With only a fortnight to go to the end of the general elections, Telangana chief minister is slowly showing the political cards that he has kept close to the chest until now.
Talk of a federal front created a buzz last year before fizzling out. That is until now: Rao, known as KCR, met his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan on 6 May in Thiruvathapuram and will also meet Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) supremo M. K. Stalin on 13 May.
The two meetings gain significance as the DMK is officially in an alliance with the Congress, while the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is a foe of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
That gives the impression that KCR might get flexible if it comes to making a choice. Until now, it was almost certain—even within his own Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS)—that KCR would lean toward the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
“Between the BJP and Congress, KCR will prefer to side with the BJP, given that the grand old party is the main opposition in Telangana. However, he might not join the NDA formally even if it comes to that, and might just provide issue-based support as the TRS has done in parliament. He definitely wants to form the federal front, which is naturally open for anyone to join," said a TRS leader from Hyderabad, who did not want to be named.
How things work out depends entirely on how many seats the BJP and Congress win, and what they have to offer, said the TRS leader. “If the federal front forms, it is not like KCR will dictate terms, but all of them will sit together and decide what to do. Even the prime ministerial candidate will be decided like that," he added.
As of now, only opposition YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) chief Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has openly declared support for KCR’s idea. While others have remained mum on the issue, KCR’s daughter and outgoing MP from the Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat in Telangana, K. Kavitha, told Mint in April that some regional parties are “covertly backing the federal front idea", but did not name them.
So far, KCR has met West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, Janata Dal (Secular) supremo Deve Gowda, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav (he and KCR even held a press conference together after their meeting in Hyderabad), among others, before his meeting with Vijayan earlier this week.
“KCR’s approach is to be close to whoever is likely to come to power. He is definitely interested in forming the federal front. But say if the NDA gets 230 or 250-odd seats, then he might just give outside support. Moreover, if the front is formed, he will also look at what the UPA and NDA have to offer. Now, that the state administration is running smoothly, he is going to concentrate on national politics," said the TRS leader.
Rao in his public speeches has also talked of the need to give states a greater say on subjects under the Concurrent list like agriculture, health and education. Asaduddin Owaisi, All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul (AIMIM) chief and outgoing MP from the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat has batted for Rao on that front.
The AIMIM chief has said that KCR is a better choice for the prime minister’s post and that he was as good as Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
However, it is unclear how the relationship between the AIMIM and TRS will work out if KCR decides to go with the NDA, given that Owaisi is a bitter critic of Modi and the BJP.
“KCR talking to Vijayan won’t have any impact. KCR once again started this because it looks like the BJP’s shoulders are drooping. Who is Vijayan in the scheme of things? Moreover, Rahul Gandhi is fighting from Kerala and the Congress is expecting a huge gain, while the CPM has a big challenge in West Bengal as the fight is between TMC and BJP," said Hyderabad-based political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
Reddy pointed out that Stalin has publicly backed Gandhi to be the next prime minister.
“But even Stalin can explore possibilities beyond the Congress. The DMK is also poised to win most seats in TN. In a cliff-hanger position, everybody becomes important. Patnaik had 21 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls, and he might have the same number as the TRS today. Mamata will have more seats as well," he said, adding that the federal front idea is not likely to work out.
Moreover, Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu, KCR’s rival from the neighbouring state, also campaigned with DMK supremo M. K. Stalin in Tamil Nadu and is on his own path to form an anti-BJP coalition—one that includes the Congress.
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