Telangana, the youngest state in the country, has attracted national attention because chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao has chosen to advance the assembly polls by six months. It is not a surprise as he had been dropping hints for some time about it. Last week, when he was in Delhi he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh ostensibly to get pending projects through, but insiders say he had discussed the possibility of snap polls with them.
The chief minister got at least ten surveys done in recent weeks before his cabinet took this view. His feedback, according to insiders, was that the TRS would get at least 100 seats while realists put the figure at between 70 and 80 in a 117-member Assembly. He was banking on the panchayat elections to prove his party’s strength in the state but unfortunately these have been caught in a legal battle with the High Court granting a stay.
Why did the wily chief minister choose this gamble at this point of time? One of the primary reasons is his national ambition. KCR’s son and IT minister K.T. Rama Rao let the cat out of the bag saying, “It will give us room to talk to potential partners and friends for 2019 polls. We will play a decisive role at the national level.” With Telugu Desam now out of NDA, TRS is ready to bail out the BJP in case it misses the 272 mark in the next Lok Sabha polls.
His astrologers generally rule KCR on practically everything. Though the TRS, which fought for the separate Telangana, came to power for the first time in 2014, KCR has made the state his fiefdom by promoting dynastic politics and putting his daughter, son and nephew in positions of power and also building a personality cult. He is planning to install his son Rama Rao as chief minister and shift to national politics.
In 2014, the TRS won 63 of the 119 seats, riding on a Telangana wave. The Congress won 22 seats, the TDP-BJP combine 20, and the AIMIM 7. Meanwhile, two new parties have emerged in the past four years. Prof Muddasani Kodandaram, the political science professor who played a key role in the Telangana movement has founded Telangana Jana Samithi in March 2018. Revolutionary Telugu balladeer and local Naxalite activist Gummadi Vittal Rao (Gaddar) has launched the Telangana Praja Front this year.
KCR thinks that the surprise element will go in his favour, as his opponents including the Congress and the TDP are not ready to face polls. “I am throwing a challenge to all the parties with respect to their readiness to fight early elections. Members of our party are raring to go,” he told a public meeting some time ago. The other parties are also short of funds.
Secondly, his poll surveys have given him confidence and a ‘feel good factor’ as the opponents are no way near the TRS in strength. KCR managed to split the TDP, lure the YSR Congress and independents to make his party’s strength go up to 90 from 63. KCR is well prepared for early polls. His candidate list is ready, his campaign plans are in full swing and manifesto is in the making. In preparation for the snap polls, the KCR government has announced many welfare schemes including Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bhima for the farmers, and taken up projects such as Kaleshwaram irrigation, Mission Kakatiya, Haritha Haram, and Mission Bhagiratha. More are expected.
Thirdly and more importantly, he wants the Assembly polls to be a contest between KCR versus the rest. In that scenario he is confident of coming back as neither the Congress nor the BJP or Telugu Desam have any local leaders of his stature. He wants to avoid a KCR versus Modi contest if the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls are held together and face the Lok Sabha polls with full control over government and party. Early polls will help achieve this objective.
Fourthly, the Congress and the TDP are in talks about an electoral alliance and KCR knows if that happens they will upset his poll calculations. KCR also faces anti-incumbency as he has not delivered on the two-bedroom house scheme, transformed the state into Golden Telangana, filled up 1.50 lakh vacancies or provides jobs to those killed in the Telangana agitation. It was a surplus state in 2014 but now it is a revenue deficit state.
In the other young state Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is not as confident as KCR as he is trying to work out alliance details after leaving the NDA this year. KCR is on a strong wicket and has stolen a march over his rival, Naidu. In the tale of two states, KCR has the upper hand. As TRS leader K. Keshav Rao notes it is a ‘fait accompli’ as the Election Commission cannot postpone polls for long when the Assembly is dissolved. KCR will have his way.