RAHUL GANDHI and Chandrababu Naidu standing together, shoulder to shoulder and in a single frame, waving to incredulous, rapturous crowds? Who would have thought this would ever be possible? After all, not long ago Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party had been a bitter rival of the Congress.
Indeed, the TDP, floated by the late matinee idol and his charismatic father-in-law NT Rama Rao in the name of “Telugu pride”, had been the fulcrum of anti-Congress politics in the 1980’s and ‘90s. It helped form an alliance of various regional and national parties against the then powerful Congress under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. But then as they say politics is the art of the possible.
And right now the Congress, once India’s natural party of governance, and regional players like Naidu, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, who had once declined the Prime Minister’s job in favour of Deve Gowda, need each other. Again, not long ago, Naidu’s Telugu Desam had been a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance since the time of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
However, the hard-nosed, self-serving politics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party chief Amit Shah has driven away many old friends and allies like Naidu. So much so he does not mind joining hands with the arch rival Congress to keep out the BJP and Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress.
Meanwhile another calculating politician and Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao seems to be visibly warming up to Modi and the BJP. Surely, it couldn’t have been an easy choice for Rao who has gone out of his way to woo the significant population of Muslims in his state. He has so far managed to provide good, responsive governance offering a number of sops and goodies to people in the state, including religious minorities.
Rao takes visible pride in his chaste Urdu and has often expressed open love and admiration for the rich syncretic culture and ‘tehzeeb’ that he grew up with in the erstwhile state of Hyderabad ruled by the Nizam.
One landmark move for which the Muslim community in the state would forever remain indebted to the Telangana chief minister is the inception of 200 Urdu residential schools with the best possible infrastructure and facilities. Besides rolling out thousands of jobs by the TRS government, these schools could prove a game changer in shaping the future of the community in years and decades to come.
So why someone who counts the Muslims and other backward communities among his core supporters has hitched his wagon to the BJP’s waning star? The answer perhaps lies in his difficult political compulsions.
Rao’s party sees a resurgent Congress as its direct rival and immediate threat in Telangana. Ironically, it was the Congress-led UPA government of Sonia Gandhi that had carved out the new Telangana state in 2014, bowing to historical demands of the people, including the long agitation by Rao’s TRS.
However, Telangana has always been a stronghold of the Congress and it was only a matter of time before the grand old party recovered from the severe drubbing it received in the first assembly elections of the new state. And it appears to be fast renewing itself although the ruling TRS appears invincible for now.
The astute Telangana chief minister’s decision to call early elections is also driven by the fact that if Assembly elections are held with General Elections next year, his party could end up paying a heavy price for aligning with the disastrous BJP government at the Centre.
This regime has failed on virtually every front, not to mention the runaway fuel prices, worthless rupee and the worsening law and order situation, including the continuing lynchings and hate attacks against Muslims.
Yet the TRS may be forced to sail with Modi’s BJP even as it swears by opposition unity and talks vaguely of a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance.
Of course, Rao is not the only one to grapple with this dilemma. Many parties like the CPI (M) are direct rivals of the Congress in states like Kerala. Yet the Left party has managed to strike a semblance of balance in its compulsions to fight the Congress and its duty to support an alliance of secular forces to take on the fascist order in Delhi.
Again, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, an off-shoot of the Congress, faces a similar predicament vis-à-vis the Left front in her state.
Yet they have all signalled their willingness to look beyond their petty noses and immediate electoral compulsions in the greater interest of the country. They have concluded that this is the time to stick and strike together. If secular and regional parties do not sink their differences and swim together, the saffron wave could simply sweep them away.
In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous and critical state in electoral terms, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh-Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Congress have struck an unlikely pact — unlikely because Mayawati and Mulayam have historically been sworn enemies. The young Akhilesh Yadav deserves all the credit for reaching out to Mayawati in the interests of the state and the nation.
Down South, similar calculations have forced the Congress and Janata Dal (S) down to come together to keep the BJP out of Karnataka.
As the battle for 2019 looms, many of those who are still sitting on the sidelines on their hands could soon be compelled to make up their minds sooner rather than later. This is no time to hide or play games to drive a hard electoral bargain.
For what is at stake is the very future and wellbeing of India as we know it. The great secular and inclusive democracy celebrating the mindboggling diversity of its myriad communities, faiths and cultures has never faced a greater existential challenge.
Haven’t we seen what this bunch of fanatics driven by poison of prejudice accumulated over decades and centuries is capable of over the past four years?
They have shamed the country that was once celebrated as the epitome of religious tolerance and diversity before the whole world. Dismantling carefully built democratic and civic institutions and saffronising the core institutions of the state over the past four years, they have all but transformed the country into their own image. Without so much as amending the liberal Indian Constitution that promises equal rights, freedom and dignity to all its citizens.
Imagine what the BJP and Parivar could do if they manage to win in 2019 again! As former BJP veteran Arun Shourie, credited with a rare understanding of the Chanakya mindset of both Modi and Amit Shah, warns, if opposition parties do not unite now, they could as well say goodbye to their political careers. If they do not fight the BJP now, 2019 may well be the last election they ever fight.
Telangana chief minister KCR may think that he has mastered the art of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. But he need not look too far to see how Modi can conveniently drop his old friends and allies once they have outlived their utility.
Besides, whether it is individuals or political parties, there are times when you have to toughen up your spine and take a stand no matter what the price. And make no mistake, this is one of those times. The Idea of India is in peril.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an independent writer and former editor. Email: Aijaz.firstname.lastname@example.org: Twitter: @AijazZaka