Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president and caretaker Chief Minister, K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s political gamble to go in for the dissolution of the Assembly so as to hold early polls in the state is a masterstroke that could possibly also boomerang. Rao’s calculations of victory are primarily perhaps based on astrological advice, rather than political analysis of the situation and presuppose that the Election Commission would comply with his request of clubbing the Telangana polls along with those to be held in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram.
As per the Constitution, the EC has to conduct the polls within six months of the dissolution and if it is not satisfied with the preparations, as well as the revision of the electoral lists, it can take an independent call on the matter. The Chief Election Commissioner, O.P. Rawat, has stated that the caretaker CM’s expectations were preposterous and the EC was mandated by the Supreme Court to conduct free and fair polls in various states ruling aside the alignment of the constellation.
The risk factor for the TRS is that if the Commission decides to conduct the polls in January, after the elections in the four states, the outcome could impact the political situation in Telangana. Therefore, the early-mover advantage which Rao wants to take may get diluted. It is evident that the Chief Minister is over-keen to carry out state elections prior to the Parliamentary poll, which is slated for May next year. His party’s strategy being Rao should be showcased solely as the founder of Telangana, and not be pitted against either Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi in a general election so as to derive political dividends.
Although Rao has also hit out at Modi, yet it is clear that his attack on Rahul Gandhi, in unparliamentary language (he called him a buffoon) reflects his anxiety, stemming from a possible strong challenge posed by the Congress, which always had a deep-rooted presence in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. The broadside against Modi is mere tokenism, since the BJP does not have any significant influence and footprint in the southern state, and the primary target therefore is the Congress. It is a different matter that when the BJP in 1984 won only two seats in Parliament, one of the victors, Janga Reddy was from Andhra Pradesh, and the other, Dr Ashok Patel represented Gujarat.
By going in for premature elections, Rao has attempted to take his opponents by surprise. He has simultaneously announced the names of 105 candidates and is likely to notify the rest shortly. The Opposition parties, including the Congress, have been caught on the wrong foot and may thus take some time before shortlisting their nominees. The ease with which he was able to convince the Governor regarding the recommendations of his Cabinet for the dissolution of the state Assembly has evoked a strong reaction from the Congress.
The suspicion within the grand old party is that Rao has a secret understanding with the BJP, and has thus managed to continue as the caretaker Chief Minister. It was not mandatory for the Governor to have asked him to continue in the caretaker capacity as he could have recommended President’s Rule. Holding the polls under President’s rule is certainly not the same as conducting the elections when a caretaker Chief Minister is in charge, with his chosen officers in key positions.
Rao’s supporters firmly believe that he would return to power and the Congress would not be able to make any dent in the polls given its lack of strategy. What they have not taken into account is that the state of Telangana, was created at a great cost to the Congress which in 2014 was virtually wiped out in the region. Both in 2004 and 2009, the Congress came to power at the Centre on the strength of 29 and 33 MPs respectively, representing Andhra Pradesh. In 1977 when the Congress was truncated in North India, Andhra had stood by Indira Gandhi.
However, political miscalculations on the part of the Congress high command, following the untimely death in 2009 of Y.S. Rajsekhar Reddy in a helicopter crash, resulted in the division of the state. It was in the same year, on 9 December—which also happens to be Sonia Gandhi’s birthday—that P. Chidambaram at 20 minutes to midnight announced that Telangana would be formed. What led to this astounding declaration will remain one of the biggest political mysteries, but in the process, the Congress shot itself in the foot, while resuscitating the political fortunes of Rao and his party. Therefore, going by the circumstances, Rao may not be able to claim credit for the creation of Telangana.
However, Rao has taken cognisance of the fact that most of the grassroots workers of the Congress had joined hands with Jaganmohan Reddy, YSR’s son, who is vehemently opposed to the Gandhis. The fact remains that Jagan is more interested in wresting power from Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra and thereby is not focussing, as is the need of the hour, on Telangana. Therefore, the Congress leadership is unable to galvanise the support of the masses despite being a formidable threat to the TRS.
Rao has administered the state fairly well, though there have been accusations of his family’s lavish lifestyle. The dice has been rolled in the political ring by him. The target is to win back the government in a move fraught with immense danger. Between us.