Decoding KCR

By: K Ramachandra Murthy

Was K Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR), chief of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) right in deciding not to have anything to do with the Congress party after the statehood demand was achieved? Every sitting TRS MLA and every prospective TRS candidate hoped for a tie-up with the Congress party. The decision to avoid the Congress altogether-no merger and no tie-up- was reportedly taken by KCR and his family members. It was a risky, and hence a bold, decision.

There was general feeling among a section of intellectuals in Telangana that the TRS should not merge with the Congress but both the parties should have an alliance to avoid split in pro-statehood vote. Since they are responsible for creation of Telangana, both the parties have to build the new State together. If the Congress and the TRS are in the fray separately, a third party, be it TDP or BJP, may get the advantage in districts where T-sentiment has been weak. Such a situation might lead to a hung Assembly and consequent uncertainty. KCR was requested by well-wishers not to allow Telangana to become another Jharkhand, known for its instability and tardy progress ever since its formation in 2000. KCR was absolutely confident that the TRS would get 70 seats. Observers who are not politically inclined calculated at that time, after discussing every constituency, that the TRS would be able to bag some 35 seats. KCR’s estimate jumped to 90, if we go by what he said in election meetings on Tuesday in Warangal and Khammam districts. The observers too have realised that there is need to revise their assessment, upwards though not to the extent KCR would like them to do.

The reasons for revision are obvious. While there was no surprise element in the behavior of the Congress party, KCR has really surprised many of the observers. Where did the Congress go wrong? Congress president Sonia Gandhi should have visited Hyderabad within days of Parliament passing AP Bifurcation Bill, 2014, and addressed a public rally, say in LB Stadium, claiming credit for granting statehood. AICC general secretary, Digvijay Sing, who is supposed to be in charge of Andhra Pradesh, was limited to attending meetings in war room in Delhi and addressing the Telugu media. There was no attempt to convince the leaders from Seemandhra area and take them on board before the Bill was prepared. Even after getting the Bill approved in the clumsiest manner, there was no script with the Congress high command on how to face the elections. Congress leaders in the State were running between Hyderabad and Delhi like headless chicken. A couple of meetings were organised in districts based on the strength of local leadership to celebrate the victory in the battle for Telangana. It was presumed that the party high command would soon appoint PCCs for Telangana and Seemandhra and the TPCC chief would take care of the rallies. In the ensuing circus, the Delhi mandarins have come up with a bright idea of having Ponnala Lakshmaiah as PCC chief. The trump card played by Nara Chandrababu Naidu, chief of the TDP, by announcing that Telangana would have a BC as its first Chief Minister set the Congress leaders thinking in terms of BC leaders. The Congress high command has been fed on caste permutations and combinations by the party leaders from the State so much that it had reached a stage where it cannot think beyond caste equations. Delhi had cleverly decided to have BCs as PCC chiefs in both the regions. The dominant community in the Congress party in Telangana has become disinterested and demotivated. As a result, there is no campaign worth its name on behalf of the Congress. Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, with former IAS officer Koppula Raju on his side, has taken it upon himself to carry the fight forward. The Congress had made a mess of a clear opportunity to mount a strong campaign enthusing leaders and cadres to emerge victorious. It has committed grass roots workers, enterprising leaders and effective theme. The party has lived up to its reputation by its suicidal behavior.

KCR, on the other hand, surprised one and all. Nobody thought a frail person used to staying at farm house for weeks together would gear up so well and address ten election meetings on one day under scorching heat of 42 degrees Celsius. He did this feat not on one day but for days together. While the Congress has been a sitting duck, the TRS has been racing like a champion. The hard work put in by KCR and his nephew Harish Rao would certainly pay making up for lack of cadres in many places. The public mood has undergone a remarkable change. The TRS can hope to do better than earlier expected. Whether the party would be able get enough seats to form government is a question that can be answered only on May 16. One can say that the risk taken by KCR is worth it for more than one reason.

The first and foremost reason is that TRS could not have contested for as many seats as it is actually fighting for had it gone for a tie-up with the Congress. Congress would have demanded a large chunk of seats as it has more sitting MLAs. There would have been endless squabbles in the process of seat adjustments and dozens of rebel candidates would have been there in the field working against TRS candidates. Second, the deficiencies of the Congress party would have impacted the style and substance of TRS campaign. Leaders of the Congress party would have forced the TRS to become a partner in the farce they have reduced the electioneering to. Third, the message from the TRS would not have been as sharp and straight as it is now had it been in alliance with the Congress. When any Congress cat on the wall can become a chief minister at the whim of the party high command, the argument goes, why not KCR, a leader who risked his political career when he launched a party to achieve a separate State which was only in the realm of imagination in 2001? Fourth, had KCR not decided to go alone, the Congress and TRS would have been in alliance with the TDP and the BJP in another. In such an eventuality, the high-voltage campaign such as the one Narendra Modi, the BJP prime ministerial candidate, unleashed in Telangana on Tuesday, would have helped the TDP to bag more seats than expected; those who want to vote against the Congress or the TRS would vote for the TDP-BJP alliance. Whatever may happen to film hero-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan after the elections, he is now lending a helping hand to Modi and Naidu. All the parties, including the TRS, are blaming the Congress for the death of 1100 youths for the sake of Telangana statehood. Since Modi had mentioned this number, nobody would say anything less than that. In the blitzkrieg of this campaign the Congress party which is facing double anti-incumbency. TRS would have shared the negative factor had it been in league with the Congress. Fifth, it is possible that the top leaders in the Congress and the TRS would have agreed to fight separately and have post-poll alliance. By contesting independently, the Congress and the TRS can hope to occupy first two slots relegating the TDP-BJP to the third. The Congress and the TRS can find a formula to share power. KCR has not been talking bad of Sonia Gandhi. He bombarded Rahul Gandhi and Jairam Ramesh only after the other side fired the first salvo. Jairam Ramesh has increased the pitch. Daily quota of invectives that we hear is part of electioneering. Come May 16, all will be forgotten.

Though KCR’s audacity in deciding to be independent of the Congress appeared baffling, the results may prove him right. Even if it fails to get a majority, the TRS might emerge as the single largest party. In the worst scenario, it would end up with more seats that the number of seats it would have got in alliance with the Congress. In the hindsight, one would feel that KCR, after all, was right in doing what he did.

[The Hans India]

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