Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) called on his Kerala counterpart Pinarayi Vijayan in Thiruvananthapuram to seek support for his dream of a ‘federal front’ resistant to bullying from the Congress and BJP. Vijayan was noncommittal, supportive of more powers devolved to the states but unsure about such a broad alliance. Exactly a week later, KCR called on the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M.K. Stalin in Chennai on May 13, spreading the message of a BJP and Congress weakened by the general election and ever more reliant on their partners.
KCR believes regional parties, even if they don’t enjoy prominence beyond their particular fiefs, pose a serious threat to the swaggering national parties. As a party, the DMK is firm in its demands for greater autonomy and an increasingly federal structure. But Stalin remains an unwavering ally of the Congress, motivated perhaps by future support from the party’s MLAs should he get an opening to form the government in Tamil Nadu. He refused to join KCR’s front, though rumours have been flying about possible talks between Stalin and the BJP too. So outraged was Stalin by the slur, he threatened to “quit politics” if any link was proved.
Further afield, KCR has spoken, over the past 14 months, with his West Bengal and Odisha counterparts, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik, with BSP chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav. There has been no unequivocal embrace of such a federal alliance, in part, analysts argue, because KCR, unlike Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu, doesn’t enjoy the trust of the leaders he is trying to woo. Still, KCR soldiers on, adamant that the regional parties must be heard in the formation of the next government.
“Unlike in the past,” says Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader B. Vinod Kumar, “the regional parties as a front may win more seats than both the BJP and Congress. If so, even if they choose to support the NDA or UPA, they should realise they are in a position to dictate terms, so long as they work as a collective.” Even if a broad regional coalition fails, KCR, sources say, is committed to persuading the South to operate in concert, to bargain together on shared interests such as the partition of river waters, or greater financial autonomy. Many analysts have argued that the current federal structure punishes southern India for its progress, that it loses out on central funding to the poorer, more populous north.
It’s curious that the prospect of a powerful federal front has not proved more compelling to regional politicians. Mayawati and Mamata, for instance, have been in the BJP crosshairs, almost as much as Rahul Gandhi. Do they not believe, as KCR clearly does, that on May 23, the mandate will be for a coalition, for widely shared power rather than the dominance of a single party?