Caretaker TRS supremo K Chandrashekar Rao, in his election campaign meetings, has been repeatedly targeting Chandrababu Naidu and invoking Telangana pride. Rao’s tirade against Naidu has transformed into a sort of social media war between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which is reminiscent of the bitter divide which was seen during the movement for a separate state.

Addressing a series of meetings in the poll-bound state in Nizamabad, Nalgonda and Wanaparthy, the TRS chief called Naidu a “thief” and “traitor.” Tearing into the Congress-TDP alliance, a fuming Rao said, “People should not support the traitor of Telangana. He is an evil person, a thief who got caught (a reference to the notes-for-votes scam allegedly involving Naidu offering inducement to an MLA to vote in his party’s favour in the elections to the Legislative Council). Do we want such a person to rule us? Aren’t the years of enslavement that we suffered enough? We no longer need to be slaves to Delhi and Amaravati.”

Rao is obviously angry over the attempts of the Opposition parties — Congress , TDP, CPI and the Telangana Jana Samithi — to form a grand alliance to take on his party. The election in Telangana, necessitated by the premature dissolution of the Assembly, is due to be held on 7 December.

In fact, Chandrababu Naidu had led the Telangana unit of the TDP from the front during the 2014 elections and afterwards. But after the alleged notes-for-votes scam surfaced, he slowly retreated from active politics in the state. This cost the TDP dear in the elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).

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Hyderabad has a significant proportion of people who hail from the Seemandhra region that constitutes the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh.

This section of the population is generally considered to be disinclined towards parties espousing sub-regional Telangana pride. The TDP, with its electoral partner BJP, won 20 Assembly seats (15 on its own) in 2014, most of which were from the city. However, the party was decimated in the GHMC elections, which were swept by the TRS.

Political observers, and even TDP activists, attributed this to the absence of Chandrababu Naidu from the campaign. Naidu has acquired the image of having placed Hyderabad on the global IT map. Now, with the TDP joining the Congress-led Opposition combine, Rao fears a repeat of the 2014 election.

Since 2014, the TDP saw many desertions, with the TRS poaching almost all of its legislators. Despite this, the TDP enjoys some support in the state, especially in Hyderabad and a few other pockets like Khammam and Nizamabad, where there is a sizable numbers of voters who originally hail from Seemandhra.

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The TDP and Congress claim that Rao is acting at the behest of Narendra Modi due to the latter’s animosity towards Chandrababu Naidu. The TDP chief has, in fact, alleged that Rao has colluded with Modi to target him. He, however, said that he would not respond to personal attacks by Rao.

The post-bifurcation period had initially seen bonhomie between the chief ministers of the two Telugu states. Rao had joined the celebrations in Amaravati when the prime minister inaugurated the new capital of Andhra Pradesh. Further, when asked about roping in Naidu into his proposed federal front, Rao had described him as his best friend.

The TRS has extended support to Andhra Pradesh’s demand for special status. All this was seen as a strategy to woo the Seemandhra electorate, which forms a decisive vote base in several constituencies in Telangana. However, as the TDP moved towards the Congress to challenge Rao, the bonhomie turned into hostility.

Rao’s strong attack on the TDP is not just an angry outburst over Naidu’s attempts to form a broad Opposition combine with the Congress. It is a calculated strategy to turn the election into a Rao-Naidu fight, so as to rally the people of Telangana against the alleged machinations of the Andhra Pradesh chief minister. The TRS believes that this would dissuade the Telangana voter from preferring the Congress-led mahagatbandhan, of which the TDP is a part.

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The movement for a separate state of Telangana was primarily against the domination of the Andhra-based political leadership. The two Telugu states still have many unresolved issues, like sharing of the waters of the Krishna and Godavari rivers; dividing joint properties, etc. Naidu, being the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, has obviously defended the interests of his state.

The Andhra Pradesh government objected to the prestigious Kaleshwaram and Palamuru-Ranga Reddy lift irrigation schemes in Telangana. The high court is still undivided. There is a widespread perception that Naidu is responsible for the undue delay in the bifurcation of the judiciary.

The wounds of bifurcation are still fresh. The TRS and Rao want to appeal to precisely this Telangana identity in order to question the TDP. Thus, Rao wants to frustrate the attempts of the Congress to mount a joint Opposition fight against the TRS in the upcoming Assembly elections.

It is difficult to predict to predict the gainers and losers from this renewed battle. However, the battle will have major implications for Telugu society. #KhabarLive