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Telangana Protects Its Own KCR Against 'Outsider' Chandrababu Naidu

File photo of TRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao.  (Twitter)

File photo of TRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao. (Twitter)

KCR now has the curious distinction of having led his party to victory in a region known for entrenched caste politics.

New Delhi: Telangana protected ‘insider’ KCR from CBN, the considered ‘outsider’ from Andhra Pradesh. That sums up the election result.

Imagine the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) not entering the fray at all; incumbent chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) would have woken up this morning wondering if at best he would better his 2014 record of 63 seats or at worst, if he might need support of the MIM or even the BJP. That is the kind of difference Chandra Babu Naidu's presence had on the election.

How did all this happen?

KCR managed to fight anti-incumbency. His Jayalalithaa-style populism made a difference. The scheme for the farmers, the scheme for pregnant women and the insurance scheme for farmers brought tangible results for the people. There was money credited in their bank accounts. When that happens, negative stuff like corruption and favouritism take the back seat. Even the youth forgot how difficult it is to get jobs because they knew KCR’s schemes were generating income for their families. But that was not enough for such a stellar performance.

KCR now has the curious distinction of having led his party to victory in a region known for entrenched caste politics. In the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, even national parties like the Congress and the CPI could not shed the tag of being caste-based parties. Political rivalry is no different from caste rivalry. But KCR bucked this trend. He himself belongs to a caste which is inconsiderable in Telangana. Yet, he managed to take all castes and castes together. Even religions too, whether Hindu or Muslim – he did not play partisan politics; he gave sops to both. But that was not enough for the poll record.

KCR kept up the rhetoric about Telangana’s poverty of political history. How Andhra upstaged it always, how nativity was Telangana’s to begin with, how the natives bore the brunt of not just the Britons but the Nizam too. The Telangana sentiment had cooled down after the state was carved out; it was back to petty politics generally. Towards the end of his term, his popularity was not exactly encouraging. His MLAs were unemployed. They had nothing to show in terms of what they did for the people. KCR and his family took care of all that. Literally. There was growing restlessness, whipped at intervals by the opposition. And then, Naidu entered the scene.

It is not that Naidu one day had a bright idea to have an alliance with the Congress. Of course, he was aware of how slowly or fast his own ship was sinking in the rising turbulence a regional party, the YSRCP of Jagan Mohan Reddy, was creating in Andhra Pradesh. He had come out of the NDA, intent on either retaining Andhra in 2019 or becoming a king-maker for a resurrected third/united/secular front. In Telangana, KCR had wooed most of the TDP leaders and MLAs to his fold. A section of the party cadre remained, rudderless. What to do with these votes? It is said the local TDP leaders mooted the idea of a gathbandhan so they could transfer their vote. And the idea took seed.

Naidu will now retrospect: Did he overdo the Andhra vs Telangana bit? Did he underestimate the Telangana people’s belief in developmental work? Did he believe his own assessment that the Telangana sentiment was dead? The alliance took off on a wrong foot for two main reasons: Since 2014, the Congress opposed every project – related primarily to irrigation – proposed by the KCR government. It moved the courts. That irritated the people. Then came Naidu, the ‘scourge’ of Telangana! How could he, an Andhraite, come to ‘our’ home and tell ‘us’ not to vote for ‘our’ leader? That helped revive the waning Telangana sentiment and it apparently bloomed in the last one week – that explains the TRS tally.

Why did the Congress do it? Get into the alliance, that is. Singly, it would have been embarrassed more. That is the essential answer. The average Telanganaite has forgotten ‘Indiramma’ and ‘hand’. The average person now has a regional pride to protect and nurture. This average person, like his or her compatriots in other states with powerful regional parties, wants his or her own political regional, political outfit that can also play a role at the Centre. The castes that dominated the Congress in this region are not really up to it at present. The Reddys too are ambivalent. They are strong in Andhra; but those in Telangana feel like political stragglers. They are still finding their feet between the YSRCP and the Congress. Those with the former would not have voted for the latter, even if it meant voting for the TRS. The Congress did resort to tricks, like coming up with exit polls that showed it rampaging the state in the elections. A dust storm was raised over 20 lakh missing voters from the voters list in Telangana. The fact is those who shifted their domicile to Andhra from Telangana in 2014 found their names shifted to the former’s voters list. Of course, discrepancies, intentional or otherwise, happened; but not in lakhs.

What now?

Going by traditional political trends, power should go to KCR’s head and his family should prosper. But will he allow that or will he try to consolidate his position more? There is this competition between Telangana and Andhra he has to take care of first.

The TRS will remain the only regional party in the twin states which is not caste-based; it will thus offer a role model of an inclusive regional party. No other regional party in the country perhaps comes up for comparison. Will his mandate spur KCR to emerge as a formidable regional leader on the national scene with his ‘no caste’ image? That will depend on the TRS’ Lok Sabha numbers in 2019.

Naidu will have to lick his wounds. He returns to Andhra a defeated man. The meeting of 21 opposition party leaders he corralled to a meeting in Delhi on the eve of counting will not be enough to dispel his fears. His fear right now is about his own future in his own state. Jagan Reddy thinks he is knocking at the doors of power. He wants to do a KCR in Andhra; be a leader in his own right, appear neutral, but be friends with the government at the Centre. The BJP has no qualms with that. And, irrespective of its weak presence in Andhra, it will not come to Naidu’s aid. That leaves film actor Pawan Kalyan who leads a party partial to the Kapu community he belongs to. Last time, Naidu got Pawan’s help as an ally (along with the BJP). Today, Naidu will have to seek his help not as an ally but as a competitor and contender. That will come at a price.

But nationally? When Naidu and Rahul Gandhi finalised the Telangana pact, it was Naidu doing all the talking. It was his party which bore all election expenses of the Congress. Now, as the assembly election results tell us, Rahul’s purchasing power has gone up and Naidu’s, down. There will have to be a restructuring of this political relationship. But it will have to be addressed as part of the overall opposition strategy for 2019; whatever it is.