From being an aide to Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu to emerging as his most vocal critic and rival, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) has come a long way. Both leaders made history by becoming the first chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana after the bifurcation of AP in 2014. But while Rao, or KCR, has grown from strength to strength, Naidu faces an uphill task in both the upcoming assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
Both encouraged defections from opposition parties after the 2014 assembly and Lok Sabha polls, but KCR’s most recent gamble to call for early elections after dissolving the assembly last year, has paid off. He pulled off a spectacular win in the 7 December polls, with the TRS winning 88 of the 119 seats. Moreover, nine of the Congress’s 19 legislators defected to the ruling party.
In the 2014 assembly polls, the TRS won only 63 seats in Telangana, but soon after around 30 MLAs from opposition parties, including the Congress, TDP and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), defected to the ruling party.
In AP, however, Naidu is facing a resurgent YSRCP as its leader Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s popularity rises. Jagan is the son of former AP chief minister Y.S. Rajashekara Reddy. While more than 20 MLAs and three MPs from YSRCP had defected to the TDP, which had won 102 seats in the 175-member assembly in the 2014 state elections, some of the defecters have since returned.
While TDP leaders from the state say their party might win a simple majority at best in the forthcoming assembly elections in AP, the TRS is now confident it will sweep 16 of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana.
In Andhra Pradesh, the TDP had won 15 seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 2 and YSRCP 8 in the 2014 general election. In Telangana, the TRS managed to win 11 seats, the Congress party won 2, TDP 1, YSRCP 1, BJP 1 and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) won 1 seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Since then, three MPs from the TDP, YSRCP and Congress have defected to the TRS.
But perhaps KCR’s masterstroke was the ‘Rythu Bandhu’ input subsidy scheme, under which all land-owning farmers get ₹4,000 per acre for both the rabi and kharif crop seasons every year. The programme is believed to have helped him win the 2018 assembly elections.
Naidu’s decision to move out of Hyderabad and create a new state capital, Amaravati, has also kept him busy since 2015, more so as he had to raise funds to set up the infrastructure. “We started with a deficit of ₹16,000 crore in AP. Today, of course, with some help from the 14th Finance Commission, our income has grown. Naidu’s major achievement is that he was able to get 33,000 acres of land for Amaravati easily," said a TDP leader, requesting anonymity.
He added that in comparison, KCR “was really lucky" since Hyderabad is part of Telangana, which allowed the new state to grow more easily. “The TRS had a golden spoon, as KCR got a surplus state after bifurcation. He even ridiculed AP calling it a C-class state. Naidu has come a long way since then," the TDP leader said.
TRS leaders said bifurcation is history, and that the TDP-led government has received adequate funding since then. “Now KCR is looking at the national level and we want to win 16 LS seats," said a TRS leader, also requesting anonymity.
Moreover, given that the TDP has almost been wiped out in Telangana and lost most of its cadre base and one of its two MLAs to the TRS, the party has decided not to contest the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
At the national level, KCR has also been talking of forming a federal front with regional parties, for which he has met several leaders from across the country since last year. However, nothing tangible has taken shape, except for Jagan Mohan Reddy supporting the idea. Naidu, on the other hand, has been at the forefront of building an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition ever since he exited the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2018, complaining of lack of funding for AP.
“Post bifurcation, Naidu had been under a lot of pressure from contractors, so giving them enough business was one big pressure point for him. So, his five years were filled with many problems, other than administration issues. For KCR, revenue was not a major challenge, so he could have cordial relations with the centre, and was able to manage things. Unfortunately Chandrababu could not," said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
Reddy added KCR has been more proactive than Naidu as a strategist. “His decision of going for early polls was one example, and because of such decisions, KCR can now say that he is an alternative to Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi, and that he can get anything for Telangana. Naidu, today, is unable to justify his position after the leaving the alliance with the BJP."