Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao has, over the last fortnight, reached out to the Congress, opening a back-channel to explore the possibility of the two parties working together in the event of a hung Parliament once the Lok Sabha election results are announced, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Late last month, and approximately 10 days after Telangana voted on April 11, a parliamentarian from Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) met a senior Congress functionary to set the ball rolling. The meeting was confirmed to HT by leaders from both parties who asked not to be named.
Although the Congress and the TRS are far from being allies, it was an “exploratory meeting”, said the TRS MP.
At the meeting, the TRS, which was initially exploring the formation of a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) third front, indicated that it was now open to possibilities with the Congress, he added. This was after internal feedback that any coalition at the Centre in which a national party did not participate would be extremely vulnerable, and could fail the way the United Front government did in 1996.
Though the Congress has been meeting with leaders of various parties — both from within the formal United Progressive Alliance and outside it — over the last year to construct an alternative to the Narendra Modi government, the TRS has not been a part of the effort.
Interestingly, the apparent first step between the two sides comes at a time when Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu has ruled himself out of the race for the prime minister’s post if the Opposition numbers trump the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA). Naidu and KCR — as the Telangana CM is called — are arch-rivals in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which were both one state until the creation of Telangana in 2014.
YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the leader of the YSR Congress, is also mounting a spirited challenge against Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. There have also been reports of back-channel talks between KCR and Jagan Reddy. Naidu’s ruling himself out of the PM’s race may ease things in case post-poll arithmetic requires Reddy backing the Opposition alliance.
Andhra Pradesh sends 25 members to the Lok Sabha and Telangana 17. KCR, who swept the assembly elections in the state last year, is expected to reap a rich haul in the Lok Sabha polls — as is Reddy.
Twenty-one opposition parties, including the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance in Uttar Pradesh and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, are expected to meet in New Delhi between the last day of polling on May 19 and when the results are announced on May 23 to work out the modalities of an alternative front.
There has been speculation about KCR’s feelers to the Congress ever since he called their alliance partner in Karnataka, chief minister HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular), earlier this week. A JD(S) official, however, said the CM was not keen on being a go-between.
While the Congress has indicated that it is open to all alliances to keep the BJP out of power, a second senior Congress leader said there was a trust deficit between the two parties. He also said that there has been no formal contact between the top leadership of both parties.
Political scientist Neera Chandhoke said KCR’s own non-Congress, the non-BJP front won’t work. “Till now , it looks like they were joining the BJP. But others who joined the BJP didn’t fare too well, whether it is Mehbooba Mufti [of the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir] or Nitish Kumar [Janata Dal (United) in Bihar]. So, KCR is being wary and hedging his bets,” she said.