Once the Central government approved the creation of Telangana, an alliance between the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti seemed a foregone conclusion. Indeed, TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao had repeatedly talked of merging his party with the Congress if the Centre acceded to the demand for Telangana. However, now that Telangana is irreversibly on the road to realisation, the situation looks slightly different, especially from Mr. Rao’s viewpoint. While the TRS is still in favour of a pact with the Congress to maximise vote gains in Telangana, a merger no longer appeals to the party. As the spearhead of the Telangana statehood agitation, the TRS is likely to be the biggest gainer in the Lok Sabha election in that region. A merger with the Congress would practically entail surrendering much of that advantage to the national party. As an indivisible part of the Congress, the TRS leadership would have very little room for manoeuvre in the post-election scenario. And with the Bharatiya Janata Party looking set to finish as the single largest party in the 16th Lok Sabha, a merger with the Congress would have seemed for the TRS like a constrictive decision. As an alliance, the Congress and the TRS will doubtless be a good combination in Telangana, but, for the TRS at least, a merger can only yield a lower political dividend.
The meeting between Mr. Rao and Congress president Sonia Gandhi was essentially a gesture of thanksgiving. While Mr. Rao was ready to acknowledge that statehood for Telangana would not have been possible without the backing of Ms. Gandhi, he was not willing to commit his party to a merger. By taking his family along, Mr. Rao made the meeting look more personal than political. The meeting, which he described as a courtesy call, was more about the past than about the future. Without doubt, the TRS would drive a hard bargain over an electoral understanding with the Congress. The only trump card with the Congress is that the Assembly election is to be held alongside the Lok Sabha election; the Congress is a more valuable pre-election ally than the BJP, which is only a marginal player in Telangana. For the TRS, the Assembly election is more important than the Lok Sabha election, and the Congress would likely ask for a major share of the Lok Sabha seats in return for helping the TRS in the Assembly election. But, in any case, with its regional outlook, the TRS would find a merger a difficult proposition. It is not clear at this stage when the state would be notified and how elections would be held in Telangana and Seemandhra. And for all its cynical political manoeuvring over Telangana, the Congress’ electoral gains from the region might not be very substantial.