It is not for nothing that the saying ‘Politics makes for strange bedfellows’ is among the most used ones. Its significance is being witnessed in the two Telugu-speaking States of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The ensuing presidential elections are witnessing a strange political chemistry. Understandably, this new-found bonhomie is not without any long-term political implications, which is why it cannot be dismissed as a mere political expediency.
The new equations seen in the wake of presidential elections have a history to begin with. It cannot be assumed as a sudden departure from established party norms or an aberration to cater to one particular moment.
It was quite expected that the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) would extend unconditional support to the NDA nominee. In fact, indications to that extent have been in the air for quite some time now. There was an expectation of TRS joining the NDA bandwagon. However, driven by a fear of political repercussions in a State that has a sizable minority population, the TRS has been pursuing carrot-and-stick approach towards BJP; carrots for the central BJP and sticks for its State unit.
To an extent, even the BJP was reciprocating a similar approach towards TRS. While the State BJP has been taking a hostile stand towards the TRS government, the Union government leaders have been quite amicable towards the State government. This demarcation between polity and government may sound technical or Constitutional, but it’s truly political.
The TRS does not see a political adversary in BJP given that the rise of the saffron brigade would actually benefit it, at the hustings. An increase in BJP tally would directly cut into the Congress vote share as the anti-incumbency vote would be splintered, giving a much-needed advantage to the ruling party.
In fact, the party leader in Lok Sabha has made it amply clear that the party boss K Chandrashekar Rao was keen on joining the Modi ministry.
Despite recent hostilities between the pink and the saffron parties, in the wake of Amit Shah’s visit to the state, the TRS has decided to sail with the BJP in the presidential elections. This was in spite of the fact that the opposition nominee Meira Kumar, the then Lok Sabha Speaker, was instrumental in ensuring Statehood for Telangana.
Apparently political arithmetic outweighs emotions in the presidential choice. The TRS has nothing to gain by supporting the Congress candidate as this party is the main opposition party in the State. Any understanding with Congress for whatsoever reasons would send wrong signals to the electorate, especially with general elections not very far.
The newly invigorated political chemistry between the TRS and the BJP speaks of the possible political alignment post 2019 elections.
The regional parties across the nation have always demonstrated such ambivalence when it comes to allying with either of the two national parties. The interest of such regional parties is confined to their state political calculus rather than addressing any national pretensions.
They always have an alibi to substantiate their strange political tactics as anything can be easily justified in the name of interests of the region or the state. Therefore, the TRS argues that the party is ready to extend support to NDA as it believes or at least wants us to believe that its relationship with the BJP-led NDA is only to ensure more central assistance to Telangana.
The political interests are thus camouflaged as the interests of Telangana. However, the fact is that when TRS has nothing to gain politically by extending support to the Congress nominee, why it should fritter away an opportunity to curry favour with the Modi dispensation, that too when the ruling combine’s nominee has a clear edge.
The BJP has its task cut out. It wants to enlist the support of as many parties as possible for its presidential nominee and use this realignment to lure as many regional parties as possible to its fold in 2019. The choice of a non-controversial Dalit candidate is apparently a part of a larger political game-plan.
The party would have won the presidential elections given the current political arithmetic. It hardly mattered as to who the candidate was. But, the shrewd Modi-Shah combine saw this as an opportunity to cement the brigade’s extended family.
The MIM finds itself left out in this. It is sailing with TRS in the state politics as per its natural character of aligning with whichever party is in power. But, it cannot go with TRS when it is supporting the BJP nominee as it would upset its applecart. But, the stand of MIM has no implication either for the presidential elections or for the emerging state political landscape as it would continue to be with the TRS irrespective of the pink party’s association with BJP.
A similar political scenario is underway in Andhra Pradesh where both the ruling TDP and its arch-rival, the YSR Congress, are on the same page as far as presidential elections are concerned.
The YSR Congress was perhaps the first among the non-NDA parties to unilaterally and unconditionally extend support to BJP despite its occasional outbursts over the manner in which the BJP-led Union government was reneging on its poll-eve promise of according special status to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh.
The YSR Congress has even threatened to seek resignations of its Members of Parliament if the Centre continued to be intransigent over the demand for special status. But, the party has not even tried to bargain anything before declaring its support to the BJP nominee with such a remarkable alacrity. Nothing can be more absurd than the YSR Congress apologists defending Jaganmohan Reddy by insisting that it has decided to support the BJP nominee only after he got indications from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he would sympathetically consider the demand for special status.
The only reality is that BJP may accord special political status to YSR Congress in case it severs its relationship with the TDP. The BJP seems to be keeping its options open for 2019 elections. The party would go with either TDP or YSR Congress in the pre-election or post-election scenario depending upon the political situation prevalent around that time.
Meanwhile, the congeniality with YSR Congress would at least help the BJP to go in for some tough bargaining with TDP.
Consequently, the TDP is left with Hobson’s choice. The BJP does not need the support of TDP as was the case during the first NDA regime. The BJP even finds it uncomfortable to be partnering with the ruling TDP in Andhra Pradesh as a section of the party leaders are already jittery. The BJP feels that continuing relationship with TDP can make it a victim of anti-incumbency even if the Modi regime enjoys no such threats at the national level.
The tactics pursued by different political parties in the two States for the ensuing presidential elections are integral to the long-term political alignments shaping up. And that in itself could open floodgates for a new sort of political circus, much to the amusement of the electorate of the two States.