Intense speculation is underway in political circles on the possible impact of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) on politics in both the Telugu states. As Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) embarks upon a national voyage with the BRS, his entry into Andhra Pradesh politics is keenly observed.
During the movement for a separate state of Telangana, KCR ran a virulent campaign chiding not just the politicians of Seemandhra, which now constitutes the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, but even the food and culture of the people of that region.
It was aimed at rousing Telangana sentiment as the entire premise of the separate state movement was the alleged exploitation by Androllu, a rather derogatory expression to denote the Seemandhra people.
KCR may perhaps believe that the wounds of the bifurcation era have healed as it has been eight years since the new state of Telangana was born.
Such hope is based on the fact that Telangana voters having Seemandhra origin have significantly backed the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). But the political parties in Andhra Pradesh, which had to close their operations in Telangana after division, will leave no stone unturned to frustrate KCR by reopening the pre-bifurcation rhetoric.
KCR and Andhra political parties
The modus operandi of the BRS seems to be roping in disgruntled politicians from different political parties into a new national outfit. This would invariably lead to a backlash from the existing parties.
KCR has been enjoying good relations with his Andhra Pradesh counterpart barring occasional altercations between TRS and YSR Congress leaders on vexed interstate issues. Even that is more strategic than substantive.
On the contrary, the TRS and TDP have been having a hostile relationship after bifurcation as Chandrababu Naidu continued his political activities in Telangana too. During the 2018 Assembly elections, the TDP fought the polls as part of the grand alliance led by the Congress.
KCR triggered massive regional sentiment when Chandrababu Naidu took a lead role in the Telangana campaign trail, which proved to be costly for the Congress-led Opposition combine.
Bonhomie between KCR and Jagan
The YSR Congress promptly withdrew from the Telangana political scenario anticipating unwanted issues that could harm YS Jagan Mohan Reddy back home in Andhra Pradesh. The Andhra chief minister was even averse to the idea of his sister YS Sharmila floating her political start-up in Telangana, called the YSR Telangana Party.
The absence of the YSR Congress in the Telangana political landscape despite the party winning an MP and a couple of MLA seats in 2014 has contributed to the bonhomie between KCR and Jagan.
With the launch of the BRS, this political calculus is bound to undergo a significant change.
The BRS has to take a position on a host of issues that rock Andhra Pradesh. The BRS will have to make clear its stand on Jagan and his government too.
A new political party will find it difficult to penetrate into a state by taking a pro-establishment stand. If the BRS takes an anti-Jagan stand, it would further splinter already crowded opposition space and invite a hostile response from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
Pawan Kalyan-TDP-BJP combine?
Pawan Kalyan is promoting the idea of ensuring that the anti-YSR Congress vote does not split. The Jana Sena chief wants to revive the 2014 formula when the TDP-BJP-Jana Sena combine could successfully trounce Jagan. At a time when the ruling YSR Congress is in a formidable position, Pawan Kalyan’s proposal seems to be politically prudent to defeat Jagan.
The TDP is not averse to the idea as it will be the principal beneficiary as in 2014. But the idea is unpalatable to the BJP. The saffron party claims to be equidistant from the TDP and YSR Congress.
Though the state BJP criticises the Jagan government, the chief minister enjoys good relations with the saffron leadership at the national level. As the YSR Congress with a sizeable number of MPs supports the Modi regime in every instance, the BJP does not wish to give up a key non-NDA ally.
The BJP is still unsure about who would get a sizeable chunk of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh in 2024. With both the TDP and YSR Congress vying for the saffron embrace, the BJP is in no hurry to take a call.
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Clear political space for BRS in Andhra
The entry of the BRS in any significant way would further make the situation chaotic. A BRS-TDP bonhomie seems to be difficult as both parties are wary of a possible adverse impact in their respective states.
The BRS has been born with a strident anti-BJP political position. Therefore, the BRS joining hands with the BJP in Andhra Pradesh doesn’t arise, leaving the TDP-Jana Sena to choose between the two.
However, the BRS has a clear political space in Andhra Pradesh except that the Telangana baggage will continue to haunt it.
Both the ruling YSR Congress and the opposition TDP are scared of taking a strong anti-BJP stand for their own reasons. With the CBI and ED descending on every other opposition politician, Jagan, who is facing a slew of cases, does not wish to rub the saffron brigade on the wrong side.
The TDP, which is already under intense pressure from its arch-rival YSR Congress, does not wish to open a new theatre of confrontation by opposing the BJP. The Jana Sena, for inexplicable reasons, embraced the BJP as Pawan Kalyan moved from left to right with ease.
The Congress and the Communists, despite their unequivocal opposition to the BJP, have little presence.
Thus, the BRS can exploit the void in the anti-BJP political space in Andhra Pradesh. But all this depends on how many leaders of Andhra Pradesh would walk the talk with KCR and to what extent the pink party supremo could get traction in the state landscape that was hitherto hostile to him.
Related: Will Telangana model convince voters across India?
What about Telangana identity?
Yet what is not clear is the impact of the BRS on politics in Telangana, a state that will witness Assembly elections before Lok Sabha polls. The existence of the TRS is essentially based on Telangana identity.
KCR wants Telangana people to welcome BRS as the T-identity goes national. But the opposition BJP and Congress allege that KCR has abandoned Telangana’s identity.
A new claimant for the Telangana identity cannot be ruled out. Meanwhile, the TDP and the YSR Congress may try to re-enter Telangana politics as a strong regional party leaves the field.
Both Chandrababu Naidu and YS Rajasekhara Reddy, whose legacy is now inherited by his son Jagan, had a considerable following before the post-bifurcation political idiom made the two parties irrelevant. Naidu and Jagan may plunge back into Telangana politics once KCR throws his hat into Andhra politics.
Any firm speculation on the possible turn of events at this point is too premature, but one thing is certain: The BRS led by KCR has the potential to create a new churn in the politics of the Telugu states.
(K Nageshwar is a political analyst and professor of journalism at Osmania University. He is a former member of the Legislative Council, both in united Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He has worked as an editor in print and electronic media. These are the personal views of the author)