Opinion: Chandrashekhar Rao plans to challenge PM Modi in Telangana

Success in achieving separate statehood for Telangana has led popularity of Chandrashekhar Rao in Telangana. But Modi is equally praised in the state. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Hyderabad, Telangana, India Mar 07, 2018, 08.18 AM (IST) Ashish Naredi

Political circles and national media are abuzz with the talk of Third Front being resurrected under the leadership of Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR). I am not sure what excites them given the unmitigated disaster that the Third Front turned out to be for India in its earlier avatars. It seems as if a section of media and ‘intellectuals’ would rather see India embrace another disaster than ‘tolerate’ another term for Modi Sarkar.

Whether the Third Front actually fructifies or not and even if it fructifies, will it succeed or not has become a subject of great speculation and analysis. However, what has remained missing from all this analysis is - if KCR himself will benefit from this move or not. It seems foolhardy to even raise this question for it seems a foregone conclusion that not only will KCR sweep Telangana but will also benefit greatly from his increased national stature. This write up is an attempt to play the devil’s advocate and explore if the move could actually backfire.

To understand the implications of this move – positive or negative – we will have to first understand KCR’s sources of strength. Without a doubt, KCR is a hugely popular leader in Telangana and his popularity has only grown over the years. The main reason for his popularity is his success in achieving separate statehood for Telangana. ‘Good’ performance of his government has further added to his popularity. However, there is another reason for his popularity and it is the complete absence of any credible alternative to KCR and his party TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samiti) in Telangana.

Whatever little remained of the opposition after the formation of Telangana was slowly and methodically subsumed in TRS itself. From just 63 members in the house of 119 in 2014, the tally of TRS MLAs went up to 90 in 2017, while that of Congress went down from 21 to 12 and that of TDP from 15 to 3 -  without ever drawing the provisions of anti-defection law and without causing as much as a whisper of any harm to democracy anywhere in the national media. Not only was all political opposition emaciated but so also was any kind of criticism in the media. KCR openly threatened media by saying that he’ll “bury them alive in the ground” and even got two Telugu channels pulled off the air for a few days. 

It might surprise you, or not, that the great champions of free speech in the nation never raised a hell, calling "democracy under threat" at that time. And now, it is these very champions of free speech who seem to be cheering the loudest in support of KCR and his proposed "qualitative change" at the national level. 

Thus, from playing in a field in which he had absolutely no worthy opponent, it is baffling as to why KCR is drawing Mr. Modi, the strongest and the most popular leader of all into his arena? Why would he want to transform the contest from KCR vs. none in Telangana to KCR vs. Modi? He surely is not going to win any additional seat outside Telangana but would instead run the risk of losing a few seats to Mr. Modi in Telangana. Why then is he making the mistake of confronting Mr. Modi and giving more credence to the BJP’s trump card?

As written above, Chief Minister KCR is very popular in Telangana but so is Prime Minister Modi. Confronting Mr. Modi and criticising him may turn out to be neither a popular tactic nor a very successful one. Lessons can be learned from the experience of Arvind Kejriwal, who tried a similar tactic in 2014 after his success in 2013 Delhi elections. Mr. Kejriwal ended up burning both himself and his party by losing all 7 Lok Sabha seats in Delhi. It is perhaps this very realisation that got the Aam Aadmi Party to use “Modi for PM and Arvind for CM” slogan on its website for the 2015 Delhi Elections. The slogan may have been soon withdrawn but the message had already been sent out.

A message has been sent out by the people to Mr. KCR as well on his new strategy but not sure if he is listening. KCR spoke of Mr. Modi in a disrespectful, if not an insulting tone, in a recent speech and this has drawn hugely negative reactions from a large section of people, including those from the hard-core supporters of KCR and his TRS party.

What finally happens in 2019 will, of course, depend on a whole lot of other things. However, one thing is for sure - KCR vs. Modi will give the BJP, in Telangana, an issue where it had none and will give it a good chance in at least a couple and more Lok Sabha seats if not assembly seats. 

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)