With Narendra Modi’s grip over the polity seemingly weakening, many new Prime Ministerial candidates are emerging. The best known is Rahul Gandhi, whose name — as the common opposition candidate — was proposed earlier this week by DMK leader M K Stalin. Although this caused a flutter, Rahul Gandhi’s is not the only name appearing.
After retaining power in the latest round of assembly elections with a large majority, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao — commonly called KCR — is also offering himself as a Prime Ministerial candidate. Although his son and ministerial colleague K Taraka Rama Rao (KTR) sought to categorically deny this at a press conference after the victory saying that “KCR will be here,”(meaning Hyderabad), those in the know of things say that the reality is otherwise.
Chandrasekhar Rao and his Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) won the state elections against a Congress–Telugu Desam Party (TDP) combine. But the BJP, which contested the polls solo, was in tacit alliance with the TRS. The Modi magic, which seems to have diluted, has made the BJP look for tacit alliance partners across the board. The idea is to draw on partners in the event of BJP failing to secure an absolute majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
In Telangana, the BJP and TRS did not enter into an open alliance in the assembly elections last month because of the Muslim votes in Telangana. Across the state, Muslims may not be over 13-14 percent of the total population. But in Hyderabad city where there are multiple assembly seats, the Muslim population is at 35-40 percent. Most of the seats in the city were won by the TRS, leaving a few that were picked by the MIM (Majlis- Ittehadul- Muslimeen) party.
Best Of Both Worlds
The latter is avowedly a Muslim party but is in alliance with TRS, which promotes itself as a Muslim-friendly party. Thus by tacit alliance with the BJP, TRS wants to have the best of both worlds.
TRS sources indicate that KCR may contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 and offer himself as a Prime Ministerial candidate who is accepted by the Hindu right and the Muslims. Party sources suggest that KCR wants to create a federal front of different states and vie for power.
In recent months, he has made an outreach to at least Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress of West Bengal. KCR’s vision arises from his understanding neither the BJP nor the Congress will be able to win the 2019 election on its own. KCR’s success would depend on his ability to swing state leaders to his side. But everybody may not be enamored of him for two reasons.
Firstly, many powerful state leaders themselves fancy themselves as potential Prime Ministers and would not like to provide space to KCR’s ambition. Secondly, KCR is perceived as being close to the BJP. Therefore opposition parties that are coming together against the Modi-Shah combine would be chary of an alliance that will be loosely in favour of the BJP.
“The Congress was seen for long as an arrogant overbearing party. But with the party weakening in recent years the Congress has been cut to size and brought down from the high horse. Moreover Rahul Gandhi is an amiable character and none of us have a problem dealing with him,” says an opposition leader who did not want to be named.
Space For A Regional Player
In contrast the Modi-Amit Shah combine is seen as shrewd power players. Thus many parties are wary of them. Most importantly, the leaders of parties aligning with the Congress perceive that pushed to a corner Rahul Gandhi would not become Prime Minister and would allow the top slot to any regional leader who does well in the election. This gives ambitious opposition leaders a measure of assurance that would not be possible if they align with the Modi- Amit Shah combine.
KCR cannot be part of the Congress plus allies grouping because his standing with the party is low. Though he obtained Telangana in 2014 by aligning with Sonia, KCR soon gave a kick to the grand old party and contested elections on his own.
Defeating the Congress, KCR came to power and continued to corner the former. On the other hand BJP has been giving space to the TRS (though for public consumption criticizes it stridently) because the saffron party has made little impact in Telangana and other southern states (save Karnataka).
But openly allying with BJP will make KCR’s TRS a junior partner of the NDA. Thus the ambitious KCR is conjuring a federal front that just may allow him to become the Prime Minister in 2019.
Kingshuk Nag is an author and journalist.