Telangana is on Amit Shah's radar.
Radhika Ramaseshan reports.
The Bharatiya Janata Party celebrated 'Hyderabad Liberation Day' in Telangana with greater gusto than in the past.
It hopes this event, marked by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's presence, will help it outrival the Congress as principal opponent of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
This slice of history goes back to 1947-1948, when the Razakars, a private militia headed by Syed Qasim Razvi, then president of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, helped the Nizam resist Hyderabad's integration with the Indian Union.
It has since been vested with contemporary resonances in sync with the BJP's core ideology.
Qasim Razvi failed but the Majlis survives, essentially as a sectarian entity under Asaduddin Owaisi, a Lok Sabha member.
The TRS, the Centre's friend in need and deed during critical junctures in Parliament, opposed the 'liberation day' idea.
The charge helped the BJP frame the debate unapologetically.
A central leader monitoring the southern states said, "The TRS is our ideological adversary because like the Congress, it's a Muslim appeasement party. The chief minister has equated Muslims with the anti-national Nizam."
For G Kishan Reddy, the BJP's floor leader in the state legislature, the Majlis' presence was a 'reminder of the torture that Hindus suffered at the Razakars' hands... Every village has a Razakar story; we have to keep the memories alive'.
BJP Spokesperson Krishna Saagar Rao's reasoning for adopting the tactic was, "We have never been in power in united Andhra Pradesh or Telangana, for 37 years. If we survived, it's because our ideology protected the cadre."
Of the three southern states of Telangana, Andhra and Tamil Nadu, the BJP considered the first politically 'fertile'.
Unlike Kerala, where the leadership believes the party is on the 'brink of a breakthrough', despite its indifferent showing in the assembly polls, and Karnataka that it has ruled, success eluded it in the others.
Telangana is on BJP President Amit Shah's radar. He has asked central leaders to address rallies in the districts from October.
Rao explained Telangana's significance. The Telugu Desam Party, he claimed, had all but disappeared.
"We have five legislators, the TDP only two. We have four corporators (in the Hyderabad municipal corporation), the TDP only one. The TDP has lost ground even in the cities," he emphasised, stating the BJP wanted to 'discard the liability of the alliance legacy'.
Telangana's neighbour, Andhra, was another tune.
Everyone spoken to in the BJP conceded that an alliance here with the TDP is 'necessary' because of 'mutual dependence'.
However, the BJP hopes to call the shots this time by dangling the option of going with the Jaganmohan Reddy-led Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress.
A central leader said, "We will assess our strength closer to 2019 and based on that, rework the alliance terms. Our space and strength won't be the same as in 2014. We have to negotiate for ourselves a position that requires skilful and tactical articulation."
For K Hari Babu, the Visakhapatnam MP and Andhra BJP president, the TDP remains the 'biggest hurdle' in the BJP's growth.
"People are confused. We are propagating the Centre's schemes, but people can't decide who the credit should go to. The Ujjwala scheme (for cooking gas connections) is a hit, but Deepam, a similar one from the state government, is also actively implemented," Babu rued.
The BJP is also bereft of regional leaders in these states, with central personas like M Venkaiah Naidu having towered for decades but leaving the party 'stagnant'.
In Tamil Nadu, factionalism in the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam after supremo J Jayalalithaa's death drew the BJP into the vortex.
A Chennai political observer's take was contrary to the BJP's contention of 'remaining passive' -- its ideologues and strategists principally brought about the truce between Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and now Deputy CM O Panneerselvam, and stemmed V K Sasikala's throttlehold, he said.
"The BJP's concern was that an enervated AIADMK would help the DMK(Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)-Congress," says the observer.
On the ground, the BJP is up against 'several hurdles', acknowledges Vanathi Srinivasan, the Tamil Nadu party vice-president.
As in Andhra, Vanathi said, the party communicated the Centre's programmes to people.
"Still, there's a widespread perception that the BJP ignores fishermen, will cause harm with the (Neduvasal) hydrocarbon enterprise, Hindi imposition, and NEET (national medical college entrance test) implementation, and sides with Karnataka on Cauvery water sharing," she conceded.
The potential damage from the Opposition's discourse was 'partially offset' when the Modi government amended the 2011 central notification and allowed the jallikattu bull-taming spectacle during the Pongal festival.
However, a central functionary stressed, despite the 'perceptional misunderstandings', Tamil Nadu was not a no-go.
"The regional parties are leaderless for the first time since 1967. Modi's appeal is huge; he has always been emotionally attached to Tamil issues. He addressed Sri Lanka's Tamils in the country's north zone and the plantations," he said.
Among the prospective allies, he added, Rajnikanth was the 'best bet' if the film star floated a party close to the next Lok Sabha polls.
Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters