With his son firmly entrenched in the party and the state of Telangana, the regional satrap is eyeing Delhi
In the early 1980s, Andhra Pradesh chief minister NT Ramarao roared “the centre is a myth”.
This was when centre-state cooperation was at its lowest ebb and the friction between the union government headed by the autocratic Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and non-Congress chief ministers was at its peak.
Against the backdrop of the dismissal of the Jammu and Kashmir government and NTR’s Telugu Desam Party eule in Andhra, centre-state relations were being hotly debated.
Having been returned to office with renewed vigour following his dismissal by the centre, NTR without any hesitation took on the mighty Indira Gandhi and started consolidating the non-Congress parties.
He was responsible for the first non-Congress chief ministers of south India in Bangalore in 1983. Though a regional party restricted to Andhra Pradesh, NTR’s TDP emerged the single largest party in the eighth Lok Sabha.
Later he hosted a conclave of 14 non-Congress political parties at Vijayawada. He campaigned in many states for these parties.
All his efforts finally culminated in the formation of the National Front which was officially launched on 17 September 1988 in a public meeting held at Marina Beach, Chennai. Ramarao ensured the defeat of Congress (I) in the general elections of 1989.
Though it cannot be called a repetition of history, a situation comparable to the 1980s is arising.
The influence of the BJP is shrinking in states. Many states, opposed to the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), have passed resolutions stating that they will not implement the Act, West Bengal being the latest one. Cooperative federalism is being debated. Friction among the centre and non-BJP states in the matters of revenue sharing is palpable.
Amid these developments, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), last week declared that Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 was “100% wrong.”
Stating that the next assembly session would adopt a resolution to this effect, the Telangana CM said he would soon hold a meeting of like-minded political parties in Hyderabad.
He also said he was ready to lead the nation-wide campaign against the CAA. He revealed his plan to hold anti-CAA and anti-NRC rally in Hyderabad with 10 lakh people. Sources said he has plans to invite all like-minded chief ministers to rally.
His party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), bagged a stunning victory in the recently held municipal elections. It won 105 urban local bodies out of 120. Arguably, the TRS is now India’s strongest regional party with considerable presence in Lok Sabha, and without any modicum of opposition in the state. The 52-day RTC (Road Transport Corporation) strike, which was touted as historic, barely dented his image.
Even after six years and numerous elections, the Congress has not been able to improve its position. The TDP has disappeared from the state. The solid OBC vote-bank of TDP, which sustained the party for decades, appears to have shifted to TRS as a result of caste-wise welfare measures.
The BJP’s attempt to corner OBC votes have not fructified despite the appointment of OBC leader Dr K Laxman as state unit president. No regional party has emerged to challenge the growing influence of TRS.
Here, Telangana appears to have carved out an Odisha-like trajectory where Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been in power since 2000 and Naveen Patnaik took oath as chief minister for the fifth time last May.
The disappearance of the Congress has not resulted in the emergence of either BJP or a rival regional party in Odisha.
The difference between Naveen Patnaik and KCR is that KCR has a successor waiting in the wings while Patnaik has none.
KT Ramarao (KTR), son of KCR, has proven his mettle both at the hustings and in administration. He is now TRS’ working president and led the party to a stunning victory in the recent municipal elections. KCR consciously chose against campaigning in the elections. He left the field to KTR, who emerged victorious.
In states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra the space left by Congress was immediately occupied either by more than one regional party or a national party. This is not happening in Telangana even after six years since achievement of statehood. A rival to TRS is yet to born.
KCR’s national dream is said to have been fuelled by two factors – (i) absence of opposition in the state and (ii) the proven talent of son KTR.
Many consider KCR’s withdrawal from campaigning as another attempt to test if the elections could be won without his campaigning, and to demonstrate to the public that KTR is an equally able and astute politician as he is. Since it is proven beyond doubt now, analysts say, KCR will pass the baton to KTR at an opportune time.
Many legislators and senior leaders feel more comfortable interacting with KTR. KTR has succeeded in bridging the gap between a too-tall KCR and a relatively younger generation of party leaders and legislators, said Koneru Konappa, TRS MLA from Kagaznagar.
“KTR has become the party’s ears and eyes. Many young leaders feel at home with KCR than the chief minister, who is the tallest leader. For all those who need a sympathetic ear, KTR is there. His ability to address the local issues and his persuasive skill are well acknowledged. He won accolades even in international fora like GES 2017 and WEF 2020. So, this is the reason for eagerness among the party leaders and legislators alike to see KTR as chief minister,” MLA Konappa said.
KCR is stronger than NTR on many counts. KCR has no successor problem and KCR was also a union minister. Above all KCR has no language problem; he is fluent in Hindi which is an essential qualification for an aspiring national leader.
While NTR was known for his theatrics, KCR, on the other hand, with his vast political knowledge is famous not only for his oratorical skills but also for biting sarcasm.
KCR had already once floated the idea of a federal front much before Lok Sabha elections.
Telangana Assembly elections and subsequent Lok Sabha elections coupled with insistence of some elders on having Congress as a partner in the front put paid to his plans.
The issue had been shelved. Now, the avalanche mass protests across the country against CAA and NPR (National Population Register) seem to have emboldened KCR to test the waters again.
Analysts are of the opinion that the proposed conclave of like-minded parties is meant to gauge the mood and see if it is right time to launch himself in national politics.