Hyderabad: Few people can recall what the dominant political narrative was in the first week of November last year, when Etala Rajendar, one of most high-profile recruits into the BJP, won the Huzurabad byelections despite an intense on-ground and high-pitch campaign by the ruling TRS.
The win by the BJP, whose membership in the Assembly tripled since the elections in 2018, when it had a sole MLA in T. Raja Singh from the Old City, was considered spectacular because it completed a triad — starting with a win in the Dubbak byelection, followed by an astonishing rise in the GHMC polls. The two bypoll wins of the ruling party, at Huzurnagar and Nagarjunasagar, after the massive win in the Assembly polls during the last three years came against the Congress.
The narrative was that led by a newly anointed state president, Lok Sabha MP Bandi Sanjay, the BJP had become the alternative to the TRS, even as the Congress was losing its last bastions of support.
"People want to defeat the TRS and they don't believe in the Congress anymore because their legislators would easily join the pink party after winning. The BJP is the only alternative, powered by real change sought by eighty per cent of the people," said Sanjay, while starting a padayatra a few months ago. The BJP was euphoric and the driver of narrative against the TRS.
In parallel, slowly but surely, the Congress started gaining traction amongst people across different districts after the appointment of Lok Sabha MP A. Revanth Reddy as the PCC chief. Between a rejuvenating Congress and a rapidly rising BJP, the TRS took a beating.
It was at this stage that rumours began to circulate that election strategist Prashant Kishor was being roped in by the TRS to help with political strategy and war-room capabilities.
Just when both the rival opposition parties were hoping the ruling party would flounder, TRS president and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao chose to deliver his strategic masterstroke — of changing the narrative. It was both the audacity and alacrity of the change that left both Revanth Reddy and Sanjay floundering and confused.
Within no time, Chandrashekar Rao shifted the focus and metamorphosed the narrative from one around the next Assembly elections to the Lok Sabha elections. The 2023 elections to decide the next state government, the only focus of Sanjay or Revanth Reddy almost disappeared; with the buzz about a national front.
There are several uncanny similarities here from the Narendra Modi playbook. By constantly questioning, criticising and making demands of the BJP central leadership, the attention on Sanjay and other state leaders began to reduce. They were no longer benefiting from the sharp rebukes of Chandrashekar Rao, K.T. Rama Rao or other TRS leaders. In stark contrast to his strong barbs against Congress boss Rahul Gandhi in the past, Chandrashekar Rao took to defending and supporting him; disarming Revanth Reddy in a different way.
The subterranean impact of the anti-Modi front messaging has been a masterstroke — people are convinced that any leader who can set up a front to challenge and defeat Modi in Delhi is hardly facing any anti-incumbency. Only a party nearly certain to win the Assembly polls prior would put so much capital on a national election to come subsequently.
Chandrashekar Rao's stature went up because, within a few weeks, far from being challenged by state leaders like Sanjay or Revanth Reddy, he was challenging Modi, sitting in conference and talks with the most important leaders across the country — M.K. Stalin, Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, H.D. Deve Gowda, among others.
It most crucially gave Chandrashekar Rao the extraordinary turnabout of playing opposition while ruling — if he speaks at state level, he would have to respond to criticism by state Congress and BJP; but at the national level, he was the opposition leader, asking Modi to give answers.
There is a natural political cadence to any opposition war cry — it does not have any incumbency, or responsibility to defend one's own governance record; and Chandrashekar Rao is simply one of the most brilliant Opposition leaders in the politics of Telugu states, one who can mount a campaign akin to a people's movement.
Little doubt, with a series of strategic masterstrokes, Chandrashekar Rao has blurred the BJP narrative of Dubbak, GHMC and Huzurabad wins from public memory, blunted the Congress campaign and pulled a rabbit out of the hat — the anti-Modi national plank.
It is not important whether he wins that battle or not, because he has already found his mojo back for the real war that matters to him, the 2023 Assembly polls, for which he has already set a narrative in the simplest of terms - your Chief Minister could well be the next PM.
Now what can Sanjay or Revanth Reddy possibly argue against that real Telangana pride card?