Why Telugu States ‘Voted Differently’ On ‘Citizenship Amendment Act’?

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The passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (CAB) in parliament came with certain unexpected political developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Chief minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy of the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress (YSRC) and N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party are known as bitter rivals in Andhra Pradesh. However, the duo went the extra mile to build bridges and display a show of oneness to back the Narendra Modi government on the CAB.

The neighbouring state of Telangana, however, presented a contrasting picture – chief minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who has been considered as ‘friend in need’ for the National Democratic Alliance government, opposed the Bill.

The Bill was passed in both houses of parliament and the president assented to it, so it is now a law as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Under the new law, six non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – can become Indian citizens if they came to the country before 2014. It has been criticised as being openly discriminatory against Muslims.

Since Jagan’s party is dependent on the minority vote bank, him and Naidu were expected to join the opposition bandwagon and stall the Bill. KCR, on the other hand, whose party supported the NDA’s decision to read down Article 370 and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, was expected to play the Centre’s cheerleader again. So what changed?

When Jagan Reddy, jailed for 16 months in disproportionate assets case and currently out on bail, apparently needs to be in Narendra Modi’s good books. He couldn’t afford to antagonise the NDA by opposing the Bill. In addition, he may believe that the CAB has little relevance in his state, which is almost free from immigration from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Afghanistan, unlike Telangana’s Hyderabad. Opposing or supporting the Bill would in no way hurt the sentiments of Muslims in Jagan’s state, said a senior leader from the YSRC who wished to remain anonymous.

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Jagan is in a bind – he needs to remain friendly with the Centre to ensure the hassle-free flow of funds to rebuild his state, which is still suffering from bifurcation blues, and also for his pet welfare scheme ‘Navaratnalu’.

Jagan’s parliamentary party, with 22 Lok Sabha members and two Rajya Sabha members, appears shaky in light of recent reports of poaching by the BJP. The apparent preferential treatment given by Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah to one of the YSRC’s Lok Sabha members, Kanumuri Raghurama Krishnam Raju, caused flutters in the Jagan camp. When YSRC’s senior MPs Vijayasai Reddy and Nitin Reddy failed to get through to Shah for an appointment for the chief minister even after a long wait recently, their junior colleague Raju walked into Shah’s official chambers with ease, to their utter dismay.

Given the YSRC’s numbers in the Lok Sabha and the prospects of a substantial increase in its tally in the Rajya Sabha in the elections due to take place for the seats to become vacant in the next 1-2 years, BJP needs Jagan more than Naidu. Jagan’s support will become crucial in the presidential elections scheduled in the next couple of years in the changed political context. Yet, Jagan seems to need Modi more than the other way around.

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Naidu is making an effort to anchor the TDP to the BJP and keep afloat his party’s sinking ship, after its rout in the general elections held early this year. With three Lok Sabha MPs and two Rajya Sabha members, the TDP’s support for the CAB hardly mattered in parliament, commented a party MLC who did not want to be named. Yet Naidu felt compelled to befriend the Modi-Shah duo after his losing battle against the NDA during the 2019 elections. Four of the party’s Rajya Sabha members have already defected to the BJP.

Sending out clear signals on a fresh bonhomie with Modi, Naidu at a media conference in Visakhapatnam recently rued his anti-BJP battle cries at the hustings. Andhra Pradesh, with a 9% Muslim population and a history free of communal clashes, is unlikely to be home to the BJP’s politics of polarisation.

Battle time for KCR?
The time has seemingly come for KCR, as the TRS patriarch is known, to shed his pro-BJP image and protect his regime from the onslaught of the saffron party. That his domain comes under threat from the BJP became evident with the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections.

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The CAB provided an opportune moment for KCR to check the BJP’s onward march and project himself as a saviour for Muslims, who constitute 12% of the state’s 3.5-crore population, ahead of elections to local bodies. The BJP stormed into the TRS bastion and bagged four Lok Sabha seats out of 17 earlier this year, forcing KCR to sit up and take notice of a potential rival emerging from the shadows.

Interestingly, KCR’s party has backed NDA 1.0 and even 2.0 in almost all key decisions, the latest being the reading down of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. The Telangana chief minister also proved his friendly relationship with Modi by staying away from a convention held in Kerala on the recommendations of the Fifteenth Finance Commission, against which southern states had protested.

Raka Sudhakar Rao, a political analyst, told The Wire that KCR’s opposition to the CAB is a reflection of his desperate attempts to protect his regime. The TRS chief also needs to keep his ally, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, happy and ensure his party does not alienate Muslim voters, who are concentrated mainly in Hyderabad and parts of north Telangana.

Unlike in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana (particularly Hyderabad) does have the presence of immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, who may come under the radar of the CAB. Sudhakar estimated that there are 30,000-40,000 Bangladeshi immigrants in the region, and close to 5,000 Rohingya from Myanmar. KCR, then, was forced to tread carefully, the analyst said. #KhabarLive

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