Winds of change are blowing over Telangana, though right now nobody is sure whether this will be strong enough to upstage the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) from power in the state elections early next month. Aligned against the TRS is a Mahakutami—an alliance of parties led by the Indian National Congress party and has in its ranks not only the Communist Party of India (CPI) and a new party Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) but surprisingly even the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

Led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, the TDP has been a votary of an integrated Andhra Pradesh. TDP was founded in the early 1980s to end the hegemony of the Congress raj and has hitherto always been strongly anti-Congress. But now things are changing, with information emanating that Naidu could well be a prime ministerial candidate of the emerging opposition alliance. It seems Rahul Gandhi may not be averse to hold a position like Sonia Gandhi did from 2004-14, if the coalition makes the grade in the general elections in 2019. Thus, the alliance in Telangana is a kind of semi-final to 2019.

Telangana timeline

The movement for a separate Telangana was led by K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), the TRS supremo, but creation of the new state was enabled by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairman Sonia Gandhi in the run up to the 2014 election. Sonia had averred that the creation of Telangana would lead to an alliance between the Congress and TRS and they would come to power jointly. This did not happen because KCR gave the Congress the royal ditch and contested elections against the grand old party (KCR men, however, tell a different story: KCR went to Delhi to merge his party into the Congress, hailing Sonia as his amma but leaders like Digvijay Singh prevented this from happening). Whatever be the truth, TRS and Congress went to the elections separately—with 61 out of 119 assembly seats in its kitty, KCR’s party formed the government.

Once in power, KCR wanted to exterminate Naidu from Telangana. As chief minister of the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh, Naidu hung on in Hyderabad even as he embarked on building a new capital in Amaravati. As per the terms of creation of the new state, Hyderabad was to continue as common capital for ten years.

Naidu does not want to recreate an integrated Andhra Pradesh: he merely seeks a voice in Telangana on the way to be a force in Delhi-

Though the TDP won 15 seats in Telangana, it is presently reduced to two MLAs. Most of the MLAs have migrated to the TRS. Today the TRS has 90 MLAs against the 61 it originally had! This has been made possible because the speaker of the assembly (a TRS member) has refused to invoke the anti -defection law against the turncoat MLAs. A petition before the high court also was thrown out —the court saying that it would not rule on what was essentially a legislative matter.

Some historical context is necessary here. The current Telangana was earlier the central part of the territories of the Nizam of Hyderabad—which extended to parts of modern day Karnataka and Maharashtra. It was a feudal state, with high taxes and little value on enterprise. When Hyderabad merged with the Indian Union in 1948, the reins of the state passed on to English-speaking officers who came from Madras state. Not many locals knew English because the medium of instruction (even in universities) was Urdu.

In 1953, the Telugu speaking areas of the huge Madras state were demerged and in 1956 they were combined with Telugu speaking areas of Hyderabad state (what is essentially now Telangana) to form Andhra Pradesh. This was the beginning of alienation felt by locals who found themselves overrun by Andhras. A large number of elite Muslims had migrated away from the country, allowing the Andhras to cheaply acquire their estates.

Hyderabad was the only big city in the whole of the new Andhra Pradesh and thus became its capital. With this the influx of Andhras increased to Hyderabad. Since the Andhra area had a higher population than the Telangana area, they had more seats in the new Andhra Pradesh assembly. Soon Andhras came to dominate the affairs of the state. As per the last election of combined Andhra Pradesh, Telangana region had 119 seats in a total of 294; Andhra region had 175 seats.

Men and their plans

Now in 2018, Naidu does not want to recreate an integrated Andhra Pradesh: he merely seeks a voice in Telangana on the way to be a force in Delhi. In a smart move, KCR sidelined Naidu (and his cohorts) but allowed the Andhras to remain in Hyderabad. He also followed in Naidu’s footsteps to brand Hyderabad and make it hi-tech investment destination. In this, he has been successful. At the same time, KCR—who operates like a feudal lord from his home—has distributed huge sops among the rural poor to ensure votes.

KCR’s men say that sops have benefitted 35% of the Telanganites, and this will translate into votes for TRS. While this is a debatable point, TRS has an unwritten alliance with the BJP. KCR has agreed to accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suzerainty if he is allowed to lord over his state. Modi is game, because BJP is nationally not as strong as it was in 2014 and might need TRS’s support to from a government in Delhi post 2019.

Since Muslims comprise at least 10% of Telangana’s electorate, BJP president Amit Shah knows that in public TRS should not be seen as an ally of the saffron party. Thus he goes hammer and tongs against TRS —which is in alliance with the Muslim party All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). This is to give the impression that the TRS is in not in league with BJP and thus prevent the alienation of Muslim votes. If the Congress-TDP combine wins, Naidu will become a formidable candidate for South Block—he also has the support of big business. That said, Modi is aware that the shadow of poll results in Telangana could fall on New Delhi. He will pull all stops to decimate the Congress-TDP combine.

Kingshuk Nag is a former resident editor of The Times of India, Hyderabad

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