Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s tactic of blowing hot and cold against the Centre when it suits him, may have worked so far in helping him oppose the BJP in the state level while supporting it at the national level, but experts say the trend may be short-lived. They say it is because the BJP, emboldened by its win in the recent Huzurabad bypolls is making aggressive efforts to consolidate its position in Telangana and is in no mood to humour the monkey balancing act of KCR and instead wants a real fight.
KCR, on his part, continues to give an impression that he is at war with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The threats he has frequently hurled and the language he has employed in the press conferences that followed the Huzurabad by-poll debacle clearly point to an imminent conflict.
On November 18, at the maha dharna (sit-in) that he organised in Hyderabad, KCR in unequivocal terms called the Centre “anti-Telangana”. Warning the Centre that he would pursue the issue until the former buys the entire paddy crop from the state, the chief minister even threatened to dump the grains at the BJP office if the government doesn’t fulfil their demands. While urging the prime minister to clarify on the procurement of Yasangi (Rabi) paddy, KCR said he would take the fight to the national level if necessary.
Serious opposition or just optics?
Political observers and party insiders say, KCR will never take the fight to the national level because he is well aware of the line one should not cross while confronting a bigger rival like Modi. Besides the Telangana chief minister’s anger against the Centre has never reached a point of no return despite periodic outbursts against the prime minister and the Centre.
A TRS sympathiser, who didn’t want to be named, said KCR’s national outbursts were always driven by local needs.
“His antagonism against the Centre is mere tokenism. He floated the Federal Front before the last Lok Sabha elections to tickle the people with a delusional idea that if Deve Gowda can become the prime minister, then why not a Telangana bidda. KCR asked the people to strengthen his hands first to see the results later. And it worked wonders. The TRS emerged stronger though the party could not meet the 16 Lok Sabha-seat target (for the 2019 general elections),” he said, adding that KCR knows how to create an “imagined centre-state tension” and exploit it. There was no talk of the Federal Front thereafter.
Political commentator S Simhadri seconds the argument. He says KCR’s ‘anti-centre talk’ is only to divert the attention of people from the crushing Huzurbad defeat of the TRS at the hands of Eatala Rajender, a friend-turned-foe of the Telangana chief minister.
“Eatala is a potential chief ministerial candidate. The BJP is projecting Backward Class faces in Telangana. Party president Bandi Sanjya is a BC leader. Now Eatala is a two-edged weapon. A vocal BC leader, he was also at the forefront of the Telangana movement. So, KCR doesn’t want the bad taste of the Huzurabad debacle to linger for long. His war vocabulary is only a ploy to force-stop the Huzurabad debate,” Prof Simhadri, also the president of the state’s Samajwadi Party said.
If the past events are analysed, one would easily discern a pattern in Chief Minister KCR’s antagonism against the Centre. He has always tried to balance his symbolic tantrums in Hyderabad with the extension of the party’s support to Modi’s government at crucial times in Parliament and by his trips to Delhi.
When the farmers’ agitation was at its peak, KCR expressed solidarity with them and asked his men to make the first Bharat Bandh a huge success. After a visit to New Delhi, however, he conveniently chose to ignore the subsequent Bharat Bandhs and the agitating farmers. This has been seen as the ‘Chanakya niti’ of KCR by his supporters.
KCR needs new strategies, BJP vying for a real fight
The familiar inconsistency, the hallmark of KCR, paid dividends as long as there was no perceivable threat to his authority on the horizon. However, now the old strategy is unlikely to work in the face of the Huzurabad by-election debacle. This is evident from his statement that the BJP is trying to foment a communal divide among the Telangana people.
Also, state BJP leaders are exerting pressure on the high command not to cave into the tactics of KCR. They want free hands in the state – and they want a real conflict with KCR, no more an imaginary one.
“KCR is trying to destabilize the Centre by announcing ex-gratia to kin of farmers who died in the protests. It’s a way of inciting the farmers against the Centre for more ex-gratia. We urge the central government and party leadership to be cautious about KCR’s politics,” said BJP’s former national executive member Perala Sekhar Rao, adding that KCR’s compensation is going to be a major scam.
“Let the state government first publish the names and addresses of 730 farmers who reportedly died in the Delhi agitation. This is a matter to be watched closely,” he added.
State BJP leaders want a direct confrontation with KCR and mobilise farmers against the state government. “The paddy procurement mess is the creation of state government. We will go the farmers and tell the truth,” Rao said.
Professor Kodandaram of Telangana Jana Samiti also sees troubled times ahead for KCR. Stating that KCR has been rattled by the rise of BJP in the state, the former Osmania University political science professor said, the chief minister doesn’t want his fight with BJP to look like ‘BJP versus TRS fight[ as communal polarisation will harm the TRS more.
“KCR’s sudden love for Punjab farmers and announcement of ₹3 lakh ex-gratia is an attempt to make his fight with BJP look like more ‘centre-versus state’ conflict than ‘TRS vs BJP’. It even helps him gain sympathy at the national level,” Kodandaram said.
KCR’s ex-gratia to farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, at a time when several farmers and unemployed youth committed suicide due to bleak future in Telangana may not go down well with the people of his state, Kodandaram said.
There is a growing awareness among the BJP leaders that the tide is turning in its favour in the state. The saffron party appears to have smelled blood in Telangana, more particularly after its victory in the recent Huzurabad bypolls. Emboldened by the Huzurabad victory and growing cadre strength, the BJP high command is expected to create more uncertainty for KCR so that saffron party can flourish and consolidate its position in Telangana.
Some observers, however, still believe that KCR would certainly find a way to reach out to BJP high command for a ceasefire.