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How KCR’s national pitch differs from Stalin’s

The fact is that KCR, unlike the DMK in Tamil Nadu or the Left in Kerala, has no story to tell. The TRS also has no access to the political legacies of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh – the national movement, peasant struggles – which could have provided the party with the cultural resources to battle Hindutva

Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao reads out the unanimous decision of party's General Body to change the name from Telangana Rashtra Samithi to Bharat Rashtra Samithi. (PTI Photo)

It is tempting to view K Chandrasekhar Rao’s decision to rename the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) as the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) as yet another sign of a regional pushback to the BJP’s unitarian governance agenda and its expansionist political goals. KCR seems to suggest that shedding his party’s provincial credentials and adopting a name that indicates a pan-Indian vision for it could provide him a platform to expand nationally and fulfill his national ambitions.

This approach is very different from the federal politics signaled by his southern counterparts such as the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the CPM in Kerala, and the Congress in Karnataka, or even the recent coalition initiatives in Bihar and Maharashtra against the BJP.

The southern leaders — M K Stalin, Pinarayi Vijayan, Siddaramaiah — have emphasised regional/linguistic pride and have been projecting a state-centric story to counter the BJP’s political narrative that is perceived to be focused on privileging Hindu, Hindi, Hindutva identities. KCR, however, seems to have decided to abandon his regional legacy and embark on a path similar to the one taken by Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, which is to eye the political space that the Congress has been occupying. Ironically, in his bid to go national, KCR may have taken a big risk by dropping Telangana from his party’s name — will a communist party avoid Communism or a Dravidian outfit ignore Dravida while repositioning their respective organisations?

So, what explains KCR’s national foray? Is it just the personal ambition for a national role? Or the presumption that expanding his party’s footprint could help him counter the BJP’s rise in his own backyard? Could it be an attempt to elevate himself above regional politics and entrust the party and the state to his son, K T Rama Rao?

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The BJP has been eyeing Telangana for some time though the TRS was focused more on marginalising the Congress, its mother ship, in the state. The BJP did spectacularly well in the last Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections in 2020 — it won 48 seats, up from four, whereas the TRS tally fell from 99 to 56; both had a vote share of around 36 per cent. The BJP won four of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019, and the last two assembly bypolls and seems to be the beneficiary of whatever anti-incumbency is in place against KCR, who has been CM since the state was formed in 2014.

The fact is, also, that KCR, unlike the DMK in Tamil Nadu or the Left in Kerala, has no story to tell — the DMK now talks about the Dravidian Model whereas the Kerala Model has been in vogue in political debates for some time now. His party emerged from the debris of the Vishalandhra Movement in the 1950s that mobilised for a Telugu state. By taking up the case for a separate Telangana, the TRS had refuted the idea that a singular linguistic identity could be the binding factor for a state. Instead, it preferred a narrative of uneven development and spun a politics centred on the economic backwardness of Telangana. The cultural distinctiveness of the region may have been a powerful undercurrent in the broad Telangana statehood movement but has not resonated with the TRS in office.

A wide range of welfare schemes for farmers (Rythu Bandhu and the Kaleshwaram lift-irrigation project, Mission Kakatiya), Dalits, etc that the TRS has implemented are popular, but it is the aura of having led the statehood battle on a nativist platform that lends credibility to KCR’s politics. The BJP, however, seems intent on shifting the terrain of state politics and is eyeing a potential fault line — Nizam rule and Hindu-Muslim relations — that it hopes to tailor with its Hindutva agenda. The TRS also has no access to the political legacies of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh — the national movement, peasant struggles, anti-Nizam agitation, the language movement — which could have provided the party with the cultural resources and memories to battle Hindutva.

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This is in sharp contrast, especially, to the DMK’s political stance, which projects the “Dravidian Model” as an alternative political worldview to that of the BJP. The Dravidian Model has a storied legacy and is rooted in the history of the Self-Respect Movement and the battles for social justice, linguistic identity, individual rights, provincial autonomy, and even self-determination of nationalities. Justice and equality have been key concepts in the Dravidian (and Left) political vocabulary: In the case of the DMK, it prioritised action against caste-based inequalities whereas the Left focused more on struggles against assets-centric inequalities. The DMK government’s stance on federalism and welfare, which it is vocal about, is influenced by this rich legacy of collective action, involving political mobilisation of intermediate and backward castes and classes. The DMK has also been quick to realise that the debate Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched on revdi culture could ultimately lead to the undermining and unravelling of the welfare state idea the Dravidian parties have promoted in Tamil Nadu. Recently, when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin announced the launch of free breakfast for school children, an expansion of the mid-day meal scheme, he explained that the scheme was not a freebie but a part of his “duty” as CM.

The federal coalition Stalin represents, and that is visible in Tamil Nadu, is an ideological front that broadly responds to ideas of secularism and social justice including protection of minority rights, federalism etc. The Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra and the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar are political coalitions more driven by the exigencies of the immediate political moment, primarily the threat posed by a BJP that wants complete domination over the polity. The Mahagathbandhan is also a social coalition that can claim the inheritance of Lohiaite social justice politics and the struggle against Emergency. Leaders of all three coalitions recognise the pivotal role the Congress — like the Janata Dal in the National Front in the 1980s — will need to play in turning them into viable electoral combines. KCR’s national ambitions have limited scope in this context.

If at all, the BRS, in alliance with its steadfast ally, the AIMIM, can hope to undercut the prospects of the Congress (MVA in Maharashtra, for instance), just as the AAP is likely to do beyond its own strongholds.

amrith.lal@expressindia.com

First published on: 07-10-2022 at 03:59:34 am
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