In the early 1980s, when Telugu Desam Party (TDP) founder NT Ramarao (NTR) decided to take on the Congress government headed by Indira Gandhi he famously declared the “Centre” to be a “conceptual myth”. Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s (KCR) call for an anti-BJP and anti-Congress front on Sunday (March 4) is reminiscent of NTR’s in the 1980s.
But there is also a vital difference: KCR’s era bears little resemblance to the one in which NTR actively participated and chaired an anti-Congress front culminating in VP Singh’s prime ministership as head of the National Front (NF) government in 1989. Additionally, there are many questions surrounding KCR’s sudden quest for a ‘national role’ that need urgent answers before the project can be viewed as continuation of NTR’s anti-Centrist politics for the present era.
For now however, KCR appears to have got his script in place, irrespective of whether or not he will be taken seriously. And being a veteran politician, he knows well how to build drama around his new political move.
This his how the gambit unfolded. Everything was quiet until last week, but by Sunday (March 4) things took a 360 degree turn. Before anyone could guess what was happening, there was the promise of an impending crisis in Centre-State relations. KCR had declared war.
Earlier on Saturday afternoon (3 March) the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief addressed a press conference where spoke about the possible emergence of a third front-like outfit in national politics that would stand for an anti-BJP and anti-Congress style of governance. KCR said the Centre should confine itself to defence and national security and had no business “invading” the boundaries of States.
By Sunday afternoon all roads leading to Pragathi Bhavan, the CM‘s official residence in Begumpet, Hyderabad, were blocked. Traffic came to a halt due to the many hundreds of vehicles that brought TRS workers all across the state to the CM’s home. Cries of “Desh Ka Neta KCR/KCR Aao Desh ko Bachao” filled the air. KCR addressed a huge gathering of party workers and declared that he was entering national politics with the idea of creating a third front. He would tour all states and hold talks with “like-minded parties”.
“Centre has no business in the States. Centre should leave education, agriculture, urban development, rural development, health and other departments to the States. Centre is so intrusive that it is even controlling the village roads in the name of Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. Why should the Centre show up at every culvert, bridge, road?” KCR asked.
One of his main demands was that every State should be given a free hand to formulate policies in implementing reservations. “ SCs, STs, BCs and minorities constitute 85 % of Telangana’s population. And you ask me to limit the reservations at 50 %. What is the logic?”
But he slipped in one important warning during his tirade against the Centre: “Don’t try to touch me. If anybody comes near me he will be reduced to ashes.” It led many to speculate who the target of his warning was – whether it was the CBI (believed to be ready to investigate two corruption cases against him) or the Congress, which is putting together an anti-TRS front in the state, or Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is opposed to reservations for Muslims which KCR is determined to implement before the 2019 elections.
While the answers to these questions are not immediately clear, what is certain is that KCR has attempted to evoke the old war cry of anti-Centre politics that NTR had perfected. Back in the 1980s, suffering at the hands of Indira Gandhi and dependent on the Centre for clearances for projects, NTR had said the Centre should be confined to the national Capital alone.There was good reason for NTR’s ire against the Centre. His government was toppled by his colleague Nadendla Bhaskar Rao with the help of the Centre. NTR took on Indira Gandhi and later her son Rajiv Gandhi, whom he referred to as Kurra Kunka (Bachcha in Hindi or a mere child). In May 1983, NTR organized an Opposition conclave with representatives from various non-Congress parties in Vijayawada. This is the background to NTR’s slogan Congress Hatao, Desh Bachao. Armed with the slogan, NTR campaigned for Devi Lal in Haryana in 1987. These efforts paved the path for the successful formation of the NF government with NTR as the chairman of the coalition. Additionally, this was also a period which saw Centre-State relations deteriorate due to the emergence of a hostile strain in regional politics vis-à-vis the Centre.
This atmosphere has been absent in the last couple of decades. As far as KCR goes, his hostility towards Centre and Modi began in earnest only last week when he used the derogatory singular expression (Modi gaadu) to please audiences while emotionally addressing a public meeting in Telangana. The BJP took strong objection to the “foul language” employed against PM Modi. While his son KT Ramarao apologised to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for the lapse, stating it was a slip of the tongue, KCR himself maintained he had never used the words ‘Modi gaadu’. This assertion was accompanied by the talk of the formation of a non-Congress and non-BJP third front.
According to KCR he had the Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee’s support. He would tour the country to win popular backing for his plank. “Mere desh waasiyon, main pranam karke bolta hoon, jaanieye, samjiye in dono rajnitik partyon ka chamatkar,” he held. (My dear countrymen, with folded hands I ask you to understand and realise the trickery of these two parties (Congress and BJP).)
Among the others whose support KCR has at the moment are the Janasena chief and movie star Pawan Kalyan and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen’s (AIMIM) Asaduddin Owaisi. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has maintained a stoic silence on this so far.
But the Congress and BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) have ridiculed KCR’s talk of a national role as ‘drama’ meant to divert the people’s attention from the failures of the TRS government. “KCR is raking up non-issues as he is faced with too many charges of corruption and failures. He is scared of the resurgence of Congress in the state,” Telangana Congress president N Uttam Kumar Reddy said. BJP president K Laxman said: “The CM is feeling insecure the in the light of North East election results. He is worried that the TRS will be wiped out in 2019.”
But it will take some time before the motive behind KCR ‘s sudden declaration of war of on the Centre or sanyas from state politics comes to the fore according to analysts. According to S Simhadri, a former a faculty member from Osmania University, and noted political scientist, KCR was raking up the non-issue to fulfill his personal agenda. “By moving to the Centre, KCR is facilitating the smooth take over by his son KT Ramarao as the chief minister. As long as he is in the state, anointing his son as CM is a problem....(with this) there won’t be any Opposition as he is on a ‘lofty mission’. Simhadri also said KCR’s move can’ t be dismissed as inconsequential.
“He is talking of anti-Congress and anti-BJP front a time when an anti-BJP alliance is on the cards at the national level. And his proposal has the potential to destroy the efforts of social justice forces rallying together against the BJP. In a way he is helping BJP,” he said.
M Purushottam Reddy, a noted political analyst said the motive behind KCR’s national third front was purely local and was aimed at winning in the 2019 elections in Telangana. “It’s meant to generate a second wave of Telangana sentiment to beat anti-incumbency. He will go to people asking them to re-elect the TRS in Telangana as it will help the ‘Telangana bidda’ to become the Prime Minister,” said Reddy. In the first wave of ‘T-sentiment’ KCR had become the CM, in the second one, his son, KTR, would succeed him.