The one man who was relieved when Congress’ BK Hariprasad was announced as the candidate fielded by the joint Opposition for the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman election on Thursday was K Chandrasekhar Rao. It would have made things very tricky for the Telangana chief minister if Vandana Chavan of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was to be fielded. KCR and NCP chief Sharad Pawar go back a long way, back to the days of the Telangana statehood agitation, when the Maratha strongman had backed the separatist demand.
In that case, the Congress made it easy for KCR by nominating Hariprasad. There was no way the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief would support a Congress candidate, thus providing him with a legitimate reason for voting for the NDA candidate. The fact that the BJP fielded a JD(U) candidate, and Nitish Kumar called KCR to ask for his support, made it even better. No one could now accuse KCR of doing business with the BJP, at least not officially.
In terms of political strategy, the BJP had bowled a wicket-taking googly while the Congress had scored a self-goal.
Across the border, the YSR Congress was in a dilemma. It could not have voted for the NDA because the Centre had denied special category status to Andhra Pradesh. Doing so would have invited barbs from the TDP and Chandrababu Naidu that Jaganmohan Reddy had cut a deal with the ruling establishment in New Delhi. Again here, putting Hariprasad in the fray allowed Jagan an escape route. There was also no way he was going to support the Congress which had divided Andhra Pradesh in 2014.
So, instead of abstaining from the vote, as his two MPs finally did, Jaganmohan might have been forced to vote for the non-NDA candidate had it been an MP from one of the regional parties who was contesting the election.
The third regional party from the South that helped the NDA cause was the AIADMK, which has been bending over backwards to please the BJP in recent times. The 13 AIADMK MPs voted for the NDA candidate, making it amply clear that it is just a technicality that they are not formally part of the NDA ‘Parivaar’.
This was the second time in two months that the AIADMK demonstrated its love for the BJP. Its Lok Sabha MPs voted for the government in the no-trust vote last month, the party reasoning that the motion was moved by the Telugu Desam over its state-specific issue of special status. The AIADMK said it saw no reason to support the motion, as special status to Andhra would hurt Tamil Nadu’s investment interests. And this time, AIADMK saw the vote for NDA as thanksgiving for having made Thambidurai the deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha.
The TDP, meanwhile, voted for Congress’ candidate, unperturbed by how it will be perceived back home in Andhra Pradesh. The TDP is clear that four years is a long time in the life of a state, and though people are annoyed with what the Congress did in 2014, their anger is more directed at the BJP now. For the TDP, it was about choosing the lesser of the two foes.
But there is nothing to cheer in it for the Congress, as this TDP support is unlikely to materialise into an alliance ahead of 2019. This is because an alliance with Congress brings next to nothing for the TDP in Andhra Pradesh. On the contrary, it might even prove to be a liability.
It was also bad judgment on the Congress’ part to field an MP from Karnataka, a state where it came a poor second place in Assembly elections held just months ago. The party should have chosen a regional party’s candidate, especially after the BJP did so by outsourcing the canvassing to Nitish Kumar.
The fact that none of the regional parties decided to bite the bullet is also indicative of how many of them are sitting on the fence. With no guarantee which way 2019 will go, many of them clearly do not wish to take on the BJP openly, and would rather let Congress take the hit.
The TRS — that made moves to form a non-BJP, non-Congress front in March — has put the idea into cold storage, and going by the three meetings that KCR and his son, Telangana Industry minister KT Rama Rao, have had with the prime minister in the last six weeks, it seems the stage is being set for a post-2019 marriage. But given the Muslim vote that KCR would not like to lose in Telangana, the charade of BJP as a poll rival will be played out.
Is this election in the Council of States a pointer of sorts to the general election, especially when it comes to south India, where the BJP is seen to be friendless and lacking in a support base?
Yes. The BJP may be unable to win a seat on the lotus symbol on its own in any southern state barring Karnataka, but it has taken steps to forge friendships with the likes of the AIADMK, TRS and YSRC. The fact that none of them have gone with the Opposition camp would gladden the BJP.
The three states in which these three parties operate have a catchment potential of 81 MPs. While the AIADMK could be a pre-poll partner, the other two are potential post-poll allies of the BJP. Just a phone call away should Modi fall short of numbers.