On Sunday, while addressing a large gathering at the official residence of the Telangana Chief Minister in Hyderabad, K Chandrasekhar Rao ended his speech with ‘Jai Bharat’ after the customary ‘Jai Telangana’. For those who have followed KCR's innings in politics, especially his role in the agitation for a separate Telangana, this was his way of announcing ‘Dilli ab door nahi’.
KCR's outburst against the BJP and the Congress has taken most by surprise because he had committed himself to working in Hyderabad till he converted the state into ‘Bangaru Telangana’ (Golden Telangana). His rhetoric now seems to suggest that he has finished what he set out to do in 2014 and therefore it is time to expand his footprint.
But look closely at the KCR strategy and you can see shades of pre-2014 Narendra Modi. Like Modi during his tenure as Gujarat CM took on the Dilli sarkar, accusing it of riding roughshod over the federal structure of the country, KCR charges the Centre of reducing states to puppets. While Modi then accused the UPA government of not delivering action but only passing Acts, KCR asks the Centre to get out of all ministries barring External Affairs, Defence, National Security and National Highways.
“What does the PM have to have do with laying roads in six lakh villages?” he asks questioning the rationale behind the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojana.
If there is one thing KCR gets right, it is his sense of timing. He chose the political vacuum in Andhra Pradesh after YS Rajasekhara Reddy's demise in 2009 to re-launch his Telangana agitation by sitting on a fast. KCR managed to rattle the weak K Rosaiah regime so much that the UPA government promised to start the process of forming Telangana on the tenth day of the fast.
KCR is now banking on the feeling of resentment among many states that too many powers are vested at the Centre, giving them little elbow room. Andhra Pradesh is already embroiled in a bitter battle for funds and resents having to stand with a begging bowl before New Delhi to get what has been promised under the AP Reorganisation Act. Neighbour Tamil Nadu fumes over paying the price for better population control and getting lesser funds from the 14th Finance Commission. Telangana wants states to have the right to decide on reservation quotas based on population in individual states.
What KCR is batting for is a new form of cooperative federalism which envisages limited powers to the Centre and maximum powers to the states. In effect, KCR's model is to convert Bharat into the United States of India.
However, at the heart of this effort, pitched as a governance reform, is realpolitik. The Third Front in the making believes that the BJP having peaked in states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi in 2014 can only go south next year. The leaders are looking at the BJP halting at the 200 mark, the Congress ending short of 100 seats, leaving the rest to cobble together a government, with some help from existing NDA or UPA allies.
KCR's gambit seems aimed at making the Congress irrelevant while making the fight appear largely between the BJP and the Third Front. It serves his purpose well as the Congress is his main rival in Telangana. In the last 24 hours, what he has managed to do is to make his national foray the talking point instead of agrarian distress and unemployment in Telangana. The plan seems to sell the slogan of a KCR in Delhi as well as in Hyderabad and ride on the slogan of a Telangana bidda administering India. It is a subtle tweak of the Telangana pride slogan on which KCR came to power in 2014.
But will KCR be able to stitch together an alliance of non-BJP, non-Congress parties based on this plank of inequality? On the face of it, the medication seems to point to a United Front kind of failed experiment. While regional satraps coming together to form a national government would indicate on paper a more representative power structure, in reality it only translates to bloated egos and attempts at one-upmanship. Most of those who would be part of a Third Front are powerful heads of regional parties, used to sycophancy and little inner party democracy. Past experience shows such an arrangement only leads to a Humpty Dumpty kind of situation.
KCR's media managers put out that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was among those who called him on Sunday and asked him to march towards working for a Third Front. But polite talk apart, would the Bengal CM, whose state sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, be willing to work under the leadership of a KCR, whose Telangana sends just 17 MPs? KCR has already announced that he is willing to lead the alliance but the question is whether everyone else would accept it.
If there is one box that KCR ticks, it is language. Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee had said without knowing Hindi, one should never aspire to be Prime Minister of India. KCR would qualify well as his Hindi is far better than any of the state chieftains he plans to ally with.