BJP’s best bet lies in the TDP and the TRS striking a deal with the Congress and framing the battle as a UPA versus NDA clash, reports Radhika Ramaseshan.
When leaders of the Congress and several other opposition parties congregated in front of Bengaluru’s Vidhan Soudha for winsome photo-ops and a display of strength after H D Kumaraswamy was sworn in as Karnataka chief minister, the Bharatiya Janata Party noted two political signals -- one was the absence of K Chandrashekar Rao, Telangana Rashtra Samithi president and Telangana chief minister.
In March, Rao had initiated the project of assembling a “Federal Front” with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and other regional leaders.
The other signal was the presence of N Chandrababu Naidu, who heads the Telugu Desam Party and is Rao’s counterpart in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, and his friendly but tentative gestures towards Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who appeared as awkward.
For the BJP, the signs were significant because the TDP was an ally until the other day while the TRS was a capricious friend that backed the Narendra Modi government on key issues in Parliament.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had picked up one of Telangana’s 12 seats and rode astraddle on the TDP but won two of the 25 Andhra seats.
Did the BJP foresee a joint assault in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh before 2019?
Telangana BJP spokesperson Krishnasagar Rao’s reading was, “Chandrashekar Rao is keeping his cards close to the chest. The primary opposition against him is the Congress and not the BJP. But he doesn’t want to give in easily to an alliance. But, a day before Kumaraswamy took the oath, Rao called on him. So Rao is there, in the Congress camp.”
In Andhra Pradesh, with or without a united opposition, BJP sources admitted they were up against “multiple challenges”.
However, BJP spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP GVL Narasimha Rao, who hails from Prakasam district, claimed, “The TDP’s exit is a blessing in disguise. It gives an opportunity (to the BJP) to expand.”
Kamarsu Balasubrahmanyam, the BJP’s parliamentary party office secretary and a Telangana hand, stressed, “We will fight Telangana on our strengths, a robust cadre, a physical presence in every village, a history of combating the Naxals and an image as a saviour of the Hindus.”
But, N Ramachandra Rao, a BJP legislative council member from Mahaboobnagar, said: “The BJP faces a stiff challenge from the TRS, which is wooing voters through populist schemes -- a burden on the exchequer.”
Rao described the schemes giving Telangana’s farmers Rs 8,000 for an acre of agricultural land during the Kharif and Rabi seasons, the free distribution of cattle and sheep to electorally strong communities such as Yadava, Golla and Kuruma, and Rs 51,000 to Muslim, Dalit and tribal girls before marriage as “runaway hits”.
He said though the BJP attracted the educated urban voters, it was at sea in the villages.
In Andhra, the BJP’s newly anointed state president, Kanna Lakshminarayana, singled out the “damage done to Modi’s image” by Naidu even when the TDP and the BJP were partners as the “biggest hurdle”.
Sources said Lakshminarayana’s predecessor, Hari Babu Kambhampati, the Visakhapatnam MP, was “soft” on the TDP.
“Therefore, one only version, of Naidu’s, was conveyed to people who have an impression that Modi worked against Andhra,” rued a source.
Lakshminarayana’s appointment was hailed as a minor feat because formulating a caste formula in the state has never been easy for the BJP.
He is from the Kapu caste, comprising 16-18 per cent of the population but overpowered by the dominant and affluent Kammas (Naidu’s caste) and Reddys.
In the 2014 elections, the BJP and the TDP had teamed up with actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena, which brought the Kapu votes for the TDP.
The Jana Sena had dumped the TDP when Naidu refused to give reservation to the Kapus, but it would go along with the BJP despite the Centre being cold to its quota demand.
“Pawan Kalyan has no money and cadre, but he pulls in the crowd. He and the BJP are interdependent,” a source said.
Although the BJP ruled out an alliance with Y S Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, it worked on the premise that Jaganmohan had come up as the TDP’s biggest adversary and, therefore, must be “tacitly” encouraged.
As the BJP is reconciled to going solo in these states, it believes its best bet lies in the TDP and the TRS striking a deal with the Congress and framing the battle as a UPA versus NDA clash.