Chandrababu Naidu won't admit it, but he knows that his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Telangana is in the ICU. In the past three years, twelve of his 15 legislators have dumped the TDP bicycle to hitch a ride on the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti's (TRS) car, cocking a snook at the toothless anti-defection law. Realising the David TDP cannot fight the TRS Goliath in Telangana, the other non-MLAs of the TDP who have not migrated so far are now pitching for an alliance with the TRS.
If there was a prescription for political suicide, this would qualify eminently.
But then put yourself in Naidu's shoes and you would realise the options available on the table do not give him much elbow room. Going alone in 2019 is not an option as he is more than likely to come a cropper. This means Naidu will have to swallow his pride and explore options to ally with either of the three parties in Telangana - the TRS, Congress or the BJP.
The tie-up that leaders like M Narasimhulu, a prominent Dalit leader of the party, are rooting for is with the TRS. Given that a considerable part of the TRS consists of TDP defectors, the argument is Naidu would feel at home dealing with the 'pink party'. Some of the turncoats too are pitching for a Telangana-Andhra gatbandhan. But playing second fiddle to the TRS would also mean TDP's own independent identity in India's youngest state would be severely compromised.
Would KCR like to shake hands with Naidu, a leader he has accused every election of being pro-Andhra?
Much was made of K Chandrasekhar Rao's visit to Anantapur earlier this month to attend the wedding of the son of Andhra minister Paritala Sunitha. During the visit, TDP banners welcoming KCR were put up, signalling that the Telangana chief minister was no longer a hate figure that he was during the Telangana agitation. District TDP leaders vied to take selfies with KCR. The Telangana CM's one-on-one discussion with P Keshav, a senior TDP leader from Rayalaseema, considered close to Naidu, also set tongues wagging. Knowing KCR's political sharpness, it is quite likely that he went the extra mile to ensure the optics of the confabulations at the helipad created confusion in the TDP ranks in Telangana.
The posturing for a TRS-TDP alliance is partly to do with the fact that the TDP in the last one year has fought three polls, including a trade union election, jointly with the Congress, an combination unthinkable till a couple of years ago, given that the TDP was formed by N T Rama Rao in 1982 on an anti-Congress plank. The opposition unity has not tasted success so far but the parties also realise that ekla chalo re would be a far worse option.
But would KCR like to shake hands with Naidu, a leader he has accused every election of being pro-Andhra? It would help KCR ensure the opposition vote is deprived of the TDP voteshare and will bring to the TRS kitty, the vote of people from Andhra who are settled in Telangana. But it would also show up KCR as a hypocrite given all the vitriol he poured on Naidu for being anti-Telangana and working against its interests.
Having lost most of its leaders to the TRS, the only vote catcher left in the TDP is Revanth Reddy.
For KCR therefore, it would work much better if he were to drive TDP into the Congress fold and then target the duo as working against Telangana's interests, his pet theme.
That is precisely what the Congress would worry about. TDP, because it is in power in Andhra and because Naidu was not seen to be in favour of bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh, is seen as a electoral liability in Telangana. The party with its pro-Andhra tag could lose the alliance precious votes in hardcore Telangana patches.
Having lost most of its leaders to the TRS, the only vote catcher left in the TDP is Revanth Reddy. Whispers within the Congress suggest that should Naidu force an alliance with the TRS, Revanth is more than likely to shift sides to the Congress that in any case, is seen as a Reddy community party. That is because Reddy is accused in the cash for votes scam, in which he was caught on camera allegedly trying to bribe an independent MLA to vote for the TDP candidate in the MLC elections in 2015. There is no love lost between KCR and Revanth, though the latter is known to be close to some other leaders in the TRS.
Netting a Revanth would then be the best case scenario for the Congress. Except that many well-entrenched leaders in the Congress would not take kindly to his entry. How the high command handles this HR matter would be a factor in 2019.
The third party in the political matrix, the BJP state unit in Telangana, is simply not interested in forging an alliance with the TDP. The saffron party snapped its ties with TDP after the 2014 disaster and wants to test its individual strength. Though the final decision will be taken by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, it is certain that even if an alliance is forced upon the state unit, it won't be a comfortable marriage.
For Naidu, obsessed about retaining power in Andhra Pradesh in 2019, Telangana is a swim against the tide. Quite a comedown for the man who even today cannot stop talking about how he created the IT city in Hyderabad.