Slogans of "abki baar, kisaan sarkaar" rang loud and clear as thousands gathered for a rally by Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) national president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao in Kandhar Loha in Maharashtra's Nanded district on 26 March.
This was KCR's second public meeting in the state where he announced that the BRS, now registered with the Maharashtra State Election Commission, would contest from every seat in the upcoming local body elections. The first meeting was held at Bhokar in Nanded on 5 February.
The party supremo is expected to address a third similar gathering on 24 April in Aurangabad district.
The BRS's entry in the state — which is also the party's first foray in electoral politics outside Telangana — has complicated the election arithmetic for the old players including the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), AIMIM, and the Eknath Shinde and Uddhav Thackeray factions of the Shiv Sena.
In this analysis, The Quint looks at motive behind BRS's Maharashtra entry, the areas the party is targeting, and the issues on its radar as it challenges the traditional players and alliances in state politics.
A 'Window' To The North
KCR first unveiled his national expansion plans in October 2022 when he changed the name of his party from Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) to the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS).
The party's outreach in Maharashtra can be seen as a renewed attempt to stitch the Opposition together ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
In December 2022, the party identified 60 Lok Sabha seats from 11 states — including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Kerala, Puducherry, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh — as part of its 'Mission 100' target aimed at the 2024 general elections.
KCR with NCP Chief Sharad Pawar in February 2022.
KCR with Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray and MP Sanjay Raut.
Speaking at the 26 March rally, KCR made it clear that the party's major poll-pitch will be focused around farmers and agrarian issues.
"Devendra Fadnavis wanted to know why I am coming to Maharashtra instead of focussing on Telangana. As an Indian, I have the freedom to travel anywhere I want. However, if Maharashtra were to adopt the schemes implemented in Telangana, then there would be no need to visit the neighbouring State again," KCR said at the rally.
KCR's pitch to Maharashtra's farmers includes schemes like Ryuthu Bandhu and Ryuthu Bima that have been operational in Telangana.
After BRS's first rally in Nanded on 5 February, the Maharashtra government announced Rs 6,000 monthly financial aid to farmers in the state.
Taking credit for "forcing" the government to act, the Telangana CM asked, "I came here only once and a provision to give each farmer Rs 6,000 per year was found in the Maharashtra budget. Why was it never done earlier?"
The party supremo also urged the Maharashtra state government to "shun its politics based on jativad and dharamvad, and focus only on kisanvad."
In fact, in addition to Maharashtra, BRS has also set up units in Haryana and Chhattisgarh — two largely agrarian states.
In Maharashtra, the party has appointed farmer leader Manikrao Kadam as its state chief. Kadam was earlier with Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana — the farm outfit founded by former MP Raju Shetti. In 2014, Shetti's party formed an alliance with the BJP.
Apart from Kadam, several leaders from the NCP including (NCP) Kisan cell leader Shankaranna Dhondge, former MP Haribhau Rathod, Harshvardhan Jadhav, Vasantrao Bonde and others joined BRS recently.
The Marathwada Challenge
It is pertinent to note that the areas which KCR and his party are targeting in Maharashtra fall under the Marathwada region which was part of the erstwhile Hyderabad state under the Nizam's rule.
It includes districts such as Aurangabad, Beed, Latur, Jalna, and Parbhani.
In fact, BRS state chief Kadam also hails from this region.
Kandhar Loha, where the 26 March rally was held, borders Telangana's Boath Assembly constituency and has a large Telugu-speaking population.
Several districts in Marathwada that border Telangana, including Nanded, have a presence of native Telugu speakers. Recently, at least 40 villages in Nanded district had sought their inclusion into Telangana to protest the lack of development in their area.
In addition to its cultural affinity with Telangana, farmers in the dry and arid Marathwada region are also one of the worst affected by the state's agrarian crisis — which lays a fertile ground for KCR's 'pro-farmer' pitch.