The Congress has had no real reason for celebration in the two Telugu-speaking states of Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana over the past four years. The party’s been unable to break free of the fallout of Bifurcation – it drew a blank in the 2014 Assembly elections in AP and in Telangana more than a dozen of its MLAs and MLCs shifted loyalties to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
If there was one major occasion when the Congress went into raptures it was at the time of Rahul Gandhi’s ascension as party president. The other occasion came last week when Karnataka’s three-day chief minister BS Yeddyurappa announced his resignation on the floor of the Assembly.
The Telangana and Andhra Congress both celebrated the party’s success at foiling Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah’s alleged bid to woo Congress MLAs with power and pelf. But there was one other party that was equally enthused by Modi’s failure to rustle up the numbers for a BJP government in Karnataka. No prizes for guessing which one. AP’s ruling party, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which walked out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on March 16 2018 over the grant of Special Category Status (SCS) to the state, was equally upbeat.
AP Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu described Yeddyurappa’s resignation as the beginning of the end of Modi-type politics. He claimed that the Telugu people had successfully halted Modi in his tracks in Karnataka as “they perceived Modi as a mitradrohi”. During the campaign he had sent out a message to Karnataka’s Telugu-speaking population not to support the BJP. Now he was claiming credit. The reactions of the YSR Congress Party (YCP), the TDP’s chief rival, and the TRS were, by contrast, sullen.
Do these reactions signal the shape of things to come in the run up to the 2019 general elections? Political circles in the two states are abuzz with speculation of the Congress and the TDP joining hands in the two Telugu states.
In fact, ever since Naidu quit the NDA and charged the PM with “betrayal” there has been talk of the ‘impossible’ coming to pass in Telugu politics. The Karnataka developments have given a fresh lease of life to this speculation.
A look back at the developments shows how things reached this pass. The PM’s refusal to meet Naidu despite his repeated requests for an audience rankled the AP CM no end in the months before his decision to quit the NDA. Additionally, there were indications that YCP leader, Jaganmohan Reddy, and his MPs were more favoured than the TDP in the Prime Minister’s Office.
By March 9 2018, Naidu withdrew two of his ministers from the Union council of ministers in protest against Modi’s disregard towards the SCS assurance to AP. Around the same time, Rahul Gandhi announced that if his party were to come to power, the first file to be signed would be the grant of special status to AP.
Naidu meanwhile reiterated that the TDP would support only that party which would grant special status to the state. This was enough to set the rumour mills in motion. The Karnataka election, which forced the two parties fight a common enemy in Modi in their own different ways, amplified the rumours.
Sources in the Congress and TDP did not rule out the ‘unthinkable’ happening. Questioning what was wrong if the Congress and TDP came together, a TDP leader defended the idea stoutly. “True, we were an anti-Congress party. The TDP took birth only to save regional interests from the Congress hegemony. However, there has been a lot of change in politics between 1982, when TDP was floated by NTR, and 2018, when Congress is totally marginalized. In AP they are no longer a force. Here in AP the bigger threat is YCP and its godfather PM Modi. If Congress wants Modi to be defeated, it has no option but to extend support to TDP,” the leader said.
A senior Congress leader agreed with the argument. He said the question of a possible Congress-TDP tie-up was a ‘hot topic’ of discussion in party circles. “The topic has divided the party in two groups: one which wants to have a tie up with YCP, and the other which favours the TDP. Though it looks odd now, the idea cannot be dismissed. A realignment of political parties is on cards in AP,” he said.
In Telangana, the TDP is popular among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). As a result, both the ruling TRS and Congress are wooing it. The Congress hopes that the TDP will align with it as the latter’s old anti-Congress plank is irrelevant in Telangana and KCR is their common enemy. Pradesh Congress Committee president N Uttamkumar Reddy has openly said that the Congress was not averse to joining hands with TDP to defeat “the anti-people KCR rule”.
Modi’s style of politics has thrown up existential problems for many Vajpayee -era allies of the BJP like the TDP and the Shiv Sena. Many in these parties feel that there is nothing wrong in embracing their once-bitter foes to neutralise the Modi effect as it happened in the case of Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka. This is why the ‘unthinkable’ is not being dismissed out of hand in the Telugu states.