TS mandate is a fight among 3 undeclared CM candidates


2 March 2023

Telangana Assembly elections to be held later this year are anything but straightforward

Hyderabad: If Telangana state Chief Minister K. Chandra-shekar Rao was not one of the most strategically shrewd politicians in India, perhaps deserving peerage with BJP’s Chanakya, Amit Shah, the battle for the Telangana Assembly elections would have been a straightforward fight — with the incumbent Chief Minister seeking a third term based on his performance, and the Opposition seeking to counter his campaign with his purported failures.

Alas, the state elections to be held later this year are anything but straightforward — notwithstanding reports of a possible early dissolution of the Assembly, which are likely moot, and improbable.

The polls can be seen as a triangular fight for Telangana, mainly as a battle of personalities —  among K.T. Rama Rao of the BRS, Bandi Sanjay of the BJP and A. Revanth Reddy of the Congress — given that Chandrashekar Rao seeks to throw his hat in the national politics ring.

Firstly, the incumbent TRS party is now gone and has been replaced by one renamed BRS — a regionally-focussed party has been replaced by a nationally-aspiring one.

Chandrashekar Rao has not hidden his ambition to play a key role in Delhi even in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls by driving unity between non-BJP parties. He has aspirations bigger than to merely continue as Chief Minister — and will, in some probable scenarios, play a crucial role in national politics from next year.

This leaves an unspoken vacuum in state politics — which is where the fight for 2023 really lies.

People prefer a presidential showdown campaign for the electoral battle in Telangana state, too, like most others, but given unique factors in their parties, the cult war is subterranean, and on the surface, the campaign looks and feels like a confrontation among the
BRS, Congress and the BJP.

No secret that KTR is BRS CM candidate

The three potential Chief Ministerial candidates are hardly closeted. In the ruling party, it is no longer a secret that if the BRS wins the next elections, sooner or later, scion and minister, and party working president, Rama Rao is the CM candidate. The last time a crescendo was achieved for a campaign for him, the Etala Rajender episode took place, and the moves were shelved.

Recently, the chorus is back in the ruling party. In the last four days, Rama Rao addressed three back-to-back public meetings in Bhupalapally, Hanamkonda and Siricilla, in which senior party leaders, including Kadiam Srihari, T. Rajaiah, S. Madhusudhana Chary and Gandra Venkata Ramana Reddy, addressed him as the "future CM". On his part, Rama Rao gracefully reciprocated with folded hands.

BRS senior ministers Talasani Srinivas Yadav and Ch. Malla Reddy are also frequently addressing Rama Rao as the next Chief Minister. While this was stopped after the Chief Minister warned party leaders in 2020, the lack of an angry diktat now is being read as tacit approval.

Barring two interventions, Chandrashekar Rao also stayed away from the recently held Assembly session, letting his son handle all matters, questions and handling of the House. As the chorus picks up, the clear role divide becomes apparent - Chandrashekar Rao focuses ever more on national politics and Rama Rao held two Cabinet sub-committee meetings in the last week, which took major decisions on the distribution of house sites for poor and mopping up state government revenues through various regularisation schemes.

Short of asking for votes for Rama Rao as the Chief Minister candidate, the BRS has regularised the popular opinion that the time has come for the coronation of the prince. But they are reluctant to declare it openly, and thus, all the signalling and hints.

In the camp of the principal challenger, the Congress, PCC president A. Revanth Reddy has mounted his most direct assault for supremacy in Telangana state politics. Even as seniors in the party with long-standing clout act as a check and balance, Revanth Reddy, styling himself increasingly in the mould of late Dr Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, is showering welfare promises.

While the promises are mounted in the rhetoric of what Sonia Amma Rajyam will bring, or what a government whose larger leadership will be in the hands of Rahul Gandhi will mean, Revanth Reddy is seen by most people as the de facto Chief Minister candidate of the Congress. And his padayatras are increasingly showcasing that the party is powering its campaign on the appeal of his persona.

But as with any national party, the public stance is the party will first try to come to power and then the legislators, and high command, will take the decision later.

In the BJP too, like in the Congress, there is no Chief Minister face for the campaign, but there is little doubt in the public mind that it is the party's state president and Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar who has fuelled the party to such an electoral might, and is indeed the leader because of whom people are increasingly inclining towards the BJP.

While the BJP has perfected a template for winning elections, it has not yet convincingly defeated any non-Hindi regional party to wrest power. The BJP's visceral disdain for promoting strong leaders ahead of the polls can be detrimental to its bid for power in Telangana.

But while dissidents in the party tried several times, the leaks from the Sunday meeting of senior party leaders with home minister Amit Shah left little for speculation — with the party's high command fully backing Sanjay as the steward for its ship for the electoral storm.

While a Sanjay-led BJP believes that a campaign of Hindutva fervour, showcasing the BRS as an appeasing force under the pressure from the Owaisi-led MIM is a sure ticket to power, with issues like renaming of cities, love Jihad, neglect of Hindus, besides corruption, set against the nationalist and clean image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; the Revanth Reddy-led Congress believes in the spirit of Telangana agitation, failed aspirations and welfare programs covering all segments would be the right recipe to dislodge the strongly entrenched BRS.

Without a de jure declaration, the battle royale for Telangana 2023 has now become a strange case of Chandrashekar Rao clearly eying Delhi, and three undeclared Chief Ministerial candidates.

And as ever with personality battles juxtaposed against political canvases, it will be fascinating at the very least.

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