The opposition’s show of unity in Karnataka has turned the spotlight on the neighbouring regional satraps of Telugu states – Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and his Telangana counterpart K Chandrasekhar Rao – in the wake of public expectations over their prospects of building a common platform against the NDA.
KCR, who became the prime mover behind the Federal Front by holding parleys with key leaders of regional parties, dramatically skipped the high-profile event raising many eyebrows. He, however, met the CM-designate HD Kumaraswamy a day before his swearing-in and conveyed his wishes.
In contrast, the event was the first time that Chandrababu shared the dais with opposition parties after parting ways with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He appeared to have stolen the show, figuring prominently in the photoshoot that followed the swearing-in with the who’s who of the opposition camp.
Pictures showing Naidu’s newfound love for Congress President Rahul Gandhi went viral on social media. Chandrababu was seen affectionately throwing his arms around Rahul and exchanging pleasantries, triggering speculations about a possible TDP-Congress association. Naidu’s critics highlighted his bonhomie with Rahul criticising the TDP chief for diluting the party’s anti-Congress philosophy.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was reported to have even prompted her Andhra counterpart to bell the cat. In this backdrop, sources close to the Chief Minister’s Office said that Naidu was toying with the idea of hosting a meeting with like-minded regional parties, like the one in Karnataka, as part of setting the ball in motion.
Conundrum for KCR
Why do Naidu and KCR remain poles apart in spite of their professed commitment to stitch regional parties together? What clash of interest has become a roadblock in the process? The grand mela of opposition parties throws open these questions for public debate.
KCR spends sleepless nights on his home turf due to the resurgence of the Congress as a result of rising anti-incumbency. Therefore, it would be suicidal for the TRS chief to find himself in the company of the Congress, although it is only a junior partner in the JDS government. Sudhakar Reddy, a TRS MLC, justified KCR playing truant at the opposition’s show.
“How can you expect us to share the dais with the Congress in Karnataka when we are engaged in an intense conflict against that party in our state,” he shot back.
Hence it is clear that the Congress is the main rival for KCR. In the process, the TRS is apparently not averse to softening its stand against the BJP at the national level as it is not a contender for power in Telangana. As a matter of fact, the TRS is not obligated to take on the BJP since such a move may give life to the Congress, their arch rival.
KCR’s soft-peddling became evident when the TRS government skipped the meeting of finance ministers of opposition-ruled states on the 15th finance commission recommendations held in Trivandrum and Vijayawada under the aegis of the Left Front and the TDP respectively. His federal front move hit a roadblock at the very beginning as he failed to make his equidistance stance vis-à-vis the BJP and the Congress workable.
Naidu an acceptable face?
In contrast, Naidu’s case is different. He is compelled to build an anti-BJP sentiment to garner votes in the 2019 general elections by depicting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a villain on the special status issue. Besides, Naidu seems to want to test his fortunes in national politics this time, even eyeing the PM post, by vigorously working for the downfall of the NDA regime. He may become an acceptable face if political maths works in his favour in the coming elections.
Naidu hopes for a repeat of the Karnataka model of people’s verdict in the next Parliament elections. In such a scenario, the BJP and the Congress will end up with much below the magic figure, forcing the country to look to regional parties.
“If that happens, Akhilesh and Mayavati, main competitors on their home turf, will obviously not like to see either of them in the PM post. Mamata tends to face strong opposition from the Left parties and KCR suffers trust deficit. In such a scenario, Naidu in all likelihood may become a natural choice,” hopes a senior TDP leader.
Chandrababu had once said that the acceptance of the PM post thereby leaving his home state high and dry was a historical blunder. But it will be another historical blunder if he rejects such a golden chance now, especially since his son Nara Lokesh, a minister in his cabinet, is waiting in the wings to hold the fort.
Unlike KCR, Naidu is tasked with facing two main regional forces in his native state – YSR Congress and actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena – which are allegedly seizing active support from the BJP in their fight against the Naidu government.