Over the last few weeks, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N Chandrababu Naidu, has been the man meeting regional parties and projecting himself as the one bringing an anti-BJP alliance together. The Congress has been quietly watching Naidu take the alliance-maker role, but the Telangana results leave Naidu’s stature severely dented.
In fact, that the Congress’s vote share has actually dropped compared to 2014 in Telangana is proof that India’s youngest state has categorically rejected the Congress-TDP alliance. In terms of seats, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is in an overwhelming majority, well beyond even two-thirds, and that is a clear indication that the Congress or the TDP have no base left in Telangana.
The TDP and Naidu had opposed the creation of a separate Telangana in 2014 and in 2018 the results are an emphatic assertion that the party is now only an “Andhra” party with a negative connotation in Telangana. Arguably, that perception has only strengthened over the last five years and people in Telangana categorically see the TDP as detrimental to their interests.
They also haven’t forgiven the Congress for the way the state was created on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha election and see the TRS and K Chandrashekar Rao as the primary, perhaps singular, force in the state.
In fact, Congress leaders argue that the party would have done better had they gone alone in these elections and the question this raises is if the Congress should re-assess its alliance with the TDP ahead of 2019 general elections?
It certainly has to. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress is in a dismal state and has no hope of winning any parliamentary seat without an alliance with the TDP. It is in Telangana that it can win seats on its own. However, given the vote shares of the TRS in the Assembly election, it may even have a clean sweep of the 19 parliamentary constituencies in Telangana.
This is why the Congress needs to reassess the TDP equation. It simply needs to distance itself from the TDP and rebuild its caste and social base in Telangana. At the same time, it needs to assess the fallout of not having the TDP in Andhra Pradesh. This may actually create a situation where it breaks ties with the TDP in a pre-poll scenario and leaves it open for a post-poll possibility.
Further, Naidu, now confined to Andhra, hasn’t been the easiest ally for the Congress. His effort seems to have been to reach out to regional parties and build an alliance where the power equation is against the Congress. It is now clear that he will have to remain confined to Andhra and allow the Congress to take the lead in forging alliances.
In effect, the result in Telangana may actually improve the Congress’s power equation vis-à-vis Naidu. But, at the same time, it bolsters another regional force that is opposed to the Congress.
Publicly, KCR has spoken of a non-BJP, non–Congress platform, but only the naïve would believe that. He is clearly closer to the BJP, but will not go for a pre-poll alliance as he would like to retain his vote base and win as many seats independently as possible.
Further, going with the BJP could alienate the minority vote and the AIMIM, with which he has forged a friendly equation. Given this and the fact that he has won a landslide victory, KCR will negotiate with the BJP from a position of power and may be open only for a tacit, behind-the-scenes understanding in the run-up to 2019.
In a post-poll scenario, he is certainly a potential BJP and Narendra Modi ally, but in the meanwhile, he could attempt to play the role of the one reaching out to regional forces. KCR has been a traditional rival of Naidu and would now pitch himself as the bigger regional party.
The only difference is that Naidu has clearly held an anti-BJP position and KCR is on the anti-Congress side. This is why the TRS upsetting Naidu as the party which is reaching out to regional players may be dangerous for the Congress.
In this backdrop, the Congress will have to reassess the importance of Naidu, not just from an electoral standpoint, but from a perception standpoint as well. It needs to emerge as the principle force that reaches out to regional allies at the national level and at the same time work on distancing itself from the TDP in Telangana.
For his part, having positioned himself as an anti-BJP force, Naidu needs to play along with the Congress and consolidate his party in Andhra Pradesh. In effect, the Telangana result makes him a weaker force and gives the Congress an upper hand while dealing with him.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)