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WILL THE REAL KCR PLEASE STAND UP?

Telangana CM is being accused of launching not a third front but BJP’s second front

When Members of Parliament of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) along with fellow lawmakers from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), did not allow the Lok Sabha to function for three days, it might have seemed like a usual occurrence. Parliamentarians are always creating a din in the House, you may say — rightly so. Except that this bedlam spiked any chances of the no-trust motion moved by the two Andhra parties — YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam — to be taken up by the Speaker.

While the AIADMK’s fig-leaf was that it wanted the Centre to set up the Cauvery Management Board, the TRS wanted an increase in quotas beyond 50 per cent to accommodate the 12 per cent reservation its government has given to Muslims in Telangana. The irony is that its ally, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi had supported the no-confidence motion by signing up for it. This has obviously led to doubts if the two parties were acting at the behest of the BJP to ensure the motion was not taken up in the House.

On Monday afternoon, TRS president K Chandrasekhar Rao boarded a private aircraft to fly to Kolkata to meet Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. On the agenda was to discuss ways to form a non-BJP, non-Congress alternative, where regional satraps representing the federal plurality of India would be represented. This, KCR envisages, would be a people’s front and would be a viable option for voters, otherwise left to choose between a Congress and a BJP.

This begs the question: Will the real KCR stand up? On one hand, the Telangana chief minister speaks of regional parties emerging as an alternative, on the other hand, he plays a part in blocking the voice of neighbouring Telugu state, Andhra Pradesh, in the Lok Sabha. No wonder, Telangana Congress leader Revanth Reddy says KCR is not floating a Third Front, in reality it is BJP’s second front.

Andhra had every reason to feel aggrieved with the TRS behaviour inside Parliament because its MPs had initially expressed their support to their grouse over being denied the Special Category Status. But their subsequent presence in the well of the House is proof the TRS is not putting its money where its mouth is.

This trust deficit is KCR’s first and foremost challenge. He was the first non-NDA chief minister to support demonetisation and was more than effusive initially about GST. Unlike KCR, chief ministers like Mamata Banerjee, Siddaramaiah, Arvind Kejriwal and Pinarayi Vijayan have been steadfast in taking on the Centre over different issues.

KCR by touring the country to meet leaders of different regional formations, wants to dispel that notion. Unlike other politicians who shy away from talking about their ambitions, KCR was clear he was now eyeing a national role for himself. On March 3, when he made the announcement, he also declared he was willing to lead such a group. Privately, his aides started making an HD Deve Gowda comparison to debunk the prognosis that a regional party in a state with just 17 MPs will not have the political clout or the numbers to get a prime minister.

On Monday, after meeting Mamata, KCR was, however, talking about a “collective leadership”. It is obvious that both KCR and Mamata stand to gain from the optics of the meeting. While this is KCR’s first step towards New Delhi, Mamata enjoys being wooed by just about every regional chieftain in the country. She is the pivot around whom a possible federal front revolves and it is unlikely she will give up that position of eminence to anyone else.

West Bengal, which has 42 MPs, also gives her the platform for greater clout at the Centre. And she would want to be the Jayalalithaa of the next Lok Sabha, getting 35-odd seats, which will make her the third largest party. AIADMK with 37 seats in the present Lok Sabha is third after the BJP and the Congress.

Also unlike KCR, whose principal opposition in Telangana is the Congress making the grand old party a no-no in his scheme of things, Mamata has no such issues. Given her excellent personal equation with Sonia Gandhi, Mamata would be happy to have the Congress in the anti-BJP group, provided Rahul Gandhi is not taken to be the automatic choice for prime minister should the BJP be vanquished.

With bete noire Chandrababu Naidu also exiting the NDA, KCR now has competition in Telugu territory as well. Naidu has the experience and a track record of forging Opposition unity, thanks to his stint as United Front convenor in the 1990s. KCR is comparatively new to the national stage though he briefly served as Union labour minister in UPA-1.

It is obvious these are still early days. KCR, who talks of not following ‘politics as usual’, is banking on the feeling of resentment among many states that too many powers are vested in the Centre, giving them little elbow room. He wants to replace this unequal relationship with a new form of cooperative federalism that envisages limited powers to the Centre and maximum powers to the states.

The intention is to ride on this new architecture of a federal India to capture power in New Delhi. But much as KCR would want to insist he would not follow the beaten path, past experience has shown that in the end, it will boil down to individual king-size egos and sky-high ambitions of regional leaders.

This article was first published in Newslaundry.