One-on-one meetings: Prime Minister Modi reaches out to key Telangana figures

BJP High Command in Delhi has now taken direct charge of the campaign to oust the TRS in Telangana in the 2023 election.

ByVasu Gandikota

Published Sep 01, 2022 | 2:03 PMUpdatedSep 01, 2022 | 2:08 PM

One-on-one meetings: Prime Minister Modi reaches out to key Telangana figures

Even as Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has upped the ante against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, the party’s central leadership appears to have taken direct charge of its campaign against the ruling TRS ahead of elections in end-2023.

If Home Minister Amit Shah is dealing with the brass tacks — marshalling men and resources, enticing stars and leaders from other parties, even as central investigating agencies are browbeating others into submission — the prime minister has got down to the task of gathering information about the ground situation from key figures in Telangana.

A leading businessman of the city, who had a good relationship with the ruling TRS until recently, was surprised when he received a call from the PMO a few weeks ago for a one-on-one meting with Modi. He flew to Delhi via another city, but the meeting did not remain a secret.

Modi meetings with key figures in Telangana

The prime minister minced no words in conveying to the businessman that the BJP’s intention is to come to power after the 2023 Assembly elections, and sought inputs from him as to what the party should do to achieve this goal.

Interestingly, Modi is understood have even sought opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of BJP leaders in the state and whether they are good enough to take on the might of the TRS.

The meeting reportedly lasted for more than hour as Modi sought specific inputs about places and people, even as he made it clear the the party was just seeking moral endorsement/support of influential sections.

Modi, who is said to have also met a couple of intellectuals, is expected to meet more such personalities from various walks of life in the months to come as the BJP sharpens its attack on the TRS, using the inputs from those opposed to KCR for a variety of reasons.

BJP High Command takes charge

Meanwhile, the state unit of the BJP is now receiving directions from the BJP High Command on how to mount its campaign against the TRS in the state.

For instance, sources said that it was at the central leadership’s urging that the state unit, led by Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar, put in a request with the state chief secretary, seeking permission to visit the controversial Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project that has emerged as a flashpoint between the TRS and the Centre.

The request has put the TRS government in a bit of a bind. If it allows the BJP team to visit the project, there is no knowing what allegations it will end up flinging around. And if it does not, the BJP will go to town saying the government has something to hide.

BJP’s election strategy

If one goes beyond the hype the BJP is known to generate in any election-bound state, in practical terms the party’s focus is expected to be only on around 40 of the 119 seats in Telangana.

The party is of the view that even if manages to win 25-30 out of this, it is good enough — anything over this would be a bonus.

This effectively means that the TRS, which is still ahead of its rivals by a decent margin, will have to settle for 60-70 seats, making it vulnerable even if it forms the government.

Bandi Sanjay with Amit Shah and K Rajagopal Reddy

Amit Shah welcoming former Congress MLA K Rajagopal Reddy to the BJP at a rally in Munugode. (Twitter/BJP Telangana)

A better situation for the TRS would be for the Congress to perform reasonably well and not get restricted to just around the double-figure mark.

In one sense, this is a situation of the TRS’s own making. Despite winning 80-plus seats in 2018, the TRS gobbled up almost all those who got elected on Congress and TDP tickets, thus killing the Opposition.

Quick to smell blood, the BJP began galvanising itself, and delivered a shock to the TRS in a couple of by-elections and the polls to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). The Opposition space the Congress vacated was thus occupied by the BJP.

In the event of BJP and TDP coming together in Andhra Pradesh, it could result in more trouble for TRS. Such a development might see past supporters of the TDP, who had moved to TRS, shifting loyalty to the BJP.

At the same time, it is likely a section of Muslims, who were sceptical of TRS’s equations with BJP earlier and had moved to the Congress, might return to the TRS fold in the face of this onslaught.

BJP wants Congress out the equation

As for the Congress, with infighting showing no signs of abating, to what extent it will be able to regroup is the question.

Political watchers say the reason BJP engineered the by-election in Munugode by encouraging the sitting Congress MLA to resign, is precisely part of this strategy. Even if it is able to push the Congress to second place in Munugode, assuming TRS wins, it will still help the saffron party to sell the narrative that 2023 is all about TRS vs BJP.

Observers believe that the continuing I-T raids on key businessmen in Hyderabad is also part of the BJP’s strategy to choke the TRS’s financial resources, just as it did to Chandrababu Naidu ahead of 2019 polls in Andhra Pradesh, where the TDP suffered a crushing defeat.

While big groups have already reportedly shifted their loyalty to the BJP, others are wary of continuing to do business with TRS for fear of a backlash from the agencies. Delhi seems to be in no mood to reduce the heat, though.

KCR’s counter-moves

On his part, KCR appears to have decided that enough is enough and has renewed efforts to forge an alternative at the national level, The meeting with his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar on Wednesday, 31 August, is being seen as part of the thought process that the TRS could now ill afford to go soft on the BJP.

At least, for now, it appears that KCR will have to brace for a rather tough battle with the BJP plus its arms — the I-T, CBI and ED. And, therefore, TRS functionaries are ruling out any of the two possibilities being speculated — early elections or a change of leadership in the state.

It will be an encore of BJP vs Mamata in Bengal.