#TelanganaElections : Has the TRS checkmated itself? Secret alliance with Congress boon or bane?
Organiser   05-Dec-2018

As BJP is gaining momentum in Telangana and is aiming for a clear majority, these elections are a tough call either for the TRS or the Congress-led Grand Alliance

Pradeep Kumar

With its tacit understanding with the Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is hoping for a repeat of the post-poll Karnataka situation in Telangana. People are wondering if the Congress and TRS indeed join hands, would the TRS subsequently become part of the Grand Alliance along with Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and Communist Party of India (CPI). This brings into the question if these partners of Grand Alliance who have now joined hands to defeat TRS in the Telangana polls, accept the Alliance with TRS? Or would this be a new alliance only between TRS and Congress?
After harbouring animosity for more than three decades, TDP joined hands with Congress for the Telangana Polls citing the "In the Interest of State" as the reason. But in case of the TRS, the party already had a close association with Congress, and KCR had even served as a Central minister in the cabinet of UPA. There were also rumours and talks of merging TRS with Congress after the 2014 elections like that of Praja Rajyam Party (floated by cine star Chiranjeevi). However, as the Congress performed poorly in the ensuing elections and the TRS won a decent victory and formed the government on its own, the need for merging TRS with Congress died down.
However, in the past few months before dissolving the assembly, KCR went ahead and formed a new third front in the name of Federal Front. He tried gathering all parties who were opposed to the BJP but not the Congress. During the deliberations, while forming the Federal Front formation, KCR received a clear message that without the involvement of Congress it would be difficult to survive the Modi wave. As it became apparent that the Federal Front was a futile exercise, KCR shelved the idea and went ahead and dissolved the state assembly.
Till early November there were speculations that the Congress had improved its presence in Telangana and hence they joined hands with the TDP to defeat the BJP in 2019 general elections and the TRS in the state polls. There were also speculations in certain sections of the media, that the Cong-TDP alliance could form the government. But with poll dates nearing, such speculations have been laid to rest, and the BJP is slated to emerge as the single largest party. It is this threat that has triggered a change in the equations between TRS and Congress in Telangana.
Will the grand alliance subsume the TRS?
As of today, this secret agreement between TRS and the Grand Alliance seems only vanity and more of a friendly fight. It's an open secret in Telangana that TRS will leave the Hyderabad city for MIM and MIM will leave the rest of the state to TRS. KCR himself was quoted saying that its only a friendly fight between them. However, since MIM is restricted only to the Old City of Hyderabad, its clear that TRS deliberately left the remaining areas of the city to the Grand Alliance. In the majority of the constituencies in Hyderabad, BJP is the common opponent and there is no real fight between TRS and Grand Alliance. Same is the situation in urban seats outside Hyderabad too. In the majority of the seats where TRS is strong, the fight is only between TRS and BJP and the Grand Alliance is only a spectator. In the same way, the seats where Congress/TDP is strong, the fight is between Congress and BJP only and TRS is just a bystander.
Many TRS leaders and the cadre are either from Congress or TDP. Senior TRS leaders like Keshav Rao were known to be close aids of Sonia Gandhi when they were in Congress. So there will not be much resistance from the cadre. Moreover, TRS is a centrally controlled party where the cadre do not have any channels to voice their opinions or talk against the high command. After Congress, TDP is the largest partner in the Grand Alliance. Though they were rivals in the initial days of the state bifurcation, a decent bonhomie has developed between TRS and TDP which strengthened after TDP left the NDA. The rivalry between the TRS and TDP was at its peak during the ‘Note for Vote’ issue but dwindled later. Revant Reddy who was one of the accused in this issue, joined Congress and was instrumental in bringing Congress and TDP together. Earlier several TDP MLAs joined TRS and few of them became ministers in KCR's cabinet. Majority of them were close aides of Chandra Babu Naidu and there is a high possibility that those MLAs will play a key role in joining hands with TRS. There is no real resistance from the leaders or the cadre of TDP as they attempt to join their 3 decades old political opponent.
As for the TJS, except its tallest leader Kodanda Ram, the party is not expected to have any real impact in any constituency. Incidentally, Kodanda Ram has been a close aide of KCR earlier and Congress and TDP were his bitter opponents. Given their limited impact, the opinion of the TJS in allowing TRS in the grand alliance will not matter. Same is the case with CPI. Though the CPI had supported TRS in several instances before the formation of Telangana, they do not have much say in the alliance due to their limited impact on the ground. Given this forecast, the TRS could as well be part of the Congress-led Grand Alliance.
However, as the Grand Alliance takes shape, many observers have opined that the very identity of the TRS could be at stake as it would just be a member of the alliance and may not have much say. If the TRS is subsumed by the alliance, its political relevance in Telangana would be at stake. Whether the TRS is ready to take such a huge risk, needs to be seen.
Grand Alliance a costly affair for KCR?
As BJP is gaining momentum in Telangana and is aiming for a clear majority, these elections are a tough call either for the TRS or the Congress-led Grand Alliance. The only way forward for them is to come together and explore ways to defeat BJP. Congress may plan the same Post-Poll strategy that they have played in Karnataka. The Congress seems to have realised that their ability to win on their own has diminished and hence have chalked out tacit understanding at various constituencies. There are several constituencies where such secret arrangements are clearly visible as one party has stepped back to make way for the other only to defeat the BJP. Nirmal, Maheswaram, Maktal, Narayankhed, Secunderabad, Sangareddy, Zaheerabad are the few constituencies where the Grand Alliance stepped back to push TRS to the front. Serilingampally, Kukatpally, Huzurnagar, Suryapet, Khammam, Shadnagar are the few other constituencies where TRS has stepped back in favour of TDP/Congress from the Grand Alliance. Such deals with political opponents at the cost of its presence has made several members of the TRS question in private the reasoning behind such a move.
Though KCR is the CM candidate for TRS, it is uncertain that KCR will be the CM candidate should the Alliance win. This is because there are already several candidates who have nominated themselves for the post. One such name that is doing rounds is that of Harish Rao of TRS as he is seen as more acceptable to the alliance partners than KCR or his son K T Rama Rao. It is highly doubtful that KCR would gamble away his position and commit a political harakiri only to keep the alliance intact.
The BJP factor
After the Grand Alliance was formed, common people and supporters were left disillusioned as long-term rivals came together only for opportunistic politics. Voters from urban areas and are literate and formed the support base of the TDP, were left disgruntled. Then there is a large section in Telangana who have no love for the TDP due to its acrimonious treatment of Telangana during bifurcation. Congress is an anathema for both these sections of the voters and teaming up with them could prove costly for TRS. This political game of survival has only swung the momentum towards BJP significantly. Swamy Paripoornananda’s non-stop campaigning had been able to gather huge support for the party which has increased its chances of forming the government on its own.
However, even if the secret understanding of the TRS with the Grand Alliance works, the BJP is sure to put up a tough and emerge as the Single Largest Party. Similarly to what happened in Karnataka, the TRS could be made to play second fiddle to Congress-led alliance just like JD(S). In the opinion of every political commentator, the JD(S) is losing its relevance in Karnataka every day due to such crass political opportunism. Will the TRS and KCR attempt such a risky venture? Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the common man will honour the secret alliance and the vote share could well be divided between TRS and Grand Alliance which in turn would catapult the BJP to victory. The TRS in all likelihood seems to be the loser either ways. Though the voter will decide the outcome on 7th December, it needs to be seen if KCR/TRS will choose political opportunism risking their existence or live-on to fight another day.