KCR's 2-pronged poll strategy: Showcase growth, embrace Chandrababu
The Congress and TDP are on a weak wicket, but the rise of the BJP has forced the TRS to re-tune its political messaging ahead of Assembly elections
With elections in Telangana due in a year-and-a-half, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is looking to reinvent itself to overcome the anti-incumbency of two consecutive terms. The new strategy appears two-pronged — showcasing development projects in the state and comparing them favourably with those in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, and supporting TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu vis-à-vis AP Chief Minister and YSR Congress leader YR Jagan Mohan Reddy.
A clue to these could be found in the recent statements by party patriarch Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) and his son and number two in the state cabinet, KT Rama Rao (KTR). The 45-year-old KTR, the party’s working president, at a meeting of realtors a few days ago, sought to rephrase his party’s narrative.
KTR, the Minister for IT and Municipal Administration and Urban Development, took jibes at the sibling state of Andhra Pradesh, for the “lack of proper roads, drinking water and power supply”. In the same vein, KTR surprisingly praised Chandrababu as a harbinger of IT and urban development in Hyderabad.
His father KCR had, in the past, described Chandrababu – who served as chief minister for nearly two terms in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh – as a jinx for Telangana. KTR’s remark is a striking departure from his party’s stand vis-à-vis Jagan and Chandrababu.
Why is KTR befriending Chandrababu?
KTR later backed out through a late-night tweet following backlash from the Jaganmohan Reddy government. His outburst, however, smacks of his party’s bid to fine-tune its fresh poll-eve narrative. The narrative seems to be spiced with regional sentiment, besides poaching on meek TDP cadres and its voters in their home turf.
KTR’s pro-Chandrababu rhetoric is an extension of his father’s adulation of NT Rama Rao, the TDP founder, at a TRS plenary a few days ago. KCR was, after all, groomed as a leader under the wings of NTR during his association with the TDP. At the plenary, KCR described NTR as a crusader against ‘autocratic’ Governor raj and a messiah of the country’s federal spirit.
Coincidentally, KCR has been training guns on state Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan as an extension of his fight against the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.
It may be recalled that KCR, soon after coming to power in 2014, literally hounded Chandrababu, his Andhra counterpart then, out of Hyderabad, though it was a common capital for both Telangana and Andhra for 10 years, in the vote-for-note case.
Resetting the narrative
KCR is an expert at gauging the direction the political wind is blowing in, and weaving a narrative accordingly to reap the maximum harvest at the hustings. He rode to power in 2014 on the crest of self-pride and regional sentiment and as the one who achieved statehood for Telangana. Later, in the 2018 Assembly elections, KCR fought back the tide of anti-incumbency and delivered a crushing defeat to the Congress-led Grand Alliance, a combination of four parties.
Chandrababu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh at that time, was the mascot of the Grand Alliance and this fact was exploited to his advantage by KCR to raise the bogey of Telangana’s self-pride. As Andhra went to Assembly elections in 2019 along with parliamentary polls, KCR saw an “enemy’s-enemy-is-a-friend” in Jaganmohan Reddy and ensured Chandrababu’s defeat in that election.
In his second term, KCR virtually decimated the Congress and the TDP by encouraging defections on a massive scale. Two TDP legislators – Sandra Venkata Veeraiah and Matsa Nageswara Rao, both from Khammam district – were wooed into the TRS soon after their election. Similarly, as many as 12 out of 19 lawmakers from the Congress switched loyalties to the TRS.
During parliamentary elections in 2019, held four months after assembly polls, business tycoon Nama Nageswara Rao, who was one of the financial backbones of the TDP, was also lured into the TRS with an MP ticket.
Though the TDP has weakened overall, it has still got considerable voters and cadres in Khammam, Nalgonda and parts of the twin cities where the TRS is relatively weaker. The party also has a considerable sway among Seemandhra settlers spread over 20 out of 119 Assembly segments across the state.
Huzurabad as watershed in TRS politics
In the run-up to the Huzurabad by-polls, TDP’s Telangana state president L Ramana, an OBC leader, was wooed into the TRS and made an MLC. KCR, it is alleged, is also trying to woo TDP’s former politburo member Ravula Chandrasekhar Reddy and other senior leaders left in the TDP.
But, by focusing on the TDP and flogging the ‘dead horse’ Congress, KCR missed the increasing influence of the BJP in the state. The BJP challenged his authority by winning four Lok Sabha seats with a 20 per cent vote share in the 2019 general elections.
The TRS also suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of the BJP in the Dubbak and Huzurabad elections, and saw the rise of the saffron party in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections. The TRS chief then shifted focus and changed the narrative by pitching for an anti-Modi front at the national level.
The rise of the BJP has forced the TRS to re-tune its political messaging to suit the changing times. Thus, it seems to be showcasing the development initiated in Telangana under its rule and juxtaposing it with that in the sibling state.
The political messaging cites the doubts raised by then Congress Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, who presided over the state bifurcation, over the viability of statehood for Telangana in view of its energy and water deficits. But the new state under KCR overcame these handicaps and ensured uninterrupted power supply, goes the message.
The TRS government implemented the mega Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme to harness Godavari waters, enabling the doubling of agricultural growth. Hyderabad, as the state capital and a hub of IT and pharma companies and hospitality, continued to contribute 50 per cent of revenues to the state’s pool. This adds to the feathers in the TRS cap.
Basking in AP’s gloom
This progress is juxtaposed with the relatively ‘gloomy’ situation in Andhra. There are a variety of reasons for this. Andhra has no capital city in place yet that could match with Hyderabad in revenue earning. Besides, Jagan’s three-capitals move nipped the prospects of Amaravati as the state capital.
Also, there are no prospects within sight of the Polavaram Irrigation Project taking a realistic shape. The Jagan government’s decision to revisit the agreements the Naidu government made with independent power producers has worsened the power position.
The TRS leadership is seeking to highlight these grey areas in the neighbour to showcase and peddle its development package in the coming elections.