Sudden change in the tone of Telangana Chief Minister fuels speculation over the relations between the saffron and the pink parties. It’s true that Telangana has voiced concerns over the higher GST on developmental projects even in the GST Council. A hostile position is now being taken on the issue. The state is even planning a legal battle on the issue.
One interpretation in the political circles for this sudden shift in TRS stand towards the central government is that the Chief Minister is intelligent enough to encash the GST for an altogether different purpose. The Telangana government has taken up ambitious projects and the state finances may not support implementation of all those schemes.
Any laxity in implementation of these flagship schemes would seriously jeopardise the interests of TRS in the 2019 polls. Perhaps, the TRS is preparing a ground for defence in case of non-implementation of these projects. Already, Congress is blamed for posing legal problems to impede the projects. Now, the TRS intends to blame even BJP for any lag in the implementation of schemes and projects.
Thus, the political observers interpret KCR’s latest tirade on GST as an attempt to present himself as the messiah of development and paint the opposition as development blockers. Such a political idiom is not uncommon in Indian politics and KCR cannot be singled out for pursuing such a strategy to frustrate opposition and bolster his own image.
Yet another interpretation is that the Prime Minister’s refusal to increase the number of Assembly seats has infuriated the Telangana Chief Minister. Hoping that the number of seats will be enhanced in 2019, the TRS and the TDP have encouraged defections from the opposition left, right and center. Now with the Center almost turning down the proposal, both the parties will find it extremely difficult to accommodate competing claims from party old timers and the new entrants. This can cause serious resentment in the party at the grassroots.
Despite supporting the Modi dispensation on anything and everything ranging from demonetisation to Presidential elections, the Centre’s refusal to concede the demands of TRS-led state government has certainly annoyed KCR. The new-found anger on GST may, perhaps, be the manifestation of resentment over Centre’s intransigence.
All this speculation is not without any reason. The Chief Minister earlier said that the GST would benefit Telangana despite some concerns. But now, he reportedly said that many countries have tried and failed in implementing the GST. Such an antagonistic stand that too a month after it came into force is perplexing. Hence an attempt to read between the lines to decode the possible political message in it.
Despite unprecedented euphoria over ‘one nation-one tax,’ several sections of society are already agitating over the higher tax burden due to the GST. The earlier VAT experience suggests that the lower taxes do not accrue to the consumer while the higher taxes would immediately be transferred to him or her. As the euphoria recedes, people's disenchantment can show political impact. The TRS boss, a shrewd politician, might have realised the impending people’s ire and reacted pre-emptively.
Even as the political and media circles are agog with myriad interpretations, the TRS dishes out a standard reply. Speaking to this author, a senior party leader who is personally close to the Chief Minister said that the recent outburst on GST cannot be understood as an indication of attitude towards BJP or Central government. The party is not bound to support the Centre on every issue.
The interests of Telangana are paramount. This response does not answer the curious question of sudden rise in the voice of protest over the GST impact.
Meanwhile, a political leader who was earlier close to KCR and later parted ways remarks that this is nothing unusual. KCR is and will continue to be unpredictable. It is difficult to conclusively read into the mind of KCR. He is adept at changing gears at swift intervals. Even during the movement for separate state, KCR’s description of Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of UPA, ranged from deity to devil.
A larger strategy behind the latest diatribe on the Centre cannot even be ruled out. The politically conscious TRS leadership is fully aware of the machinations of BJP. The TRS supremo will spare the saffron brigade if it does not emerge as the principal contender for power in the state.
The BJP is an uncharitable ally till it cuts into the Congress vote benefiting TRS. This is precisely the reason why KCR so virulently reacted to Amit Shah's not-so-hostile comments while ignoring Rahul Gandhi’s invective on TRS. The strategy was to create a perception among the people that Congress was not the principal challenger. This may benefit the BJP at the cost of Congress ultimately favouring TRS due to split in anti-incumbency vote.
This was in fact the strategy adopted by late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy towards Prajarajyam. Quite expectedly, the PRP surge benefited Congress at the cost of TDP. Chandrababu Naidu may, perhaps, do a similar experiment with Pawan Kalyan to prevent any possible win for YSR Congress.
The moment BJP flexes its muscles beyond a point, KCR will not spare it. Such a possibility cannot also be totally dismissed. The BJP president, Amit Shah, is working with a single-minded objective of coming to power from panchayat to parliament. His critics may call him ruthless. His supporters may call him the architect of the party. But, everyone will acknowledge that he is a master strategist.
The new BJP leadership is determined to wage cold-blooded politics. KCR knows the BJP’s political idiom. Obviously, he does not intend to be seen as an unapologetic ally of BJP, especially given the social composition of Telangana electorate. There are even reports that the BJP is hunting for influential leaders from other parties including TRS. Any such eventuality would embitter TRS leadership.
KCR is a man of unusual political acumen and unparalleled political foresight. He would like to strike but not wound the BJP. His approach to BJP is time-specific. His critics may call him inconsistent. But, the deliberately cultivated inconsistency and unpredictability is an intelligent political move by a seasoned leader. Therefore, KCR is cleverly identifying with Modi regime and even demarcating from it at his own will.
Any attempt to underestimate BJP, especially, under Modi-Shah duo will be disastrous for TRS. None other than KCR knows it better. The Telangana political landscape is bound to see many more juicy twists and turns as political parties prepare for the General Elections in 2019.