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Can BJP repeat Assam in Telangana?

Can BJP repeat Assam in Telangana?
Highlights

Enthused by the success in Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in high spirits and the party President Amit Shah during his recent visit to the State exhorted the party workers to prepare for a win in Telangana in 2019. The master strategist Amit Shah is visiting the State twice in 10 days signifying the party’s hopes on this Southern State. 

Enthused by the success in Assam, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in high spirits and the party President Amit Shah during his recent visit to the State exhorted the party workers to prepare for a win in Telangana in 2019. The master strategist Amit Shah is visiting the State twice in 10 days signifying the party’s hopes on this Southern State.

Notwithstanding the fact that the BJP is not even a significant player in the Telangana politics, there is nothing wrong if a party aspires for power in any State. But the moot question is whether the ground reality is fertile for the BJP to repeat Assam in Telangana.

This requires a study in contrast. The political contours of Assam mandate should be juxtaposed with the political landscape in Telangana, especially the party’s position that too in relation to the strengths and weaknesses of contending political forces in the field. Though nothing can be said sure about politics as nothing can be said till the last ball is bowled in cricket, certain aspects are palpable.

The BJP could not reap rich dividends, despite being an active partner in Telangana movement. Without its support in Parliament, the dream of separate State would not have become a reality for the people of Telangana. But, the ruling TRS is headed by the architect of Telangana movement.

The party’s victory is primarily the mandate the Chief Minister KCR got from the people. KCR’s political stature and iconic image have in fact got further reinforced. Thus, the entire opposition, leave alone the BJP, has no leader to match the charisma of KCR whereas an appealing Sonowal led the BJP against discredited Tarun Gogoi of Congress

The Assam victory is a result of dexterous political engineering undertaken by the Modi-Shah Combine and an utter display of political arrogance coupled with a strategic deficit on the part of the Congress. The BJP could stitch together a formidable socio-political coalition that could make a perfect chemistry with the Assam electorate. Understanding its limitation quite effectively, the BJP roped in Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and the Rabha, Tiwa and other plains tribal organisations.

This made a substantial difference in the electoral environment in the North Eastern State at a time when the ruling Congress faced an unavoidable anti-incumbency over its three-term rule. Neither of these two factors exists in Telangana. TRS continues to enjoy the popular support among the electorate. TRS, especially Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, remains invincible and his unshaken popularity is amplified with each election.

The opposition is clueless on how to challenge the redoubtable TRS whose government clearly enjoys pro-incumbency. The political situation shows no signs of TRS retreat, leaving no space for new aspirants. The BJP has no such political or social coalition to anchor in Telangana. The BJP leadership is announcing from rooftops that it would go alone in the State in 2019.

The party has already divorced the TDP in Telangana with which it enjoys love and hate relationship in neighbouring AP. The BJP cannot team up with Congress or MIM or the Left. The party president Amit Shah has already made it categorically clear that it would not have any alliance with TRS.

In fact, the BJP State leadership is caught in a typical Hamletian dilemma of ‘To be or not to be’ in regard to its relations with TRS. This is precisely the reason why a section of BJP Telangana leadership displays political faintheartedness in questioning the TRS government. This deprives the BJP of any advantage from possible anti-incumbency in Telangana.

Nothing can be said in finale about the electoral tie-up with TRS. In case the party chooses to go with TRS in 2019 despite three years of political war with it, the BJP cannot realise its dreams of coming to power in Telangana as it would only be a junior partner in any alliance that emerges then. But such a possibility exists today only in the realm of imagination, not even speculation.

Assam presents an altogether distinct social and political milieu which has no comparison with that of Telangana. The unstopped illegal infiltration from neighbouring Bangladesh and unrelenting migration is effecting a substantial demographic change much to the chagrin of the local people.

This divisive situation is superimposed by ethnic strife that has often had violent manifestation. This situation resulted in competitive polarisation of the electorate not just on religious basis but on linguistic and ethnic identities. The indigenous people were fearing marginalisation in their own State. Thus preserving this identity continues to be an explosive electoral issue.

Congress may accuse BJP of fishing in troubled waters as it landed the party in troubles. But, the fact remains that the BJP’s promise of stopping illegal migration has certainly caught the imagination of voters disillusioned by Congress politics of patronage and appeasement.

The unbridled illegal infiltration from across the border has resulted in the rise of Muslim population which, according to the 2011 Census now stands at 34.2%. It’s the highest in the country overtaking even the share of Muslims in the population of a state like Jammu and Kashmir. There is a convergence of linguistic and religious identity providing political fodder for BJP politics. This is where BJP and AGP and even BPF could find a cohesively common ground.

The Telangana social landscape has no similarity with the prevailing situation in Assam. Muslims account for over 12 % of Telangana population. But there is no such abnormal surge in the population of Muslims in the State, as it is not a border State to experience unprecedented migration of people belonging to a particular religious community. Unlike in Telangana, the ethnic and indigenous groups in Assam fear a demographic onslaught making the issue politically sensitive.

On the other hand, Muslim population in Telangana poses no such challenge to the Hindu population in the State. Besides, Telangana, especially Hyderabad culture, is often described as Ganga-Jamuna Tehzeeb signifying peaceful coexistence and integration of Hindu-Muslim culture

The Congress in Assam failed to arrive at an understanding with All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) that largely represents Muslims, fearing a Hindu backlash. This costly mistake proved to be dearer for the party as the anti-BJP vote split. On the contrary, the ruling parties in Telangana, either Congress in the united State or the TRS now, always maintained a strategic alliance with the AIMIM that represents the Muslim vote.

The Congress then and the TRS now could steer an overt or covert truce with MIM without triggering any backlash from any other community. This deft handling of socio-political arithmetic makes it difficult for the BJP to promote its politics. Despite BJP accusing the ruling TRS of having a clandestine deal with MIM, the Hyderabad electorate showed no such communal polarisation in the recent civic polls, too, illustrating the complete difference in the political situation in Telangana and Assam.

The ruling Congress in Assam always benefited from division of opposition vote. This time the consolidation of anti-Congress vote due to the BJP-led strong alliance drove the Congress to its waterloo. On the contrary, the popular mandate the TRS is receiving is not the result of fragmentation of opposition vote but despite the consolidation of anti-TRS vote.

This is evident to an extent in Paleru and much more evident in Achampet municipal polls. Meanwhile, due to stronger and better presence of Congress, when compared to BJP, and as the parties remain arch rivals, no such opposition consolidation is possible in Telangana even in 2019 turning to be advantageous for the ruling TRS.

Thus even in case anti-incumbency develops in next three years, though no such signs are discernible now, the BJP will not be the chief beneficiary of any such possible political outcome. Most of the Assam’s BJP leadership is made up of former All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) that led the Assam identity movement. The chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal is also a former AASU President and an AGP leader.

The BJP could also induct prominent Congress dissident Himanta Biswa Sarma into the party fold. In fact, these new comers into the party led the BJP campaign in Assam thus bridging the serious leadership deficit in the state party. But, the BJP is unlikely to find any such popular leaders from any other party to lure. The plethora of indigenous leaders is unlikely to allow any such political adoption.

Leader matters a lot in Indian politics. The Delhi, Bihar, Bengal, etc. and even Assam mandates clearly depict the importance of leader in marshalling a victory. The BJP could find in Sonowal an accepted leader who remains an icon of Assamese and ethnic identity politics. On the contrary, though politics of Telangana is still deeply influenced by an identity of some other kind, the State BJP failed to attract any prominent leader of Telangana movement.

In fact, the party could not reap rich dividends, despite being an active partner in Telangana movement. Without its support in Parliament, the dream of separate State would not have become a reality for the people of Telangana. But, the ruling TRS is headed by the architect of Telangana movement. The party’s victory is primarily the mandate the Chief Minister KCR got from the people.

KCR’s political stature and iconic image have in fact got further reinforced. Thus, the entire opposition, leave alone the BJP, has no leader to match the charisma of KCR whereas an appealing Sonowal led the BJP against discredited Tarun Gogoi of Congress. Barring a miracle, the BJP’s hopes of winning Telangana in 2019 remain a figment of imagination, though the politics have a remarkable character of changing colours swiftly.

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