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Smarting over poll losses & wary of BJP threat in Telangana, KCR turns heat on Modi

Behind the Telangana CM’s series of attacks on the Modi government is the fear that the BJP may become the main opposition in his state, say analysts.

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Hyderabad: Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is a worried man. The BJP has been making slow and steady inroads into his state, and his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has lost a string of local elections and bypolls over the last two years to the party.

Although arithmetically not even close to the numbers of the TRS in Telangana, the BJP’s slow rise has been enough to make KCR realise that the party can no longer be ignored, say political analysts.

This might explain the CM’s scathing attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his governance over the past few weeks. In fact, KCR’s BJP/Modi-bashing has been going on since November 2021, when the CM took to the streets for the first time to protest against the BJP-led central government over paddy procurement issues.

Since then, his attacks on the party have been aggressive and consistent — ranging from criticising the BJP for dividing the country with religious politics, to alleging that the Modi government has broken the nation’s federal structure, to lashing out at its policies.

Just recently, in the wake of the Union Budget, he called the PM “short-sighted” and said the BJP needs to be “removed and thrown in the Bay of Bengal”.

Amid all the charges, the PM made news with an unexpected call to KCR on his birthday Thursday.

“KCR has come to understand that the BJP might slowly become his main opposition in Telangana and if he does not counter it now, it would be a problem for him. That is why he is being so aggressive,” senior political expert Professor Nageshwar Rao said.

Also read: On KCR’s birthday, Telangana minority schools ordered to hold programmes about his schemes

String of attacks

Once criticised for being inaccessible to his own party members, the Telangana CM now holds frequent press and public meetings amid a buzz of TRS preparing for “early” polls in the state, just like 2018. His sole target of attack at the events is Modi and the BJP.

Lashing out at the Union Budget which was presented by the Modi government earlier this month, he called it a “Golmaal Budget” and alleged that the Centre was “anti-farmer and anti-poor”.

“The Budget, which can be called a Golmaal Budget, did not project the facts. The measures taken by the Centre for the welfare of the farm sector are a big zero. The Budget has nothing to offer to the handloom industry. It has left bitterness among employees and small traders,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that the Budget did not change the income tax slabs. The Centre put a lid on the hopes of both employees and the trading community. The Budget has also clearly shown that the Centre has neglected public health and the infrastructure sectors,” KCR added.

In his speech, he further criticised Modi on his “outfit changes”, saying that the PM “dresses for elections”. Deriding the “Gujarat model of development”, KCR, known for his humorous and satirical punchlines, termed it as “upar sherwani, andar pareshani (all style, no substance)”.

He then alleged that the Modi government had failed to handle the Covid crisis properly. “This government’s poor management led to dead bodies floating in the pious Ganga river,” he said.

At another press meet, he thundered that there was a need for a new Constitution, which was the only way to stop the Centre from “usurping the powers of state governments in the name of the Concurrent List”.

Days after the Budget, KCR skipped events in Hyderabad in which the PM was participating. TRS leaders told ThePrint that the Telangana CM was down with a “fever”. On 5 February, when Modi was to inaugurate the statue of an 11th Century-saint in the city, TRS leaders launched a social media campaign hitting out at Modi for alleged injustice done to Telangana in terms of funds and projects assigned.

On 10 February, TRS MPs moved a privilege motion against PM Modi for his remarks on the formation of Telangana state, in which he said the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill 2014 had been passed “in haste”.

Also read: Telangana’s Statue of Equality, inaugurated by PM Modi, is made in China. ‘Irrelevant’, says BJP

Election losses to BJP

According to political experts, KCR’s insecurities stem from the poll losses the TRS has suffered recently, and the BJP’s good showing in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The worst of all setbacks was the defeat of KCR’s daughter Kavitha to BJP’s D. Arvind from Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat in 2019. Five years earlier, Kavitha had won the seat with a huge margin of 1.67 lakh votes.

“When KCR came to power in Telangana in 2014, the principal opposition there was the Congress. The BJP then, despite being in alliance with the Telugu Desam Party, had won only five seats. So, in the first term of KCR, the BJP was not very significant,” Professor Rao explained, adding that in the 2018 Assembly elections too, the BJP performed badly and won one seat while losing four sitting seats. In the 2016 Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections, the BJP again stood nowhere, whereas the TRS won 99 wards. “So, KCR never targeted Modi,” he said.

But the 2019 general elections made a world of difference. “From 7 per cent vote-share in the 2018 state elections with one seat, the BJP jumped to securing 20 per cent vote-share in the Lok Sabha polls,” the senior political expert said.

The BJP even won in the TRS stronghold in north Telangana and defeated Kavitha. “Then too (in 2019), KCR probably did not realise that the BJP had made inroads into his state. Perhaps he thought the BJP was getting votes because of its national politics and the impact of the Pulwama attack in February,” he added.

But since the general elections, the TRS has been losing polls to the BJP. This has opened KCR’s eyes to the threat, Rao pointed out.

The first setback to the TRS was in November 2020, when it lost the Dubbaka bypoll to the BJP. What followed was the BJP’s bumper performance in the GHMC polls the same year — in which the party won ten times more seats than it did in the 2016 polls and the ruling TRS missed the halfway mark.

Another major setback was the TRS’ defeat in the Huzurabad bypoll last year to the BJP — despite KCR and the TRS using all their might to win the election, said Rao. “As the BJP won in the most local GHMC polls, the whole narrative of the party winning only in national polls or because of the Pulwama impact falls apart,” he added.

Another political analyst, Palwai Raghavendra Reddy, told ThePrint: “KCR possibly felt that the BJP is growing rapidly in Telangana. Repeated electoral failures will surely send a message to the electorate of TRS/KCR’s inability to take on the BJP. Sooner or later, he had to wake up to take on the saffron brigade.”

Well aware of the threat, the Telangana CM is again talking of an anti-BJP front to take on the Modi government.

In his most recent public meeting last week in Jangaon, he criticised the Centre’s power sector reforms and pitched the idea. “If all of you bless me, I will even go to Delhi and demolish the fort. Be careful Narendra Modi,” he said.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Meetings, weddings, condolence visits — KCR turns ‘social’ to tackle TRS discontent, BJP threat


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