Chandrababu Naidu does not like surprises. An astute strategist, he is known to think one step ahead of his friends and foes and that explains his successful run in power, be it as Chief Minister (he had the longest stint as CM of Andhra Pradesh) or kingmaker in national politics.
But on May 9, he was in for a nasty surprise. As he was sitting down for lunch, an aide brought in information that simply killed his appetite. He was told that Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) leader K Chandrasekhar Rao , known as KCR, had decided to attend the NDA rally at Ludhiana.
Naidu went into a sulk. And has since avoided the media, which has been trying to get feedback from him on where the grand alliance now stands. It was Naidu who painfully built up the grand alliance, often accommodating unreasonable demands from allies like TRS, so as to prevent splitting of non-Congress votes. With TRS aligning with NDA, jettisoning its secular pretensions, the grand alliance is for all practical purposes over. But more than the damage to the alliance, what has infuriated Naidu is the insinuations by TRS leaders that other parties (like Naidu’s Telegu Desam Party) could be available for ‘sale’. We want to get TDP support for NDA, N Narasimha Reddy, a senior TRS leader, said.
Fifty-five-year-old KCR has once again fortified his reputation for being a highly unreliable politician. “I will do anything for Telangana,”he says justifying all his actions, however controversial or unscrupulous they may appear. And he knows he can get away with it as long as the people of Telangana vote for him.
With exit polls predicting that his party may get four to six Lok Sabha seats, not a small number for a sub-regional party which debuted only in 2004, KCR wants to get the best bargain from whoever forms the government at the Centre. This includes key cabinet posts and a promise of statehood for Telangana.
Congress leaders had a bitter experience with him after the 2004 elections. TRS, which was a poll ally of Congress joined the government at the Centre and in the state but relations soured soon with TRS issuing weekly and monthly ultimatums to Congress on Telangana. It even threatened to drag Sonia Gandhi through the streets of Telangana. The allies parted ways amid unprecedented acrimony.
Not a charismatic leader like late Dr M Chenna Reddy, who led the biggest Telangana movement from 1969-71, KCR has made up for it with his acute sense of timing and ability to forge winning alliances.
Telangana happened to KCR by chance. A member of the Velma (landowning) community, he did not exactly fit the role of model revolutionary to lead a struggle for a separate state for a region known for poverty, inequality and Maoist violence. He was happily cocooned in the comforts of Naidu’s cabinet until Naidu decided to drop him from the ministry after the 1999 elections. KCR then decided to try his luck with Telangana. On April 27, 2001, he floated TRS with the single point agenda of getting statehood for Telangana.
Luckily for him, the Congress party, then in opposition, had whipped up the Telangana sentiment to a large extent, hoping it would pay rich dividends against TDP in the 2004 elections. For KCR, the ground was ready to sow the seeds. The Maoists also enthusiastically endorsed him. TRS made its maiden electoral foray in 2004 and won 5 Lok Sabha and 26 assembly seats. There was no looking back.
But the TRS has many structural weaknesses. It is virtually a one-man show starring KCR and no one else has much say in the party. The lack of democracy and KCR’s autocratic style of functioning led to a split in the party in 2004 with ten MLAs walking away.
This time too the TRS is worried about its MLAs being poached by others. That’s why the party has decided to corral its 9 Lok Sabha and 45 Assembly candidates in the party headquarters from Friday till the government formation is complete.