TRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao is known for keeping allies and opponents guessing, till the very end, about his next move. He has done it again by seeking dissolution of the Telangana Assembly ahead of schedule.
Interestingly, his party had supported the move for holding elections to state Assemblies and Parliament simultaneously. This gave the impression that polls in Telangana would be held along with the 2019 parliamentary polls, but KCR changed plans and has taken the opposition by surprise. This is not the first time though that the Congress, his principal rival in the State, is struck by a KCR surprise!
In the run-up to the 2014 division of Andhra Pradesh decision, he had consistently created an impression of warming up to the Congress and turned the tide against the party after the decision was announced. In fact, he had even fuelled speculation of a merger with the Congress if Telangana was formed.
The Congress in fact calculated that by announcing the formation of a Telangana it would benefit electorally in the seats that constituted a new state. But, on the ground, KCR reaped the dividends and emerged the champion. It was his TRS that had been at the forefront of the agitation for a separate state and he proved to the Congress coterie in New Delhi that their might was no match for his grassroots maverick.
In that election, fought after the decision to divide Andhra Pradesh was announced but before the state was officially divided on June 2, 2014, the TRS got 63 of the 119 seats that constitute Telangana. It was not a massive sweep, but it gave him a clear majority and mandate to rule.
Since then, the principal opposition for the TRS has been the Congress in Telangana. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress are confined to Andhra Pradesh and lost near total ground in Telangana as they did not support the division.
The BJP has a pocketed presence in the state and though it had made gains in Telangana it is far from aiming for a shot at power in the state.
With the Congress as the principal opposition, it is out of the question for the TRS to be part of any national alliance which has the Congress. But, at the same time, Telangana, which was ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad before Independence, has a very large Muslim population and going with the BJP in an assembly election would risk alienating them from the TRS.
Further, in the event that Lok Sabha polls were to be held with Assembly polls he might have been forced to choose a side or get squeezed out as a regional player in a high stake election between Narendra Modi and a secular front with the Congress and Rahul Gandhi as the prime opponent in Telangana.
But by calling for an early election he hopes to delink the Assembly polls from the parliamentary polls. Now, he could fight the Congress in Telangana as a regional force, perhaps with a behind the scenes backing of the BJP and take a call on an open national alliance depending on the results.
The simple logic here seems to be risking it all in one go or taking one step at a time. The BJP seems more than keen to woo the TRS and has little to lose in an Assembly poll. The possibility of a grassroots understanding, but not an open alliance, between the two parties in the state polls seems strong.
In this case, KCR could make the BJP field candidates who would dent the Congress votes wherever it can afford to. If the TRS wins, it will keep the BJP guessing and wooing it ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and KCR’s history shows that when he has all the cards he can’t be taken for granted.
In the event, the TRS loses power to the Congress it would firm itself up with the BJP and head into the 2019 polls.
Also, in a Lok Sabha election the minority vote, pocketed in certain parliamentary constituencies around the capital, may not have as much an impact in terms of number of seats, but in an Assembly election it would have a larger impact.
Since, there is a small amount of minority vote in every Assembly constituency it could make or break a close election. But, in the case of a parliamentary poll it is easier to win with a Hindu consolidation, said one TRS leader requesting anonymity.
The Congress has a strong presence in Telangana and has been working at the ground level, but the TRS seems to have grown in strength over the last four years as a ruling party. It has ensured defections and has 90 sitting MLAs in the outgoing Assembly.
This could cause difficulties in ticket distribution because 26 of the 90 MLAs were those who defected from the Congress, TDP or YSR Congress and it has to strike a balance between giving tickets to TRS challengers in seats the defectors won.
But, these minor challenges are something KCR. has taken into account. He has already announced 100 of the 119 candidates and hence has a head start over the Congress. The question is can the Congress regroup itself and challenge the TRS in the first election that Telangana would face as an independent state.