With BJP Threatening a Repeat of Maharashtra, Are KCR's Days Numbered?

In the lead-up to the BJP national executive committee meeting in Hyderabad, several saffron party leaders warned the Telangana chief minister that he would meet the same fate as Uddhav Thackeray.

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Hyderabad: After Maharashtra became the latest opposition-ruled state to collapse, several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have publicly stated that it is now the turn of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government.

In the run up to the party’s national executive committee meeting on July 2 and 3, held in Hyderabad, high-profile leaders did not shy away from claiming that Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR)’s tenure is ending.

Union minister of tourism and culture G. Kishan Reddy; the BJP OBC Morcha national president K. Laxman, who was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha; Yuva Morcha national president Tejasvi Surya, also the Bangalore South MP; and the BJP’s Tamil Nadu president K. Annamalai at different programmes leading up to the July 2 national executive meet warned that KCR will meet the same fate as the Shiv Sena chief and former Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray.

Laxman, who preceded Bandi Sanjay Kumar as the BJP’s Telangana president, predicted that the political scenario in Telangana would completely change after BJP’s national executive committee meet and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rally in Hyderabad on July 3. He asserted that the TRS – like the Shiv Sena – is a “family party” and it would meet the same fate. “The downfall of TRS and KCR has started,” he declared.

From left: Bandi Sanjay, Union ministers Amit Shah and Piyush Goyal, UP CM Yogi Adityanath and other party leaders at a public meeting, in Hyderabad, July 3, 2022. Photo: PTI

Pink-saffron showdown in Hyderabad

But KCR is not one to take things lying down.

The BJP chose Hyderabad as the destination for its national executive meet because Telangana will go to the poll late next year. The party’s top brass – Modi, Amit Shah, J.P. Nadda and Yogi Adityanath, among many others – arrived in Hyderabad and signalled the party’s focus on expanding in the south, first in Telangana and next in Tamil Nadu.

In his own show of strength, KCR invited the opposition’s presidential candidate Yaswanth Sinha. In the government-sponsored function, the Telangana CM dared the BJP to bring down his government. “Then, I will see the fall of your government at the Centre,” he thundered.

The BJP has reportedly constituted an in-house committee, headed by Etela Rajendar – once a minister in the KCR cabinet who in now a BJP MLA – at the executive meeting to engineer defections. While this will rankle KCR, is there a threat to his government?

Can Telangana become a Maharastra?

As of now, there is no visible and impending threat to the TRS government, Syed Amin Jafri, a journalist-turned lawmaker from AIMIM told The Wire.

There have been rumblings within the TRS during its eight years in power over KCR’s style of functioning and his family’s dominance in the government. But there are no signs that this will build to take the shape of a strong rebellion that can challenge the CM’s leadership.

When Etela, KCR’s long-time associate in the statehood movement, rebelled against his mentor, he was crushed and shown the door.

The media has widely reported on a power tussle between KCR’s son K.T. Rama Rao and nephew T. Harish Rao. However, KCR seems to have managed this handing Harish Rao the plum portfolio of finance ministry even as he is projecting Rama Rao as the heir apparent by anointing him the TRS working president.

The KCR government also has an overwhelming majority in the Telangana assembly, with 103 legislators in the 119-member house. In addition, the “friendly party” All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen also has seven MLAs and is ready to come to the TRS’s rescue in the event that it faces difficulties.

Jafri also said that the TRS is firmly rooted in its ideology of regional sentiment and self-pride, therefore it might be difficult to engineer defections on ideological grounds. In Maharashtra, rebel leader Eknath Shinde claimed that Thackeray had diluted the Shiv Sena’s core Hindutva ideology by aligning with the so-called secular Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government. This, he claimed, was the reason behind his rebellion.

Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde. Photos: PTI Collage: The Wire

The NTR parallel

In the mid-1980s, the undivided Andhra Pradesh shot into the national limelight when Indira Gandhi, through governor Thakur Ram Lal, overthrew the government headed by thespian N.T. Rama Rao (NTR). Indira Gandhi later restored the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government because of a massive people’s movement in favour of NTR.

Rama Rao, subsequently, dissolved the assembly and called for a fresh mandate. Riding high on the crest of sympathy generated by Gandhi’s actions, NTR was elected with a thumping majority in the subsequent poll. Stung by Gandhi’s politics, NTR played an instrumental role in the National Front, whose aim was to unseat the Congress from power.

While KCR has mooted a “federal front” for a while, he has amped up the rhetoric against the BJP-led NDA regime recently. The TRS and KCR have resolved to play a larger role in national politics, saying an alternative agenda is needed to counter the “divisive” BJP.

Boinapalli Vinod Kumar, a TRS leader and the Telangana Planning Board vice-chairman, told The Wire that there is a “marked difference” between the Telugu people, especially those from Telangana, and the people elsewhere. “After all, our people in Telangana toiled to achieve statehood through a prolonged movement. They know how to protect the state from the BJP’s sinister designs,” he said.

Also Read: Eyes Firmly Set on Taking on BJP, Here Are the Routes KCR Is Keen to Explore

Is BJP making a mistake by threatening an overthrow?

Analysts feel that the BJP’s rhetoric of repeating the Maharastra episode in Telangana will boomerang on its own prospects in next year’s assembly elections. Such gestures will only the trigger regional sentiment to KCR’s advantage, as was the case in the last state elections, said analyst Vikram Poola.

He said at the moment, KCR is struggling to overcome the rising tide of anti-incumbency from several sections of voters. The youth are distressed by lack of job opportunities, while farmers are upset with issues in procurement and many others are miffed that the TRS has not delivered on poll promises, Poola said. In this context, the BJP’s threats of bringing down his government will only help KCR keep the regional sentiment card alive.

The election outcome in 2018 is a case in point. After KCR dissolved the assembly prematurely, the Congress roped in TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu, then Andhra Pradesh chief minister, to be part of the “grand alliance”. Naidu’s direct involvement in Telangana’s electioneering gave KCR the opportunity to successfully play to regional sentiments. He said that even after the formation of Telangana, leaders from Andhra Pradesh are trying to rule the state through the grand alliance. This rhetoric work in his favour at the end of the day, Vikram recalled.