By T S Sudhir
“We are now going to behave like a typical political party,” K Chandrasekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. He need not have said it because his actions had just spoken louder than words.
KCR had just announced that he will not merge his party with the Congress. But what took the cake was the explanation that followed for the turnaround. KCR explained that the offer made last year to merge was valid only till September 30, 2013. And since Congress had not delivered Telangana then, the offer had expired. Clearly KCR wanted the world to believe that everyone had failed to read the fine print.
His second promise – that of making a Dalit the first chief minister of Telangana state – also seems like an idea whose time has not come yet in KCR’s mind. Congress sources say KCR wants to don the mantle himself and point to the fact that the TRS chief is no longer talking of keeping his word. The TRS condition that KCR be made CM was also a stumbling block during his merger talks with the Congress. “We did not give the CM’s post in Maharashtra to Sharad Pawar’s party, why would we give to KCR,” says Shabbir Ali, former Energy minister of Andhra Pradesh.
On the face of it, the TRS has stumped the Congress. The party that spearheaded the Telangana movement – or to put it in KCR’s words, been the vanguard of the movement – is seen to have the potential to ride the sentiment. The Congress that split Andhra Pradesh essentially to reap electoral benefits in Telangana – never mind their tall talk of keeping the promise they made in 2004 – is seen to be the loser.
But smell the ground and you may detect a different story. That does not paint such a grim picture for the Congress. The ruling party has some basic advantages over the TRS, that are being glossed over now, in the flush of enthusiasm for a new state.
1. KCR comes across as a politican who cannot be trusted. That will make BJP also wary of working with him and taking him at his word. The BJP is aware that the TRS aims to win at least a dozen seats and do business with the NDA post polls.
2. Congress leaders have started campaigning aggressively in their constituencies, spreading the message that it is Sonia Gandhi – and not KCR – who delivered Telangana state. “Telangana was impossible without Sonia Gandhi’s resolve. The people have realised that. If you compare TRS rallies in the last one week with Congress rallies, the former are not a patch on ours,” says Suresh Reddy, former Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh assembly. They are telling the people that Sonia even took the extreme step of expelling six of her Seemandhra MPs and not caring for the revolt of her own chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, for the sake of giving Telangana. KCR will find it difficult to refute this or even attack Sonia personally.
3. KCR comes from the forward Velama caste and the TRS is also seen as a Velama party, despite KCR’s efforts to bring in other castes through imports from the Congress and the TDP. Despite a BC in Kesava Rao, or SC leaders in G Vivek and Kadiam Srihari, the TRS is still seen as the pocketborough of KCR, where his kitchen cabinet calls the shots. In comparison, the Congress has many leaders from different castes who can forge an emotional connect with their respective communities.
4. Logistically, the TRS will fare poorer. The Congress has deep pockets and can spend far more than the TRS.
5. The latest entrants to the Congress, Vijayashanti, who was expelled by the TRS, will be expected to spit venom on her former boss. So it is not likely to be one-sided pinch hitting from KCR. The TRS chief is likely to get as good as he gives.
6. The entry of five MLAs from the TDP is giving the impression that the TRS is not strong in several pockets of Telangana and only now the process of strengthening has begun. These TDP leaders will come with their own cadre and the fear is that the TRS will soon become a hotch-potch of leaders and cadre of different hues, coming together in the pursuit of power. This can lead to problems later.
7. The TRS has never done well in general elections in 2004 and 2009 though their performance in subsequent bypolls has been spectacular. Would their decision to spurn the Congress prove to be the Hershelle Gibbs like moment in the 1999 World Cup. Did KCR with his decision to spurn the idea of merger with the Congress, just drop the keys to the State Secretariat?
That the Congress was ready for a political life without the TRS by its side, was obvious when the party welcomed Vijayashanti into its fold. The move angered KCR whose relations with Vijayashanti, who he once called his sister, have soured and strengthened his resolve to go it alone. The TRS cadre too has been against a relationship with the Congress, since fighting elections together would dash the hopes of many a ticket aspirant in the TRS. Jairam Ramesh’s assertion that the two new states will not be a reality for at least three months, also irked the TRS which wanted elections to be held in Telangana state.
Sources say the Congress on its part was not interested in an alliance and wanted only a merger. Senior leaders say that KCR is not seen as a reliable ally post elections and only a merger would mean he would stay within the Congress, at least for some time. With that out of the way, the Congress and TRS are gambling, hoping to hit the jackpot at the EVM.