All eyes on Prashant Kishor - will he broker a TRS-Congress alliance?
Ace poll strategist's second meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in Delhi fuels speculation in Telangana
Prashant Kishor has set the cat among the pigeons by meeting Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi for the second time in three days. The effect of his recent meetings with the Congress leadership in Delhi has been felt as far as in Telangana. The reason is clear: Kishor is already advising Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR)-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) — an adversary of the Congress in the state – on forming strategies for the Assembly elections in 2023 and general elections in 2024.
Now, Kishore’s talks with the Congress and speculation over him joining the grand old party have fuelled prospects of KCR aligning yet again with the Congress as part of his professed claims to widen the national anti-BJP platform. It should be recalled that TRS had shared power with the Congress from 2004-09 at the Centre, and its leader KCR even served as Union Minister of Labour and Employment in the Manmohan Singh government.
The rising BJP threat
However, from the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 till about November 2021, when the BJP defeated TRS in the Huzurabad by-election, KCR had been anti-Congress. In fact, he had been instrumental in the decimation of the Congress in Telangana. In this pursuit, he had encouraged massive defections from the party.
So, while the Congress lost ground in the state, the vacuum was filled by the BJP. So much so that in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP candidate defeated KCR’s daughter Kavitha Kalvakuntla from Nizamabad. The BJP took the TRS boss by surprise by winning four Lok Sabha seats with a 20 per cent vote share in that election.
The BJP today is the main threat for KCR, who would bid for power in the state for a third term in 2023. The changed equation could thus bring about an understanding between the TRS and the Congress — such a sentiment is gaining strength following Kishor’s presentation to the Congress leadership.
In fact, much before the Kishor factor came into play, KCR had made pro-Congress overtures on a couple of occasions. Last year, the TRS’ seven Rajya Sabha members joined the Congress-led opposition’s demonstration outside Parliament, demanding revocation of suspension of 12 Rajya Sabha members while protesting the passage of the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Amendment Bill, 2021.
In yet another occasion, KCR rose to the defence of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi following the father-son jibe by BJP’s Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. He even demanded the dismissal of Sarma as CM.
Many wonder why KCR, himself a master strategist, needs Kishor to win an election, but the reasons are several. He is now facing growing anti-incumbency and a triangular slugfest, involving his TRS, the resurgent BJP and a belligerent Revanth Reddy-led Congress faction. Besides, he is keen to position himself in national politics as a vanguard of anti-BJP forces. Roping in Kishor, a high-profile poll strategist, is seen to help him there.
Divided Telangana Congress
However, AICC in-charge for Telangana, Manickam Tagore, recently took to Twitter to rule out any prospects of his party and the TRS coming together. But the Congress, according to sources, is divided on the question of aligning with the TRS. The party’s old guard, opposing the leadership of Revanth Reddy, reportedly is in favour of such an alliance. They are said to have expressed this during their meeting with Congress senior Leader KC Venugopal in Delhi recently. An alliance with KCR, they say, will help the Congress achieve twin objectives — countering the BJP with a national force and staying relevant in state politics after a series of electoral reverses since 2014.
However, the young turks representing the Reventh Reddy faction oppose such a proposition. It would prove to be suicidal for the party, they feel. The party has a strong cadre base and voters across the state and is poised to come to power in the coming elections, they say. This group also asserts that an alliance with the TRS will give a stick to the BJP to beat the grand old party with.
Kishor’s trade tricks at play?
Meanwhile, Kishor’s strategies for the TRS are expected across two fronts — a brand booster for the sagging image of KCR, and a sharpening of his party’s knives to target the BJP. His ‘trade ticks’ are already at play, say political observers in the state.
On March 11 KCR put off his scheduled visit to Yadadri temple and got himself admitted in a hospital for treatment for cardiac issues, drawing recovery wishes even from his bitter rival, Bandi Sanjay Kumar of the BJP. A few days earlier, the Hyderabad police unravelled a ‘mysterious’ murder plot allegedly to eliminate TRS minister Srinivasa Gowd. Recently, BJP MP Aravind Dharmapuri’s residence witnessed protests by TRS-backed paddy growers in Nizamabad, over the alleged failure of the NDA government to procure parboiled rice.
Political experts drew parallels between these incidents and those in Andhra Pradesh, whose Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy is also a client of Kishor. While in opposition, Jagan Reddy was attacked by a stranger with a knife at the Visakhapatnam airport. The surge in the caste wars between the two dominant castes of Reddys and Kammas, represented by Jagan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu, respectively, were also attributed to Kishor’s ‘strategies’.
For KCR, roping in Kishor is not just about allying with the Congress. He wants the strategist’s help to understand the public perception on various issues, such as the efficacy of the Dalit Bandhu scheme as a vote puller. He also wants to gather feedback on the functioning of various welfare programmes and development projects. The series of setbacks of the TRS — such as the by-elections of Dubbaka and Huzurabad, and the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation election — makes it all the more imperative.