Driven By the Push Factor

Born in a humble farmer’s family at Korapalli village in Karimnagar district, P Muralidhar Rao has come a long way. He is only the second leader from the Telugu-speaking world after Venkaiah Naidu to become the BJP’s national general secretary. With the BJP making it clear that capturing power in Telangana is high on its agenda, Rao’s role has become even more crucial. In a free-wheeling chat with Express team, Rao speaks about the dynamics of the party with Amit Shah at the helm, the BJP’s plans for the two states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, its political adversaries and much more

How does the BJP function as a party?

BJP is a president-centric party. We all are nominated – president is the only person who is elected. So, we are accountable to him and our powers and strengths revolve around him. Having said that, we are also a collective organisation, we collectively discuss issues and try to arrive at a consensus. So, this is a stabilising factor and helps us maintain continuity. Being a president-centric organisation helps us create a kind of a dynamism in the party.

Has Amit Shah brought in anything new to the party as its president?

He has just started. As far as ‘new’ is concerned, when the government was formed, almost 35- 40 important and senior members of our party vacated their positions to be a part of the government (like Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, etc). So, people coming in to take their positions in the party are all new. In that sense, there is a forced freshness within the party.

You had earlier said Amit Shah will bring about a new dimension to Indian politics. Can you elaborate?

First of all, if you notice, BJP is a political party which is always involved in creating leadership. Over the last 10-15 years, we have had various people leading the party. In comparison, Congress just had one person as the president — Sonia Gandhi — from 1998 onwards. On the other hand, We had LK Advani, Venkaiah Naidu, Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh and now Amit Shah. Now that BJP is in power at the Centre with Narendra Modi at the helm, Amit Shah has two challenges — to create party mechanisms and to consolidate power in all parts of the country.

What about the controversy surrounding Rajnath Singh? Is there a sense of complacency and competition within the party?

One has to be mindful of the fact that ruling this country has not been a frequent phenomenon for the BJP. There are certain vested interests who will be utilising every minute to create suspicion, doubts and internal fissures. I feel it is an attempt by adversaries and we have to face it.

Do you think the BJP can strengthen itself in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and capture power in the South as well?

There is no option. The party is driven by a powerful push factor. Telangana has reached the takeoff level and the central leaderhsip has said Telangana is a priority and it is evident by the fact that it was the first state Amit Shah visited in the South after becoming the party president. Our intentions are loud and clear. South is the prime focus of our party.

What about AP? How can you grow, being in alliance with the TDP?

At least, today we are in alliance (laughs). In South, the challenge is not the TDP. The challenge, as it is everywhere else, is the Congress. Secondly, it is the non-NDA parties which we will address. As of now, we don’t look at Telugu Desam as a challenge. It is a partner with us in the NDA.

But do you think the BJP can come to power in AP while the TDP is still strong?

The states in which we are not in power is our first priority. Consolidating our position in the states in which we are already in power is secondary. We are now looking at Tamil Nadu, restoring our position in assembly elections in Karnataka and functioning as a very effective opposition in Telangana.

 Can you elaborate on your relationship with the TDP?

Telugu Desam is our partner both at the State and the Centre. We are the dominant player at the Centre, while they are the dominant player in the State. As far as governance related help from the Centre is concerned, we are doing everything possible. Our focus is on good governance and growth of Andhra Pradesh. There is complete harmony, trust and communication between the BJP and the TDP.

Is it true that some YSRC leaders have shown interest in the BJP but the BJP itself has not really embraced them?

 It is not that we are ready to embrace or not ready to embrace. In a democracy, leaders of different parties meet and communicate. It is normal. Similarly, YSRC leaders meeting our leaders is not an exceptional thing. However, the BJP is committed to a certain way of functioning.

How do you think the TRS government has done so far?

It is too early to judge but indications are not pleasant. Hyderabad is a very important city not just in South India but in the entire country. Retaining the importance of Hyderabad is important for the Telangana government and the people of Telangana. Creating apprehensions and unwarranted squabbles is going to discourage investors.

How is the relationship between the TRS government and the Centre?

Obviously, we do not have the same relationship with the TRS as with the TDP since it is not our partner. They are a competing player. Having said that, we have a constitutional responsibility to look after the best interests of Telangana, to ensure the development of the state. People have elected the TRS to rule the State and we have to respect that. Unfortunately, we feel the TRS, from the beginning, has taken a confrontational role and has been treating the Centre as an adversary. We have fought together for the creation of Telangana. I feel the TRS government should not treat the Centre as an adversary and should instead, treat the BJPled Centre as someone who is equally positive for development of Telangana. The invitation from the Centre is there and a pro-active approach from the TRS government is required. Sadly, I feel a pro-active, initiative-taking leadership is currently lacking in the TRS government.

You are competing with TRS for space in Telangana. So for you to grow, a vacuum needs to be created. Where do you think this vacuum will be created?

Telangana has fundamentally been a bridge between north and south. People are more comfortable with northern traditions and Hindi language. Telangana has got a nationalist space. In the last few years, the orientation of the Congress has been leaning heavily towards appeasing minorities. Traditionally they have represented a nationalist view which has been vacated by them now. We can exploit that space. That is a powerful space in Telangana.

How do you assess Modi government’s performance so far?

On the inflation front, definitely people want immediate results. Unfortunately, we had a bad monsoon which is not in the hands of the government, and the problem with Iraq. These two serious things have affected the overall situation. The government is trying to create a cushion for the poor.

How do you progress from here? Do you see the recent bypolls as a reversal?

I don’t see complacency in our party. During general elections, a tidal wave was there and Delhi was the focal point. People voted keeping Narendra Modi as a focal point. Now in every battle, the same seriousness will not be there – both for the people and the party. But we cannot afford to relax and the BJP leadership is conscious of this.