Electoral competition, not ideological conflict, is the biggest obstacle to the making of political alliances. The coming together of the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party is not on account of any new-found affinity, but because of the cessation of an old rivalry. With the Congress no longer posing a threat to the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi emerging as the principal rival of the Congress in Telangana, the Congress and the TDP are not competitors for power in either of the two States. All the reasons that drove the TDP away from the Congress and into the arms of the Bharatiya Janata Party have disappeared like ghosts in daylight. For the TDP, which is facing a robust challenge from the breakaway group of the Congress, the YSR Congress Party, the electoral campaign is built around the failure of the BJP-led government at the Centre to grant special category status to A.P. The BJP is the new political target, and the Congress suddenly is a friend. In Telangana, the TDP, which opposed the bifurcation of A.P., is a marginal player, and stands to benefit by entering into a seat-sharing agreement with the Congress. The 2014 bifurcation not only drew new boundaries, but also laid the basis for political realignments in both A.P. and Telangana.
The coalition-building exercise of A.P. Chief Minister and TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu comes after the failed attempt of the TRS to forge a national ‘federal’ front of regional parties in opposition to both the BJP and the Congress. TRS leader and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao made some headway in talks with West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, but an opposition front that did not include the principal opposition party at the national level was bound to be a non-starter. In contrast, from the start Mr. Naidu saw the Congress as the main agent of an anti-BJP front, and the TDP as a catalyst in the new political equation. If the TRS chose to uncouple the Assembly election from the Lok Sabha election by dissolving the Assembly prematurely, the TDP wanted to become a player at the national level in time for 2019 when elections will be held to the A.P. Assembly along with the Lok Sabha poll. Clearly, Mr. Naidu’s effort goes beyond an electoral understanding with the Congress in his home State. Besides meeting Congress president Rahul Gandhi, he engaged in wide-ranging consultations with leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the National Conference, indicating his interest in playing a larger role in a nationwide alliance against the BJP. The TDP’s first priority remains retaining A.P., but in Mr. Naidu’s modified understanding of the political situation, this is also tied up with the effort to unseat the BJP at the Centre. The battle for Andhra Pradesh is now part of a larger war.