Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, who has been eyeing a role in national politics, said, “If you pull the Telangana government down, in Delhi we will pull you down.” The CM, who is popularly known as KCR, was taunting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the inaugural day of the BJP’s national executive committee meeting in Hyderabad on 2 July.
On Sunday, 3 July, at the executive committee meeting, Amit Shah spoke of ending "family rule" in Telangana and West Bengal, making it clear that the fight for power is very much on in the southern state.
Shah's statement came a day after hundreds of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) workers had rallied across the city in support of the Opposition’s joint presidential candidate Yashwant Sinha, as the CM skipped receiving PM Modi in Hyderabad to campaign for Sinha.
Regional Party v National Party
“We are not worried whether we are small. We could be a small state in terms of geographical area, but TRS is offering an alternative agenda to the BJP,” a TRS leader and Member of Legislative Council (MLC) Palla Rajeshwar Reddy told The Quint.
On 3 July, a billboard mimicking Money Heist came up at LB Nagar – where the BJP has strong presence in local bodies and where the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had held an infamous march in 2020 – stating, “We only rob bank. You rob the whole nation.” The hoarding addressed PM Modi.
With ground presence of TRS workers, social media jibes promoted by IT Minister and KCR’s son K Taraka Rama Rao (KTR), and a billboard war, the TRS has put up a David v Goliath fight for its home turf, Telangana. Can the pink party stand up to the saffron national player?
On 3 July, the BJP's Union Minister G Kishan Reddy admitted that conducting the NEC in Hyderabad was a confidence-building measure. "With the conduct of the national executive committee in Hyderabad, the people of Telangana are happy," he said at a press conference held at the NEC venue. Union Minister Piyush Goyal even claimed that lakhs of BJP workers had fought for the formation of Telangana. The BJP has said that KCR is scared of the BJP and Narendra Modi's image.
BJP Makes NEC Launchpad for 2023 Assembly Election Campaign, TRS Pushes Back
With the NEC meeting, the BJP could bring to Hyderabad its national clout. Between 2 and 3 July the Hyderabad city police scrambled to give cover to over 60 delegates who were eligible for Z+ category security. From Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, MPs, and MLAs, most prominent BJP leaders did not just attend the NEC, but also made time to attend public or private events and address press conferences across Telangana. BJP President JP Nadda himself led a roadshow on 1 July in Hyderabad.
But, the TRS did not remain silent. The party’s pushback was small in scale given its limited state presence but was cleverly crafted. On 2 July, the front pages of every prominent newspaper in Hyderabad featured an advertisement with KCR’s face printed on it.
Did the TRS dig into the state exchequer to advertise? While the costs were not made public, the party made sure that no prominent advertisement space was left for the BJP. Moreover, there were TRS hoardings placed across the city making Hyderabad turn pink and saffron at the same time.
Most importantly, KCR made his irreverence to PM Modi clear by deciding not to receive the latter in Hyderabad. Instead, he asked the PM pertinent questions on price rise, fall of rupee against dollar and mandatory coal imports. “No one is permanent. There were prime ministers even before Modiji. But Modiji seems to be under the impression that he is permanent,” he took a jibe.
KCR’s political posturing, to which TRS’ social media team gave an online boost, did put the BJP in an awkward situation. Four of its Union Ministers Smriti Z Irani, G Kishan Reddy, Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad had to deplore the CM’s statements.
Addressing a press conference at the NEC venue, Irani condemned the Telangana CM’s refusal to meet the PM, “KCR has not insulted the individual (Narendra Modi) but the institution (of Prime Minister’s office).”
Almost every BJP leader who made press statements in Hyderabad ended up accusing the TRS leader of “violating protocol” which “mandates the CM to receive the PM.” The BJP’s State President Bandi Sanjay Kumar held a 45 minute long press conference the focus of which was KCR’s statements against Narendra Modi. In short, the BJP could not ignore KCR and TRS to focus on their campaign.
Can KCR Hold Fort for Long? TRS Invokes Modi’s Gujarat CM Past
In the public meeting held purportedly to support Yashwant Sinha, KCR referred to the TRS’ near absolute strength in the state Assembly where the party is in an alliance with All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), to remind the BJP of its fledging state unit. TRS and AIMIM together have 103 MLAs in a 119 strong House. However, in a state which has just 17 Lok Sabha seats, can the TRS pose a real challenge to the BJP?
“The BJP is trying to project Hindutva communal agenda in the guise of its national executive meeting. They are putting forth this agenda to the people of Telangana. We are opposing this. But we are aware that the BJP can use Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigations and other national probe agencies to attack us,” Rajeshwar Reddy said.
Just hours after KCR’s speech, ED provisionally attached Rs 96 crore worth assets of Madhucon Group of companies promoted by TRS’ Lok Sabha floor leader Nama Nageshwar Rao, in a bank fraud case.
A senior BJP leader told The Quint, “The dynasty politics of TRS has to end. KCR, his relatives and party supporters are looting the state. Yes, to put an end to this, why not train probe agencies against the party. Probe agencies’ duty is to probe disproportionate assets too.” The TRS too seemed to be anticipating a real crackdown. “ED or any national agency probe can be initiated against KCR, KTR or any leader of the party. But we are risking it. We are not afraid,” a senior leader of the TRS said.
The TRS’ boldness could have also sprung from KCR’s ambition to launch a national party, but to a great extent it springs from the need to resist the BJP in Telangana.
The BJP has been making inroads in the state with the party winning four Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and several urban local body wards in 2021. “There is a challenge to the TRS. But the BJP’s only trump card in Telangana is Narendra Modi’s image. The TRS has history (Telangana statehood agitation) in the state, which the BJP has not yet matched,” a TRS leader explained.
It is the Modi image that the TRS has been fighting, without giving much heed to the BJP state unit or its leaders. KCR on 2 July posed half a dozen questions to the PM, covertly referring to him as a former Chief Minister (Gujarat).
“You supported one candidate (Donald Trump) in the US presidential polls. No Prime Minister of India had, in the past, done such a thing. What did you think of the American presidential elections? Did you think that it is like Ahmedabad municipal corporation election?” KCR asked in his acerbic style. The TRS’ official twitter handle posted a message to Modi in Gujarati, consistently reminding the BJP that it has a Prime Minister who was once the leader of a small state similar to Telangana. A former David, who has now become a Goliath.
In Telangana, however, despite all the clever political posturing, what can pose the TRS a bigger threat than the BJP is anti-incumbency sentiment. The party has been in power in the state for two consecutive terms.
Is Telangana Looking for a Political Alternative?
In the state, both the Congress and the BJP have been opposing the TRS. However, the TRS has gone slightly soft on the Congress, ever since the party has been attempting to emerge a national player. The party’s welfare measures including schemes for farmers and almost every section of caste groups in the state have worked in its favour over the years.
KCR’s biggest challenge will be to retain people’s trust in his party for third consecutive term, despite strong opposition from Congress and BJP. Meanwhile, for the BJP time is ripe to take a south Indian state other than Karnataka.
“There is enough trust in the BJP and there is resentment towards the incumbent TRS government. It makes Telangana a priority for the BJP,” a national BJP leader said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is expected to hold a massive public meeting at Hyderabad’s Parade Grounds on Sunday, a precursor to the stiff competition the TRS may get from the BJP.
The Congress, meanwhile, has been largely vacating the arena for the TRS. For instance, the party which has supported Yashwant Sinha’s candidacy at the national level, passed a resolution not to receive him in Hyderabad on 2 July.
The party’s state president A Revanth Reddy even warned party stalwart Hanumanth Rao of dire consequences for attending Sinha’s reception.
The TRS, meanwhile, may have to go beyond political posturing to oppose the BJP. Its ground level cadres will have to be secured and strengthened even as the BJP plans a massive booth-level strengthening exercise. “At the booth level the party will be strengthened in almost all states including Telangana. Naddaji was very clear about ever since he came to Hyderabad,” a BJP leader attending the NEC told The Quint.
Will Telangana be the BJP’s next stop in the south after Karnataka? The TRS definitely is putting up a fight to prevent this.