The Lede
KCR visits DMK chief MK Stalin at his residence in Chennai on Monday
KCR visits DMK chief MK Stalin at his residence in Chennai on Monday|DMK press release

Is KCR Playing For The NDA Or The UPA?

Following his meeting with DMK chief MK Stalin and attempts to form a non-Congress non-BJP front, the Telangana Chief Minister is viewed with suspicion

Jinka Nagaraju

Jinka Nagaraju

Has Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, or KCR as he is better known, floated the idea of Federal Front at a wrong time?

It has been a year since he first met West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, in March 2018, with the idea of forging a front sans any national party being part of it.

He met three chief ministers and many leaders of regional parties to drum up enthusiasm on the need to have a Federal Front to safeguard the interest of the states.

But his efforts so far have failed to elicit any favourable response from them.

Instead, Mamata ruled out the possibility of having a front without the Congress, and DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) leader MK Stalin, now, reportedly advised Rao against moving ahead with so the called Federal Front and chose to extend an invitation to Rao to join the Congress-led UPA.

Hemanth Soren of JMM (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), who met KCR last year, is now in the company of Rahul Gandhi. Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik is non-committal. So was Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. So, the Federal Front still remains a pipe dream.

KCR, the second most popular acronym in Telugu politics after NTR (founder of the Telugu Desam Party NT Rama Rao) following his phenomenal success in leading the Telangana movement to statehood is seen as a Chanakya in the Telugu states.

Though he has been in politics for about three and a half decades, it was the Telangana movement that had transformed an ordinary local TDP legislator into a powerful regional leader in 2001 when he launched his Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).

The successive victories of the TRS in 2014 and 2018 Assembly elections under his leadership, after the formation of a separate Telangana state, have emboldened Rao to think of playing a bigger role in national politics.

His admirers praise KCR as a visionary. After achieving statehood for Telangana, they say, KCR is dreaming of a stronger Telangana state which is not possible in the present federal arrangement where scales favour the centre.

As chief minister, KCR experienced many deficiencies in the federal set up and is determined to work for a stronger federal country with a larger say for the states, they argue.

On his part, KCR has emphasised many times that the centre should confine itself to matters like defence, external affairs and a few other portfolios. He has said it has no business in the matters of agriculture, education, industries, health amongst others.

This cogent argument earned him plaudits from the people of Telangana and a campaign that the Telangana Bidda (child of Telangana) would one day become the Prime Minister of India has gone “viral” among the TRS workers and supporters.

But KCR’s critics have a different story to tell. It is true he wants to play a role at the national level and a major role to boot, commensurate with his popularity as Chanakya.

He is expected to anoint his son KTR (K Taraka Rama Rao), now working president of the TRS, as chief minister any time after May 23. Following this, he plans to switch over to the centre and become the king or at least, kingmaker.

The uncertainty of the 2019 mandate is expected to present him with a robust opportunity to emerge as a national leader.

But the fact that he is the chief minister of a small state of a mere 17 MPs pinches. His calculation, however, is that if he forms a front with four or five parties, say the YSR Congress, Trinamool Congress or JMM, he will become the leader of a separate group.

The only option available is to become the leader of a front and this is where the idea of a Federal Front took birth.

In case of a fractured mandate at the centre, he can bargain as the leader of a front for a bigger role.

Though this looks farfetched at present, he is also looking at a possibility when the BJP could promote him as a PM candidate if numbers fall short.

So KCR is targeting a fluid UPA with the hope that he could wean away regional parties from what he states is the obsolete Congress.

KCR is an adept political manipulator. With his sleight of hand, he has lured dozens of Congress and TDP MLAs to quit their parties and join the TRS.

He might be under the impression that he could replicate the model at the national level as well.

What KCR has ignored is the fact that the Congress has emerged stronger after it won governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

But why is his non-BJP and non-Congress front not finding favour with regional parties who, in fact, favour a weak centre and stronger states model?

This is because KCR is basically seen as a friend of the BJP and his Federal Front is viewed as only a ploy to weaken the anti-Modi front from taking shape.

His attitude towards Prime Minister Modi has been consistently soft and supportive over the past five years.

He has never voiced opposition to any of Prime Minister Modi’s controversial decisions such as GST and demonetisation.

He has never been a vocal critic of the NDA government on any major issue. And above all, he avoided meetings with anti-BJP parties both times – the first in Bengaluru when the Opposition to the NDA met at the swearing in ceremony of Janata Dal Secular leader HD Kumaraswamy and the second time at the meeting in Kolkata hosted by Mamata Banerjee. KCR is certainly doing his best not to give room for antagonising Modi.

Besides there appears to be no room for a third front like a Federal Front at this juncture. The nation’s political parties are polarised as anti-Modi and pro-Modi on the lines of anti-Indira or pro-Indira of 1977.

All political parties are busy firming up their positions on these fronts.

Even if one considers KCR’s intention to be genuine, he has fallen victim to the unfavourable interpretation of his agenda for attempting to carve out a space ignoring ground realities. The general impression among his critics is that KCR is helping to weaken the anti-BJP front.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of The Lede)