Prez polls: From BJP to opposition camp, why KCR shifted sides

Hyderabad: Regardless of his politics and electoral victories, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) supremo K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) over the last eight years has always been accused of supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled Centre indirectly. A ’fence sitter’ is what he has been called repeatedly by critics as well.

In fact, many believed that KCR would support the BJP’s candidate Draupadi Murmu (a BJP tribal leader from Odisha) in the upcoming Presidential elections. However, KCR surprised many after the TRS announced that it would be supporting the opposition’s candidate (and former BJP leader) Yashwant Sinha, who is now a big critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It may be recalled that KCR had decided to support the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate (now President) Ram Nath Kovind in the previous Presidential polls. Moreover, the TRS, after coming to power first in 2014 (and later in 2018) had also supported the central government over a host of issues in the past. So what changed now?

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Just like KCR, Andhra Pradesh chief minister and YSR Congress Party president YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is also considered to be another ’fence sitter’. The YSRCP has in fact offered its support to BJP’s Murmu.

“We have to fall in one group now: either with the BJP or against it. There were some hindrances since Congress is also on the opposition side. He is on good terms with everyone and he got a call asking for support. So he chose to do that,” said a senior TRS functionary, who did not want to be named. The change in the track is also an indication that for KCR, the BJP is now a threat.

BJP, a foe KCR can no longer ignore in Telangana

Eight years after the formation of Telangana, the BJP has finally emerged as a major player. The TRS won the 2018 state elections with a thumping majority (88 seats), and the BJP had won just one seat then. However, 2022 is a completely different story, and cracks have begun to appear in KCR’s armour.

The ruling party lost the Dubbaka assembly seat in 2020 to the BJP, which also managed to win 48 out of 144 corporator seats in the GHMC polls that same year. Following that, it also lost the Huzurabad by-election to ex-TRS (health) minister Eatala Rajender, who was sacked from the state cabinet by KCR due to corruption allegations.

Rajender, who joined the BJP soon after resigning as MLA, had faced the might of KCR and the entire TRS machinery in Huzurabad and managed to win. However, the saffron party, led by its president and Karimnagar Lok Sabha MP Bandi Sanjay, is nowhere close to coming to power in Telangana.

KCR also received a jolt in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, as the BJP won three MP seats, while the Congress won 4. The ruling TRS managed to win just nine seats. It won 11 in 2014.

“As of now, we have candidates for only 25 seats in Telangana and KCR is still a big leader. However, we are sure that there are many unhappy people in the TRS and Congress. You will see what happens as elections draw closer,” said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be quoted. After the Dubbaka and Huzurabad by-poll wins, the BJP now has three MLAs in Telangana.

The Congress in Telangana however has seen a steady decline. After the 2014 state polls, some of its 21 MLAs shifted to the TRS. It got worse post the 2018 Assembly election when 12 of its 19 MLAs defected to the ruling party. It also won just two corporator seats in the 2020 GHMC polls.

BRS – KCR’s national party plans

Earlier this year, KCR dropped hints that he would turn the TRS into a national party. Bharatiya Rashtra Party (BRS), is what party leaders said it would be called. The Telangana chief minister said that some within the TRS made a suggestion to this effect while addressing the party’s plenary in April this year.

A TRS source earlier told Siasat.com that KCR is likely to rebrand the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) into the BRS soon. Party leaders earlier stated that an announcement can be expected around Dussera this year, wherein KCR may unveil a new logo. However, it is unsure what may happen, as there has been no noise on that front for now.

Prior to this, during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, KCR met several opposition leaders from various regional parties with the idea of floating a non-BJP and non-Congress front. However, that never took off, and he has since not raised it.

“The BJP is not a big factor in Andhra Pradesh, so Jagan will say that he needs to work with the Centre. Now that the BJP is emerging as a force in Telangana, KCR has to do this. Earlier he too used to support the Centre. Whether or not he likes it, he will have to do this and show that he can put up a brave anti-BJP stance,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

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