all this, both the TRS and the BJP have forgotten their stated preference for one nation, one poll. The TRS had supported the idea in its letter to the EC earlier this year and Modi has consistently backed a combined poll to curb unnecessary expenditure. How will the two parties then explain Telangana going to polls twice in a space of four months, burning public money, when the term of the present Assembly extends till June 2019?
But the bonhomie will not, at least openly, mean the TRS and the BJP will fight the state election together. That is because KCR will not like to miss out on the Muslim vote in Telangana that he has wooed assiduously by distributing gifts before Eid, floating schemes like Shaadi Mubarak to help Muslim families during marriages and forging a friendship with the AIMIM.
For the BJP, Shah has advised the state leaders to identify seats where it came second or third in 2014 and focus on them. He has also deputed RSS man BL Santosh, who played a key role in the Karnataka elections, to Hyderabad to coordinate the Telangana electoral effort.
The BJP president has also committed to addressing a public meeting in Mahbubnagar district of Telangana next week, to kickstart the BJP campaign. The state BJP also plans to make a splash on 17 September, which is the day Hyderabad was liberated from Nizam rule and joined the Indian Union in 1948. It will position it as Hindu majority Hyderabad overthrowing its Muslim ruler. It helps that the day also happens to be Modi’s birthday.