Hyderabad blues

Telugu-speaking people have been hogging the airwaves all of last week. If it was not the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) seeking special status for Andhra Pradesh, it was the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) trying to place itself in a dominant position in the panoply of non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parties that are trying to form a federal front ahead of the 2019 elections.

The TDP has burnt its bridges. It is in attack-BJP mode, a back to basics stance dating back to the days of NT Rama Rao, who thundered as the voice of the Telugu people and their atma gouravam. But the TRS is playing a much more subtle, nuanced game.

First, the numbers. In a 119 member Telangana legislative assembly, TRS has 82 MLAs and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has seven seats. The Congress is leader of Opposition with 17 seats and the BJP has just five.

You would think that the Congress would be the target of the TRS’ attack, given its position as leading Opposition party. But it isn’t. Recently, when the Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs formed a pact with the Congress in neighbouring Karnataka, it is to Hyderabad that the MLAs were ferried for ‘safe-keeping’.  Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) offered all help but did not go to the resort to meet the MLAs, mindful that TRS and Congress were fighting each other in the assembly.

But at the same time, although the BJP is hardly a factor in Telangana, he has been careful not to rile the party. KCR’s daughter Kavitha is Member of Parliament (MP) from Nizamabad. The chatter in Hyderabad is that she wants to contest the assembly elections next time, due May 2019, from the Jagtial assembly constituency and involve herself in state politics. In the last Lok Sabha election, out of seven assembly constituencies in Nizamabad, the TRS won six, such was its influence. Kavitha wants to contest from Jagtial, the only constituency TRS lost that was won by the Congress. It is a matter of prestige — and also political survival.

In that situation, the Lok Sabha seat (from which the Congress spokesperson, Madhu Goud Yaskhi was defeated in the last Lok Sabha election) is being readied for Arvind Dharmapuri. There’s a story behind this. Dharmapuri’s father, D Srinivas, is an important TRS leader and Rajya Sabha MP.  Dharmapuri joined the BJP last year and has a litany of complaints against TRS and Kavitha. By sending signals that Kavitha will not fight the Lok Sabha election, the TRS has assured the BJP that Nizamabad will — probably — be an uncontested battle. The unstated arrangement between the TRS and the BJP seems to be three Lok Sabha seats where the TRS will put up token candidates (Secunderabad, Nizamabad and Mehboobnagar) in return for seven legislative assembly constituencies where the BJP will stand back.

But there’s more to Telangana politics than just arrangements reached with the BJP. Telangana’s Muslim minorities number between 15 and 16 per cent of the population but they are most concentrated in Hyderabad, behind the MIM. KCR cannot afford to alienate the Muslims and the MIM. He has praised the BJP on demonetisation and supported it in the no-confidence motion by abstaining. But at the same time, he has continued to promise Muslims that Urdu will have the status of second language in Telangana. Although the Bill to increase reservation for backward Muslims in educational institutions from six to 12 per cent was passed by the Telangana assembly, it is now pending with the central government. KCR has publicly said that he will continue to press and fight for it. His MPs disrupted the Budget Session of Lok Sabha for seven consecutive days demanding the quota of reservations be left to the state governments.

The assessment of analysts is that there could be a 10-seat shortfall for the TRS in the coming assembly election. This is partly because of support for the Congress; but also pockets of support for the BJP. The Congress will start its campaign for the next Lok Sabha elections from October 2.

Recently, when BJP President Amit Shah visited Hyderabad, he was dismissive of claims made by the BJP MLAs that the party had a strong standing in Telangana. He told party workers that out of a list of 24 points for party work, they had implemented only 12. T Raja Singh, MLA from Goshamahal said the mood was in favour of the BJP. Shah reportedly told him: First show us how strong you are.

In the circumstances, further moves by KCR are the ones to watch. He’s the politician with the most agile footwork.