Decades after his death, the legend of Ajit, Lily’s boss, and the first suave villain of the Bollywood cinema lives on quite literally in the Indian polity.
The genius of putting one’s adversary in liquid oxygen has been tested by some of the best exponents of politics. And the results have been far from disappointing.
Take the case of Kerala. On various occasions, both the Left and the Congress have used RSS and BJP marginal presence in the state to their respective advantage. The fear of an expansionist BJP pushed a section of the minorities towards the Left in state assembly elections earlier this year. In the past Congress has benefited from BJP’s ability to split the majority vote. After the dust and debris from elections settle down, BJP is put back in liquid oxygen- a hypothetical situation where according to Ajit’s theorem- liquid doesn’t let you live and oxygen doesn’t not let you die.
Last week, political developments in another state down south have stirred enough excitement and curiosity to call for a deeper analysis. In an interesting move that caused a minor flutter in political circles in Hyderabad, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao opened the doors of his home cum camp office Pragathi Bhawan to the leaders of the Congress Party.
A Congress delegation last week had sought an appointment with the CM to submit a memorandum on the death of a Dalit woman Mariamma in the police lock-up. To their surprise, the requisition was duly accepted. Time allocated, Congress legislature party leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka and three other MLAs proceeded for a meeting and photo-op with the chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao.
Rao’s friend turned foe, Etela Rajender has repeatedly accused the CM of being inaccessible to even senior cabinet colleagues. The rebel leader from Karimnagar has since joined the BJP in presence of national leaders in Delhi. BJP is trying to project his entry as part of a coordinated effort to mobilise the backward castes in its bid to emerge as the main opposition to ruling TRS.
BJP’s rise in Telangana as an alternative can only be hastened with Congress’ downfall in the state politics. In the last assembly polls in 2018, Congress won 19 seats. Two dozen party legislators have since migrated towards the ruling dispensation, depleting the party’s strength to a mere six. This is an insufficient number to bestow even the Leader of Opposition status to the Congress leader in the state assembly.
Defections are not new to Indian politics. But if not used discreetly, they can prove to be a double-edged sword.
Mamata Banerjee attempted something similar ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Multiple defections in the Congress and the Left ranks created just enough political space for the BJP to rush in with all the resources at its disposal when the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections set off the alarm bells in the TMC.
Corrective measures were taken in the earnest. BJP’s rise presented a fait accompli for the anti-TMC but pro-Left and pro-Congress voters. The choice was whittled down to a BJP or a TMC government. TMC’s cause was further helped by a cushion of 30 per cent minority votes which did not split between non-BJP parties. TRS doesn’t enjoy this sort of a buffer in Telangana where there are many claimants for less than 15 per cent Muslim votes.
Thus, the Bengal election this year became a case in the study for all regional satraps along the Coromandel Coast. Especially for the ones performing a flying trapeze between an effete Congress and an ambitious BJP.
BJP’s aggression in Telangana was evident with its breach of the TRS fort in Dubbak by-polls. This was followed by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, where the Congress was reduced to the status of also-ran in what turned out to be a high voltage contest between BJP, TRS, and Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Musalmeen.
TRS’s next major test will come in Huzurabad by-polls, the seat vacated by Etela Rajender. BJP has entrusted Huzurabad to Jithender Raddy, who swung Dubbak for the party. The former MP came up with a good performance in areas under his supervision in GHMC and Warangal local body polls.
It is important for the TRS that Huzurabad and Telangana do not become a bi-polar polity with BJP as other dominant polls. For that to happen Congress has to survive. And survive well to be able to put up a credible fight.
The recent appointment of Revanth Reddy, a fierce and vocal critic of CM K Chandrashekhar Rao, works towards this end.
Clearly, there are efforts to revive the Congress in Telangana. Signs are the grand old party is being taken out of liquid oxygen for a fresh breath of air.
Sumit Pande is a contributing editor with India Ahead. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.