Telangana chief minister and Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) patriarch,
K Chandrashekar Rao seemed to read the pulse of the people of his state perfectly when he sought early elections to the assembly in December last year. His emphatic victory against the Congress-led alliance even while Rahul Gandhi’s party rode to victory in three other states (Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) leaves the TRS a front-runner in most constituencies across the state.
Well. With only 17 Lok Sabha seats in all, the outcome from a state in a general election may not hold much importance in the normal course. It amounts to just 3 percent of Lok Sabha’s strength. But then, general elections 2019 and its outcome do not appear to be in the normal course.
A party’s leader with about a dozen MPs under his command may end up wielding a lot of clout in a hung house; by all accounts the seventeenth Lok Sabha is poised to end up a hung House when the votes are counted and the tally is out on May 23, 2019.
KCR, as the TRS leader is known in his party and in Telengana, need not doubt his party’s prospect in this election and must only wish that the general elections throwing a hung Lok Sabha. The massive victory his party secured in December 2018 in the state assembly elections is an indication that the TRS will only improve upon its current tally – 11 seats – in the Lok Sabha even if he leaves out the Hyderabad seat to the AIMIM’s Sultan Asadudin Owaisi.
He need not fear alienation of the Muslim community (significant in the small state and yet concentrated in Hyderabad and around for a while and until 2023 when elections will happen next to the state assembly and hence not have a problem helping the BJP-led NDA, if it lands touching distance to the half-way mark (273) and his own party gathers the numbers to take the combine to the half-way mark; a situation his own leader then – N Chandrababu Naidu – was in March 1998.
The BJP-led NDA had won only 252 seats (the BJP alone winning 178 seats and the NDA consisted then of the Samata Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, the Shiv Sena and such new allies as the AIADMK, BJD and Mamata Banerjee’s TMC) and was closer to 273 than it was in May 1996.
Naidu, until then the convener of the United Front that was born on the idea of keeping the BJP out of power and contested the March 1998 general elections as part of the same front he had convened all the while declared support to Atal Behari Vajpayee’s claim to form the government. The TDP had won 12 MPs from the then undivided Andhra Pradesh.
Even while the NDA scrambled around to shore up its numbers, Naidu with 12 MPs struck gold. He ensured his party’s GMC Balayogi was elected speaker of the Lok Sabha. He severed all his ties with the United Front then and remained in the NDA for at least two decades from then.
He did not flinch in his support to the BJP led combine even while many of the allies then walked out of the fold in due course. The TRS and its chieftain, KCR, must be seeing himself in such a position. He remains non-aligned (on the face of it) and has shown proximity to the BJP than the Congress, his ally in 2004.
While his efforts to build a non-Congress and non-BJP front came a cropper, he should not have a problem joining either of the fronts; KCR would consider the second best option.
KCR, after all, was a member of the UPA-1 cabinet for a couple of years after May 2004 until he resigned when the Congress dragged its feet on a separate Telengana. And hence need not have a problem supporting a Congress-led coalition at the centre.
The Congress party, after all, had allowed its own decimation, in terms of seats in the assembly; its alliance with the TDP in the December 2018 assembly elections seemed to have left the party with a mere 19 MLAs though its vote-share – with 32. 20 percent – should suggest its base is not all that decimated in Telengana. The party has decided to go it alone this time and thus wrest a few more seats in addition to the couple it won in 2014.
The poll scene in Telengana thus seems a win-win situation for the Telengana Rashtra Samiti, a party whose rank and file remains firmly under Chandrashekar Rao’s control. His writ and nothing else runs in the party and Rao’s daughter, Kalvakuntla Kavitha, can represent him in the union cabinet, irrespective of who the Prime Minister would be. She won the Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat for the TRS in May 2014 and is likely to be repeated this time as well.
The BJP, meanwhile, is left without allies in Telengana. The party won in just one seat after contesting all the 119 and polled seven per cent of the votes. And it could end up contesting all the 17 seats this time and draw a blank from Telengana because the party is in no position to claim a substantial base in any one region or constituency. This could be a good enough reason for KCR to wish that the NDA ends up closer to the half-way mark and not the Congress-led front because Rahul Gandhi’s party continues to exist in the State.
But then, elections and their outcome are not about what leaders wish them to be but the way the people decide; and hence a celebration of the masses. This said, the TRS is the front-runner from Telengana and the Congress remains a force to reckon with.
Telengana is slated to go to polls in the first phase on April 11, 2019, for all the 17 Lok Sabha constituencies.
V Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok. This is the 4th article of a series on state-by-state deep look at the approaching general elections. Click here to read more: