A federal front, the brainchild of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, seems to be gaining shape ahead of the next general elections, following his confrontation with his state governor Tamilsai Soundararajan.
The showdown between Rajbhavan and Pragati Bhavan, the residence of the Chief Minister, seems to be becoming a rallying point for K Chandrasekhar Rao, or KCR, to take on board the “fellow victims” of governors in the other opposition- ruled states.
Rao met Jarkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren in Ranchi and his Maharashtra counterpart Uddhav Thackeray, besides Sharad Pawar of Nationalist Congress Party, in Mumbai in February. He also reached out to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Benerjee. In January, KCR and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan met in Hyderabad.
All these chief ministers are embroiled in some or the other feud with governors of their respective states. Stalin has his relations strained with Governor RN Ravi on the issue of anti-NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) Bill; Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is not on the page with Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on abolition of contributory pension scheme for personal staff attached to his council of ministers.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Benerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar have been on a confontration course for a long time now with Mamata accusing Dhankhar of acting as an agent of the Centre. Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari, who has an RSS background, delayed clearing nomination of 12 MLCs under the Governor’s quota and holding election for the Speaker post for a long time.
KCR said he will take the lead in holding a conclave of the opposition chief ministers shortly in Delhi. The confrontation with the governors does give a reason to the opposition chief ministers to come on a common stage.
Belling the cat
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader had proposed a third front as an alternative to the Narendra Modi-led NDA and the Congress soon after the last general elections in 2019. He had said that the states ruled by regional parties or opposition parties continue to be victims of the dominance of the Centre, be it the Congress or the BJP in power. The rights of the states have come under threat; the states have been denied their due share in tax devolutions; as a whole, the federal spirit of the constitution has been in jeopardy. The alarming situation, KCR says, calls for a common platform involving the chief ministers of the opposition parties to fight for their due.
KCR had even met late Karunanidhi of DMK in Tamil Nadu and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the other opposition leaders in the run up to previous elections, proposing a third front. However, he was viewed with suspicion by the opposition parties at that time since he was seen more as a friend of the NDA than rival, given his party’s support to the NDA’s controversial decisions like note ban, GST, the RTI amendment bill and inter-state River Waters (Disputes) Amendment Bill; though both the bills involving federal issues also received support from the TRS.
KCR had tangible reasons to go soft on the BJP then as the Congress was the principal opposition in his home state. In a state engaged in a triangular political slugfest, it is suicidal for a party in power to fritter away its ammunition by aiming at a less powerful rival. Such was the case with the BJP at that time for KCR.
But the political scene has changed since then. The BJP has grown much stronger than the Congress as was evident during 2019 Parliament elections, Dubbaka and Huzurabad by-elections and elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). The saffron party has snatched the tag of main opposition from the Congress by winning four Lok Sabha seats with a substantial increase of vote share from 7 per cent to 20 per cent and wresting two Assembly segments from the TRS in the by-polls. Besides, the BJP emerged as a formidable opposition party in the GHMC elections. The results helped the top brass in the saffron party see a fertile ground in the country’s smallest southern state to come to power in the next state elections.
Face-off with Tamilisai
After the outcome of parliamentary elections, Tamilsai, an active BJP leader in Tamil Nadu, was appointed as the Governor of Telangana on September 8, 2019, replacing ESL Narasimhan. KCR expressed his displeasure at not being consulted before her appointment.
The TRS chief could no longer take the BJP for granted now. Therefore, the TRS changed its tactics and stepped-up criticism against the NDA government at the Centre. The TRS-sponsored massive protests against the Centre on paddy procurement could be seen in this context.
The Chief Minister has decided to take his protests, blaming the Centre for failing to procure paddy grown from his state, to the national capital on April 11.
Further, in an unprecedented move, KCR saw the budget session of the Assembly convened without the customary Governor’s address. The friction with the Governor further deepened when the CM and his cabinet colleagues stayed away from the Republic Day event in the Raj Bhavan on January 27.
Governor’s parallel show
The Governor gave veiled threats to the TRS government while addressing the media soon after meeting Union Home Minister Amit Shah. “As a constitutional head, I have failed to receive minimum protocol honours from the state government during my visits to Medaram jathara and Yadadri temple. Officials are not attending the meetings I am holding in Raj Bhavan on public issues. I have discretionary powers. But I do not use such powers but leave it to the people of Telangana,” the Governor told media in Delhi.
Soon after her appointment as Governor, she has been accused of running a parallel administration. When Tamilisai, a physician by profession, visited Covid patients under treatment in hospitals, she was hailed by the BJP leaders as the one breaking KCR’s “gadi” (a term referring to the rule of Nizams from their palace) rule. KCR has been accused of running the government from his farmhouse most of the time and remaining inaccessible to the commoners.
Later, she said she will hold “prajadarbhars” in Raj Bhavan. After her Delhi visit, she said a complaint box will be made available for the common people of Telangana in Raj Bhavan to express their grievances.
The Governor-CM clash has its roots in Tamilisai turning down the TRS government’s proposal to nominate Koushik Reddy, a turncoat from the Congress, as an MLC under the service category through the Governor’s quota in the run up to the by-elections in Huzurabad.
Analyst K Nageswar has expressed anguish over the running feud between the elected government of Telangana and the Governor. Governor’s veiled threats are uncalled for and evoke memories of the unsavory episodes of Governor Ram Lal in the undivided Andhra Pradesh, Nageswar said.
Thespian NT Rama Rao was unseated from power soon after his fledgling Telugu Desam Party rode to power in 1985 through then Governor Ram Lal at the instance of the Congress government at the Centre. NTR came back to power with the help of massive support from people and later took up the issue of misuse of governor’s powers and sought fair play in the Centre-state relations.
Raka Sudhakar, a right wing intellectual, however, doubts the capabilities of KCR with hardly nine MPs to leverage his position in national politics.