Hyderabad: Way back in 2018, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao had floated the idea of an alternative front minus the BJP and the Congress. Yet, nothing materialised in the past three years. Now, KCR’s meeting last week with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has once again brought back focus on his ‘federal front’.
Experts, however, point out that KCR’s plan has always been a ‘non-starter’ and has lost momentum over the years.
Last week, KCR, along with his family, met Stalin in Chennai. He had gone to Tamil Nadu for a temple visit and had met his counterpart discreetly.
This is not the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief’s first meeting with Stalin — they have met several times since 2018, when he first mooted the idea of a third front. From around the same time, the Telangana CM has met his West Bengal counterpart too. Yet these multiple meetings and phone calls with these and other Opposition leaders did not bear fruit.
Although he did not directly have any prime ministerial ambitions, KCR certainly did expect a ‘lead role’ at the Centre in case a third front had materialised, TRS Member of Legislative Council Bhanu Prasad told ThePrint.
“The political situation in 2018 was quite different, KCR wanted an alternate front and he wanted regional parties to come together for it. I don’t think he had any definite prime ministerial ambitions, but obviously had a front materialised, he expected a key lead role,” he said.
Prasad also pointed out how a few regional leaders and counterparts KCR reached out to in 2018 were not so anti-NDA at that time.
“We are a smaller state in comparison and it took time to convince leaders he met. Probably people thought he was aiming for a prime ministerial post. Other states have more parliamentary seats, so obviously they would also have wanted a key role if a front had formed. I think this is one of the reasons for things falling flat,” Prasad added.
Few options for KCR
Changing political equations, over the past few years, have left KCR with very little options to make an attempt to stitch together a front, say experts.
“His federal front idea was a non-starter in the first place. (West Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee is still hell-bent on emerging as a strong opposition face. In the current situation, he has absolutely no one to talk to. It also appears that there is no seriousness from his side like before,” senior political analyst Telakapalli Ravi told ThePrint.
Political expert Prof Nageshwar Rao pointed out that it would be too soon to consider the meeting with Stalin ‘significant’.
When asked if KCR would support Mamata in her efforts, TRS’ Prasad said that “he might, provided he feels it is genuine effort”.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) T.R. Baalu, while emphasising last week on the need to unify against the common enemy, the BJP, had said that Mamata should not try to “divide the Opposition” directly or indirectly.
“Since there are no inter-state issues for them to discuss, the focus is on a federal front,” Nageshwar Rao said about KCR’s meeting with Stalin. “And this meeting also comes at a time when KCR is at loggerheads with the Centre over various issues. KCR always wanted a non-BJP, non-Congress front, but Stalin has been amicable with the Congress. So, what will he be able to do is the question,” Rao added.
Rift with the BJP
Indeed, KCR is engaged in a running battle with the BJP at the Centre over the procurement of paddy from Telangana. For the first time, the Telangana CM took to the streets last month in protest over the issue.
In a series of press conferences last month, KCR constantly lashed out at the Modi Government over their agricultural policies.
This was at a time when back home his party lost to the BJP in the crucial Huzurabad bypoll. Last year, too, they had lost a bypoll to the BJP.
“BJP is keeping an eye on the states not in their control and they noted KCR’s meeting with Stalin too. But our Central leadership feels that the meeting has no importance and is not concerned a bit about Rao’s federal front. It never took off till now and people stopped believing in him,” state BJP leader N.V. Subhash, who informed the central leadership about Rao’s meeting, told ThePrint.
A slew of meetings in 2018
The first time KCR announced plans for forming an alternative, non-Congress, non-BJP front — he called it the ‘People’s Front of India’ — was in early March 2018, around the time when rumours of his wanting to hand over the chief ministership to his son, minister K.T. Rama Rao, started.
He first met Mamata Banerjee and announced that a “federal front is in making”, and that it was a “good beginning”. However, it was unclear if Mamata’s Trinamool Congress wanted a non-Congress Opposition front at that stage.
In April 2018, KCR met former Prime Minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Deve Gowda, as well as DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi and his son Stalin, who was then the DMK working president.
The following May, KCR met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who flew down to Hyderabad to meet the CM. He also met former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren, who extended his support to KCR.
That very month, Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Chandrababu Naidu shared the stage at H.D. Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony as Karnataka Chief Minister.
Poll victory, new efforts
A few months later, KCR pitched for early assembly polls in the state. In the Telangana elections held in December 2018, TRS won with a thumping majority, making KCR chief minister for the second time.
Fresh from the victory, KCR started meeting leaders from other states afresh for his front. He met Mamata and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik in December 2018.
And as the 2019 Lok Sabha elections drew closer, talk of KCR’s ‘federal front’ grew louder. He met Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan and, again, Stalin.
KCR’s ‘front’ also received support from Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
KCR’s son K.T. Rama Rao also met Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy to seek his support for the federal front.
Around this time in January 2019, another anti-BJP alliance was also being contemplated, with former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu meeting then Congress president Rahul Gandhi. However, like KCR’s plans of a grand alliance, this, too, did not work out before the 2019 polls.
After a lull, KCR’s federal front pitch was back in circulation in November 2020, before the Greater Hyderabad Municipal polls, in which the BJP fought well against the TRS.
Rao had said then that he would hold a ‘national conclave’ after the polls and invite all ‘like-minded’ leaders. That, too, never happened.
Not ‘serious’ about front
KCR has been criticised that his ‘federal front’ pitch is only made ahead of polls. Another criticism is that this attempt at an ‘alternate’ front would only help the BJP at the Centre.
“There are parties which are away from both the BJP and the Congress, for instance YSRCP, BJD (Biju Janata Dal), Shiromani Akali Dal, BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party)…but KCR did not hold talks with them…. But, he met parties which probably have had a good equation with the Congress — he met Stalin, Deve Gowda, Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee,” Nageshwar Rao said.
KCR’s ‘selective’ opposition to the BJP, and not a ‘constant’ effort, has also raised questions about his seriousness about the front, Rao added.
“KCR was also looking for the right opportunity to transfer power to son KTR, and yet is in no mood to hang his boots. Creation of a federal front is probably the most suitable narrative for KCR at this stage…. During the 2019 general elections voters had to make a choice between Modi and someone against him. That was the time when KCR needed a narrative to convince voters of Telangana to vote for TRS instead of the BJP or the Congress around which the national politics circled,” political analyst Palwai Raghavender Reddy told ThePrint.
TRS senior leader and former MP, Vinod Kumar, told ThePrint that KCR does not have any immediate plan of meeting any other chief minister in the near future.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)