New national party: KCR’s bid to do a Rajaji excites supporters, but not a ripple elsewhere

New national party: KCR’s bid to do a Rajaji excites supporters, but not a ripple elsewhere

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Only once in the past, has a South Indian leader floated a national party. The year was 1959. Two-time chief minister, freedom movement veteran, and governor-general of Independent India Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) launched Swatantra Party against the Congress party, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and his brand of socialism.

If Telangana chief minister and TRS supremo, K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) were to launch a national party as an alternative to BJP and the policies of Prime Minister Modi, it would become a second attempt by a South Indian leader to challenge a powerful Prime Minister.

The origins of Swatantra Party

NG Ranga, an Oxford economics professor and a farmers’ leader in Andhra Pradesh had played a key role in the formation of the party. Though the party was founded and mentored by Rajaji, he chose Prof Ranga, a Telugu, as the first president of the party. Prof Ranga led the party for ten years.

Also read: TRS to BRS: KCR set to take party national this month, aiming at 2024

The party attracted intellectuals, ideologues of liberalism, businessmen, farmers’ leaders, regional political outfits and erstwhile kings and princes, including the Maharaja of Jaipur and Patiala. Some of the distinguished members of the party were Dayabhai Patel (son of Sardar Patel), AD Shroff, HM Patel, Narayana Dandekar, JM Lobo Prabhu and Minoo Masani. All those opposed to the idea of socialism gravitated toward the party and the experiment was an astounding success.

The Swatantra Party soon became the second biggest party in the country. It won more MLAs (207) than CPI (153), Jayaprakash Narayan’s Praja Socialist Party (149) and Jan Sangh (115) across the nation. As for Lok Sabha, it contested 192 seats and won 22 by securing a vote share of 8.5 per cent. The 1967 election scripted another success story.  The party’s strength in Lok Sabha rose to 44 and the number of MLAs in states went up to 256. But finally, following ideological differences among the leaders and the death of Rajaji, the party became irrelevant and got merged with Bharatiya Kranti Dal in 1974.

Excited TRS supporters

In 2022, according to media reports, KCR is expected to launch the party in June itself since 6 (June being the sixth month) is his lucky number. Incidentally, the Swatantra Party was also born in the month of June 1959.

So far, the excitement generated through ‘news leaks’ about the new political party is expectedly confined to TRS ministers and the party’s NRI fans. The party’s rank and the file are praising KCR as eminently qualified to lead the nation. They are hailing him as the future prime minister and appealing to him to implement all his pet schemes like Rythu Bandhu, Shadi Mubarak, etc, at the national level. They even want him to resolve water disputes among states in order to allocate river waters judiciously.

Vundavalli Arunkumar, a former MP from Andhra Pradesh, who met KCR on Sunday, said that Telangana CM was the right person to take on the BJP. “CM KCR has complete clarity and is heading in the right direction, equipped with a well-researched agenda to prevent the country from falling into a deep abyss of communal politics,” he told media after the meeting.

Telangana NRIs — from Australia to the US, South Africa to Germany — have hailed KCR’s decision to form a national party and pledged to work towards his success.

Telangana minister Erraballi Dayakar Rao said it was time for KCR to lead the nation. Another minister, Ganguala Kamalakar, said the country was hoping to see KCR as the alternative to the BJP. Brahmin Seva Samiti from Hyderabad ‘rejoiced’ at KCR’s decision to enter national politics.

However, this excitement is not visible outside TRS circles. The pan-India enthusiasm the Swatantra Party had evoked in 1959 is largely absent now.

So far, despite the hype by Telangana media, KCR’s idea of a new national party has not generated a nationwide debate along the lines of the one which his ‘federal front’ had created before the 2019 elections.

Intellectuals like Dr EAS Sarma, former Government of India secretary, stress that a federal front of regional parties is necessary to oppose decisions like disinvestment of LIC, etc. In fact, Sarma wrote to all the chief ministers about the need to forge a federal front to protect the interests of states.

But, the idea of a new party, which appears to be taking shape under the guidance of election strategist Prashant Kishor, is yet to make a splash at the national level.

Sandhya Ravisankar, a senior journalist from Chennai, said there was no talk whatsoever on the proposed new national party by KCR in Tamil political circles. Similarly, Urmilesh, a New Delhi-based journalist and former editor of Rajya Sabha TV, said the news failed to generate any enthusiasm in the north Indian political circles.

Why the response is lukewarm?

Political scientists are of the opinion that the historical context today is not favourable to forming a national party.

According to Professor Srinivasulu, a senior fellow at ICSSR, New Delhi, scope for a new national party is limited at present. “The country is passing through a phase where federal forces are demanding a major say at the national level. This is the result of the process of regionalisation of Indian polity, unleashed in the 1990s. This process is accompanied by the decline of Congress. National level fronts, like the United Front and the National Front, were an outcome of the assertive politics of regional parties. On the other side, BJP has occupied the space left by the Congress at the national level. Congress is though still there with a role to play in building anti-BJP platforms. Carving out a space for another national party is too difficult a task against this backdrop, that too for a regional leader,” Prof Srinivasulu said.

He said there are two risks lurking in the KCR’s proposed new national party: one, the other regional parties may simply ignore KCR and his party, and two, a setback to his national party may even endanger his own survival in Telangana.

“The best option for KCR is to work towards building a national front while protecting hard-earned Telangana identity,” he said.

Noted analyst Telakapalli Ravi said that KCR’s proposal might not find acceptance in other states where strong regional parties exist. “The idea will be useful only to keep his name at the centre of public attention. KCR may be under the impression that talk that a Telangana man will become the prime minister would generate a sentiment and help him win the next election. He played the same card of Federal Front before the 2018 election and jettisoned it later. Now, he seems to have chosen a new tool, ‘the national party’, as a propaganda medium,” Ravi said.

Also read: Eyeing national role, KCR to meet families of farmers who died in anti-farm bills protest

However, BJP Dubbaka MLA M Raghunandan Rao ascribes another angle to it. “First, the sudden leak of news of a national party in the month of June may be to deflect the people’s attention from the BJP’s national executive at Hyderabad to be held on July 2 and 3 in which the PM is expected to participate. The national party is a proposal to save face following the poor response to his Federal Front proposal,” Raghunandan said.

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