Sunday, February 23, 2014

The BJP's Telengana Strategy

If there is one thing that exceeds die-hard BJP supporters' passion for the BJP, it is their expectations from the party. There is very little allowance for sub-optimal moves and at the hint of even a minor slip, they become disgruntled and start criticizing the party, even before the AAP or Congress (note the order) starts.
BJP's handling of Telengana is the latest in a long list of moves that have left BJP-supporters unenthused and disappointed. I did not see either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha debate on the Telengana bill but broad consensus from my twitter timeline (as well as newspapers) is -
  • BJP's Lok Sabha performance was an unmitigated disaster. The party meekly capitulated to the bill.
  • Sushma Swaraj (as usual) screwed up. Some even ventured to hint at her long-standing (purported) closeness with Sonia Gandhi as the reason for her actions in the Lok Sabha.
  • By comparison, the Rajya Sabha was much better for the BJP. They moved some good amendments.
  • Venkaiah Naidu earned some respect for himself from his speech in the Rajya Sabha.
Overall: the BJP's performance in the parliament with reference to the Telengana bill appears to have been a failure, at least in the eyes of supporters.
Be that as it may, it is probably time to take a bird's eye view of the whole issue. Agreed - the parliament debate, which is the final step in the whole process (nail in the coffin? :), remains at the centre even from a bird's eye view, still, the bigger picture is worth looking at.
The Big Picture
  • The BJP has had a minimal presence at best, in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Jagan Reddy has become the leading contender by far in appropriating the "United Andhra" faction. Chandrababu Naidu, for all his abilities & accomplishments, continues to languish at a distant 2nd in Seemandhra.
  • It's KCR all the way in Telengana. No two ways about it.
  • All around, I am told, Congress-decimation looms in both Seemandhra & Telengana. The thing with Machiavellian tactics is that it takes time for even a half-decently-informed observer to figure out where and how such a tactic will reap dividends. Congress, which, on the face of it, appears to be the loser, will find its own ways of bouncing back. Or not.
So where does that leave the BJP?
  • Riding on the "United Andhra" bandwagon - Taken.
    Led by Jagan. 2nd spot taken by CBN. Even the Congress has its presence here in the form of Kiran Kumar Reddy (mutiny or no mutiny). So little or no sense in joining this bandwagon as a 4th player.
  • Pure Telengana-play - KCR all the way, sure. But BJP has no locus standi as far as the history of this claim is concerned. So they could never use a "we have always stood for Telengana" in the sense KCR used it. Though one must add that ever since BJP ventured to express its opinion on this issue, it has been *for* Telengana. In that sense, yes, they have remained steadfast. Appreciable.
Given these circumstances, they chose the best possible alternative - stand for Telengana, but ramp up the unity factor & assuage concerns of Seemandhra. Now this is a seemingly obvious option, but surprisingly, very few apart from the BJP have espoused this, at least vocally.
When Narendra Modi thundered "Jai Telengana, Jai Seemandhra" in Hyderabad in August 2013, he was, quite noticeably, the first (and till date, possibly only) national leader who made an attempt (however meek) at establishing unity between the 2 regions. What the BJP has by its pro-Telengana stance is show its commitment to the Telengana cause. At the same time, the BJP has espoused the cause of Seemandhra admirably in a way even Jagan hasn't. While Jagan & CBN's stances have come across more from the pov of "United Andhra" as a Telugu cause, there has been little evidence of them having talked about the practical implications - economic & social aspects of Seemandhra. This is where BJP has really scored, in my opinion.
Obviously, despite having been born in Seemandhra & living next-door in TN, I am, for all practical purposes, an outsider. I am also unaware of the kind of coverage BJP's actions/commitment have got in the local media in Andhra and what the average Telugu thinks of BJP's stance (if he even has BJP in mind, that is). I am also not sure of the kind of electoral dividends the BJP is likely to reap from their Telengana strategy, in the 2014 elections (both Lok Sabha as well as Assembly) however, this is possibly the best they could have done, given the current circumstances.
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