If the first two election campaign meetings addressed this week by K Chandrasekhar Rao in Nizamabad and Nalgonda districts are any indication, it is obvious he thinks the route to Hyderabad for a second successive term passes through Amaravati. Every political party needs a punching bag and KCR has decided to make Chandrababu Naidu the villain of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti campaign.
Over the past two days, KCR has called his former boss in the Telugu Desam a ‘Telangana drohi’, traitor, thief, backstabber, wicked person and several other terms of abuse. In Nalgonda on Thursday, while using crass language to describe the Narendra Modi-Naidu relationship, KCR also warned Naidu that he would open his third eye, a la Lord Shiva.
Admittedly, civility in language is often the first casualty in any high-stakes election campaign, but politicians usually pick on their main adversary, which in this case should have been the Congress. On 6 September, after the Telangana cabinet recommended the dissolution of the state Assembly, KCR did pick on Rahul Gandhi, calling him “the biggest buffoon in the country”. But after the formation of the rainbow anti-TRS alliance, it has been a case of Chandra calling Chandra names.
Why this is surprising is because in the Telangana election, the TDP is not the main rival to the TRS. Over the past four years, 12 of the 15 TDP legislators crossed over to the TRS, considerably weakening the party in Telangana. KCR himself has pooh-poohed the TDP as a 0.5 percent party. Then why reserve such vitriol for Naidu is the question.
The TRS argument is that Naidu, despite having his base in Amaravati, has one eye constantly on Hyderabad. The TRS rhetoric is to paint Naidu as the man obstructing Telangana’s development by taking away seven mandals from the Khammam district, reportedly writing 36 letters to the Union irrigation ministry objecting to Telangana’s projects, not allowing the bifurcation of the high court and so on. The TRS leadership calls the TDP an “Andhra party”, which is ironic considering the number of TDP turncoats KCR has admitted into his fold.
The ‘Target Naidu’ plan is not without reason. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, KCR had similarly attacked Naidu, accusing him of standing in the way of statehood for Telangana. The allegation then was not unfounded as Naidu was indeed opposed to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
But when KCR reuses a weapon four years later, it makes people suspect if he fears that his developmental work report card is not good enough to win the election. Is KCR, for all his bravado, worried about the Congress + TDP + CPI + Telangana Jana Samiti arithmetic trumping the TRS? At the Nizamabad public meeting, he spat on the alliance, using the expression “thoo” to insult his opponents.
KCR’s intention therefore is to raise the Andhra bogey once again to spin the narrative of Andhra interests (read: Naidu) trying to sabotage Telangana, to tell the people not to trust an Opposition alliance that has an Andhra man remote-controlling it from Amaravati. Holding the flag of Telangana pride, KCR is once again hard-selling the element of fear of the Telugu hand from across the border even while warning Naidu that he is playing with fire. His charge against the Congress is that the party is sleeping with the “enemy”.
KCR accuses Naidu of funding the cash-strapped Congress with Rs 500 crore besides arranging for three helicopters for campaigning by the Opposition leaders. The TDP has reminded KCR that he was a minor partner in an alliance with the Congress in 2004, asking if he was then bankrolled by the bigger party. Similarly, the Congress asked KCR if money was put in his pocket by Naidu, when the two joined hands in 2009.
But will this anti-Naidu diatribe get traction with the electorate and become a talking point influencing the vote? On the face of it, Naidu is no longer an active player in the Telangana political theatre. He lives and works out of Amaravati, having left the TDP’s Telangana unit to pretty much fend for itself. While the narrative may be able to sway some votes in hardcore Telangana areas like Warangal and Karimnagar, it runs the risk of boomeranging in urban pockets like Hyderabad, that is also home to people from Andhra.
But KCR, it would seem, is working with a plan. Naidu’s former colleague in the TDP, Revanth Reddy who is now working president in the Telangana Congress has been questioned by the Income Tax Department in connection with the cash-for-votes case. In 2015, Reddy was caught on camera allegedly trying to bribe Independent MLA Elvis Stephenson to vote for the TDP candidate in the MLC elections. An audio tape that allegedly carried the voice of Naidu also was unearthed by the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The voice is heard assuring Stephenson that all promises made by his representatives will be honoured.
Soon after Reddy was arrested, Naidu hurriedly shifted base to Andhra Pradesh and little was heard of the case thereafter, giving rise to doubts that a deal had been struck between the two chief ministers. The TDP suspects KCR is raking up the case now to put Naidu and the Opposition alliance by extension, in a spot of bother. The plan can work either way — it could show KCR as indulging in political vendetta or he could be seen as a leader batting for probity in public life.
While at a political level, it is a case of one political leader lambasting another, the choice of words is undesirable given that both KCR and Naidu occupy high constitutional posts in neighbouring states.