Which Way Will KCR Tilt After 23 May? Here’s His Game Plan

KCR’s diplomacy indicates that he is keeping his options open and doesn’t rule out a tie-up even with the Congress.

Published11 May 2019, 12:31 AM IST
Elections
5 min read

Many parts of India are yet to vote but parties have already started preparing their strategy for result day – 23 May. Strangely, the first initiative hasn’t been taken by the BJP or the Congress but by the two Deccan satraps: Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

While Naidu’s strategy has been clear from the beginning – uniting all anti-BJP forces – it is KCR, whose moves are most interesting.

Given KCR’s muted criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, many had assumed that if the BJP-led NDA falls short by a few seats, his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MPs would come to their rescue.

But KCR’s recent diplomacy seems to indicate that he is keeping his options open and doesn’t rule out a tie-up even with the Congress. Some say he’s pitching himself as Deputy PM.

According to a report in The New Indian Express, KCR is said to have communicated his willingness to work with the Congress in a conversation with Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, an ally of the Grand Old Party.

“The anti-Congress position KCR has assumed in Telangana doesn’t allow him to be seen as extending an olive branch to the party. He hopes that the JDS, given its working relation with the Congress in Karnataka, will be able to forge an alliance,” the report says quoting a ‘source privy to the conversation between the two CMs’.

Earlier this week, KCR met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and they are said to have discussed the role regional parties can play after the results.

The question is – what are KCR’s overtures aimed at?

The KCR Axis

By most estimates, the TRS could win anything between 12 and 16 Lok Sabha seats out of the 17 constituencies in Telangana. In addition to this, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who is likely to win from Hyderabad, has publicly announced his support for KCR.

According to the New Indian Express report, KCR has offered not just the support of the TRS but also that of Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh. Reddy’s party, the YSRCP, is tipped to win a large chunk of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh, ahead of Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP. KCR has already promised his support for special status for Andhra Pradesh, the core issue for Reddy.

The TRS-YSRCP-AIMIM axis could have close to 30-35 Lok Sabha seats between them. In the eventuality of a hung Parliament, they would emerge as important players in the non-BJP, non-Congress category, along with the SP-BSP-RLD Mahagathbandhan and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

Why Modi Isn’t A Natural Choice

The AIMIM’s dislike of the BJP is understandable but the latter isn’t the natural choice for the TRS and the YSRCP as well. There are two elements to this.

  1. Dalits, Muslims and Christians account for close to 29 percent of the population in Telangana and around 27 percent of the population in Andhra Pradesh. These are communities whose dislike for Modi and the BJP is well known. Supporting the Modi government would therefore come at a cost for the TRS and the YSRCP. The TRS would also lose the support of the AIMIM, which has been a steadfast ally in Telangana.
  2. Modi is deeply unpopular in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. According to the Lokniti-CSDS pre-poll survey, the Modi government has a negative satisfaction rating in both the states: -7 percent in Telangana and -5 percent in Andhra Pradesh. By supporting Modi at the Centre, the TRS and YSRCP would be taking upon itself the resentment against the BJP. In the long run, this would work to the advantage of their rivals the Congress and the TDP respectively.

So realistically, what are the options for the KCR axis?

The Options

If there’s a hung Parliament, the axis led by KCR could have four options:

  1. Federal Front government backed by the Congress: This would probably be the first choice for the KCR axis and this seems to be reflected in his overtures to the Congress. This would involve cobbling together a 1996-style coalition of regional parties and seeking support from the Congress. The other players in such an arrangement could be other non-aligned parties like the Mahagathbandhan, the TMC, Biju Janata Dal, AAP, PDP, Left Parties, AIUDF as well as Congress allies like DMK, NCP, JMM, JVM(P), National Conference and even possibly BJP allies like Janata Dal (United) and Shiv Sena.
  2. Federal Front government backed by the BJP: This could happen in a situation in which the BJP falls well short of a majority even with its allies and Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and the RSS feel that it is better to back a friendly government led by regional parties than have a hostile central government. Not every regional party would be comfortable forming a government with the help of the BJP, especially those like SP, RJD, AIMIM and AIUDF that are critically dependent on support from the Muslim community. But the assumption would be that the support of BJP would compensate for their exit.
  3. Joining an enlarged UPA: KCR has been a Congress ally in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and AIMIM has supported the Congress consistently in the past until their break up towards the end of UPA’s tenure. Jagan Mohan Reddy is from the Congress fold and has said that he harbours no ill-will towards the party. Therefore, KCR’s diplomacy could lead to some kind of a post-poll deal with the Congress. It could involve the formation of a 2004-style UPA government in which the Congress acts as a first among equals in a government dominated by regional parties. A strong commitment to federalism, pro-poor policies and support for minorities and other oppressed sections could be the cornerstones of such an enlarged UPA government.
  4. Becoming part of NDA: This would be a complete deal-breaker for Owaisi’s AIMIM and a difficult choice for TRS and YSRCP. Both the parties have benefited from the overwhelming support of minorities and Dalits and supporting the BJP could cost them politically. But if the BJP and its pre-poll allies get 240 seats or more, the TRS and YSRCP might not have much choice but to support a Narendra Modi government and in return secure some concessions for their respective states as well as ministries at the Centre.

The Enemy Number One

KCR’s diplomacy with non-BJP parties as well as his solidarity with Jaganmohan Reddy is motivated primarily by one factor: Their mutual dislike for TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu.

Naidu has cleverly understood that the public opinion in Andhra Pradesh is decisively against Modi and he pitched himself as the foremost anti-BJP voice in the state. As a result, Reddy was also forced to adopt an anti-BJP posturing as was evident from the two separate no-confidence motions against Modi attempted by the two parties.

Through his diplomacy, the TDP chief has already won the goodwill of key Opposition players like Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal and he is said to have a decent equation with Rahul Gandhi as well.

KCR and Jagan don’t want to concede this space to Naidu and that’s why the Telangana chief minister has initiated his own outreach with Opposition parties. Their fear is that even if Naidu is defeated in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections, he could still emerge as the kingpin of a Congress-backed Third Front government or a Congress-led government, and become an even bigger threat to both of them.

Their offer to the Congress would be simple: “Why deal with Naidu when we have more numbers than him?”

KCR’s diplomacy has just begun and he is likely to reach out to DMK chief MK Stalin as well. Of course, how much bargaining power he has would depend on how the numbers stack up on 23 May.

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