Unlike its founder NTR, the TDP has been unable to pander to sub-regional aspirations.

By refusing to tap into sub-regionalism is TDP struggling to survive in Telangana PTI File photo
news Politics Monday, January 22, 2018 - 19:27

The question of the Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) survival has come to the fore in Telangana yet again on the 22nd death anniversary (January 18) of its founder, former Chief Minister (undivided Andhra Pradesh) and matinee idol NT Rama Rao. The TDP’s vocal Dalit leader Motkupalli Narasimhulu stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest by mooting the merger of the party’s regional unit with the ruling TRS while paying tributes to NTR in Hyderabad.

His comment reflected the TDP’s moribund state in Telangana after its rout in the 2014 Assembly Elections. The party remained out of power for three consecutive terms since 2004 in Telangana. Its decline began with the emergence of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) floated by the TDP’s disgruntled leader K Chandrasekhar Rao in 2001, giving an expression to sub-regional aspirations.

Pandering to sub-regionalism

NTR aroused the self-pride of Telugu people across united Andhra Pradesh with his charisma as a film hero by questioning the dominance of Delhi leaders in the then ruling Congress over the regional political space. This regional sentiment cast a spell on people of undivided state that helped his fledgling TDP unseat the Congress in 1983.

KCR with his spicy oratorical skills laced with typical colloquial Telangana accent and diction paid the NTR’s party in the same coin by taking on the dominance of Andhra people in political and business spheres at the expense of resources in his region. This trump card went viral, helping his party making inroads into the traditional vote banks of both the Congress and the TRS.

Chandrasekhar Rao emerged as an unquestionable leader in Telangana with the death of former Congress Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy and the failure of the TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu to accommodate space for sub-regional leadership. KCR successfully lobbied with the Congress leadership at the helm in the UPA government that led to formation of Telangana as a separate state.

The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh has scripted the downfall of the TDP in Telangana, raising questions about its very relevance in the newly carved state. The TDP has miserably failed to erase its tag as a tail of the Andhra region in the last three-and-a half years since the bifurcation. “It cannot be erased since it’s a congenital disorder that afflicted the TDP,” says K Nageswar, political analyst and professor in journalism from Osmania University in Hyderabad.

When the party was founded by NTR from the Andhra region, he was succeeded by his son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu during a transition of power. Now, Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh Babu is in the making to pick up the threads from him. This family rule in the in TDP is unlikely to make itself relevant in Telangana at a time when the truncated state is in the cauldron of sub-regional sentiment.

Hit by defections

Stalked by a confidence crisis, defections from the TDP to TRS reached its peak since the last election. Out of 15 MLAs elected on the TDP ticket, 13 switched to the TRS and some even became cabinet ministers in the TRS government. Later, the party’s Telangana unit working president A Revanth Reddy, known as a firebrand leader, deserted TDP to join the Congress a couple of months ago. Along with him, he also took 14 district presidents of the party to the Congress.

Regardless of the leadership exodus, the TDP is considered a strong cadre-based party with an invincible backing from Backward Classes, who constitute half the population of Telangana. Yet, it lacked the grit to take on the TRS regime as its rank and file felt disheartened with the implication of their leader and Andhra CM Naidu in the vote-for-cash scam.

Faced with the prospect of prosecution, Naidu moved to new capital in Amaravati in spite of having privileges over Hyderabad as a joint capital for 10 years in line with the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014. Post Naidu’s exit from Telangana, the TDP literally became nobody’s baby, crying for able and agile leadership.

KCR, a shrewd politician, is seemingly at his best capitalizing on the pitfalls in the rival camp. He held out a carrot to the Kamma leadership in the TDP and sops to the settler businessmen of the same caste as part of his social engineering strategies ahead of the 2019 election to counter the Reddy-dominated Congress.

A senior Hyderabad-based journalist wishing to remain anonymous blamed the TDP’s leadership for the crisis in Telangana. When the TRS is hawkish in building regional sentiment by projecting Andhra leadership as a villain, the TDP, unmindful of KCR’s game plan, adopted a soft stance by sailing with him in the 2009 Assembly Elections and even in the separate state agitation, he commented. The TDP has suffered a dent in its vote share since 2009, lending credence to this view point.

This Telangana sentiment obviously paid dividend for the TRS and it polled 34% of votes in the 2014 elections, 53% more than its score in the previous election. The TDP in Telangana, however, ended up with 19.5% over 28.12% in 2009.

Meanwhile, the TDP’s Telangana leadership has swung into firefighting mode, downplaying the Motukupalli’s outbursts. Party state president L Ramana exuded confidence, saying TDP will continue to survive in Telangana even as the Andhra leadership maintained a stoic silence.