Aiming high

Print edition : April 26, 2019

Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao at a public meeting at Miryalaguda in Nalgonda district on March 29. Photo: Singam Venkataramana

TRS working president K.T. Rama Rao during a constituency level meeting in Nalgonda on March 16. Photo: Singam Venkataramana

K. Kavitha, TRS’ Nizamabad candidate, at a party meeting in Bodhan on April 2. Photo: K.V. RAMANA

Farmers who filed their nominations for the Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat submitting a memorandum to Deputy Chief Election Officer Amrapali Kata in Hyderabad on April 2. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The Lok Sabha election in Telangana is seen as a platform for Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao’s national ambitions.

Fresh from its resounding victory in the Assembly elections held in December 2018, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is seeking a public mandate to win all the 17 Lok Sabha seats in the State, including Hyderabad constituency for the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

Party supremo and State Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao, or KCR, has his eyes set on the national political stage as he has little to prove beyond fulfilling his boast of making a clean sweep. Having anointed his son, K.T. Rama Rao, as the party’s de facto chief and renominating his daughter, K. Kavitha, for a second term from the Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat, he can only look towards a role in New Delhi.

He exuded confidence after winning a whopping 88 of the State’s 117 Assembly seats. The Congress came a poor second with 19 seats as voters gave its alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) a thumbs down for being opportunistic. Not quite satisfied, KCR went for the kill by admitting 13 newly elected Members of the Legislative Assembly into the TRS, including 10 from the Congress and one each from the TDP and the Forward Bloc, besides an independent.

In the process, the ruling party crossed the 100-mark besides ensuring the Congress’ merger with the TRS in the Legislative Council. The Congress is in danger of not only losing the post of the Leader of Opposition but also conceding the position of being the main opposition party to the seven-member AIMIM.

Some more Congress MLAs are in the process of crossing over as the party watches helplessly. The latest defector, Ponguleti Sudhakar Reddy, a former Member of the Legislative Council who switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accused party leaders of demanding crores of rupees for allocation of the party ticket. He lost out to former Union Minister Renuka Chowdhury in the race for the Khammam Lok Sabha ticket where the TRS has fielded the businessman Nama Nageswara Rao, who defected from the TDP a day before he filed his nomination.

Well before the mahagathbandhan of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party came into being in Lucknow, KCR mooted a non-Congress, non-BJP federal front to fight the tyranny of these two national parties as they were pretending to have a pan-India character while in reality they were confined to certain pockets. He met Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M.K. Stalin to seek support for the third front.

“Why should the Centre retain portfolios other than Defence, External Affairs and Railways? States need greater flexibility to finalise their plans. In fact, the Centre is copying some of my programmes like Rythu Bandhu for payment of Rs.8,000 as input subsidy to farmers in two instalments. I might even launch a national party,” he said.

The federal front idea found little resonance because of the compulsions of different regional parties. Mamata Banerjee and Stalin could not be part of an anti-Congress front nor could Naveen Patnaik join an anti-BJP coalition. The Trinamool chief sent a loud and clear message by turning up at TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu’s rally along with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in Visakhapatnam.

KCR’s strategy is based on his calculation that regional parties will dictate who the next Prime Minister will be as the National Democratic Alliance is expected to win no more than 150 seats and the United Progressive Alliance only 100. Expecting the YSR Congress to win 20 seats in Andhra Pradesh, he is convinced that YSR Congress chief Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy and he will be able to call the shots in New Delhi with their combined tally of 36. “If we win 16 seats here, we will create tremors in Delhi,” he said.

KCR bolsters dynastic rule

What remains unsaid in this strategy is that KCR will shift to the Centre and make his son and heir apparent, K.T. Rama Rao, Chief Minister. His nephew and party heavyweight T. Harish Rao, who has been kept out of the Cabinet, was almost benched for the campaign, too, until an outcry within the party forced his inclusion on the star campaigners’ list.

In spite of KCR’s national ambitions, Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s description of the TRS as the “B” team of Narendra Modi rings true with many voters. The TRS had refused to support the no-confidence motion in Parliament, abstained from voting on the triple talaq Bill and supported the BJP nominees for the presidential and vice presidential elections.

The en masse defection of MLAs to the TRS is seen as part of KCR’s larger design to win all the Lok Sabha seats. Although the TRS swept the Assembly elections with a vote share of 46.86 per cent, its performance was relatively poor in the Assembly segments of Khammam, Mahabubabad and Chevella Lok Sabha constituencies.

The ruling party may find the going tough in these seats as also in Secunderabad and Malkajgiri, where the Andhra people live in good numbers. The State Congress chief and party candidate N. Uttam Kumar Reddy is making a determined bid to wrest the Nalgonda seat.

Unlike during the Assembly election campaign when the speakers used choice epithets to denigrate Chandrababu Naidu, KCR and his son are restrained in their criticism now. They do not want to give Chandrababu Naidu an opportunity to whip up Andhra sentiment and mar Jaganmohan Reddy’s prospects. This has not deterred the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister from accusing KCR of meddling in his State’s affairs.

Early this year, Chandrababu Naidu and KCR were locked in a massive controversy over the alleged theft of voters’ data. The Telangana police raided IT Grids, an information technology firm in Hyderabad, following an employee’s complaint that it had breached the data of 3.7 crore Andhra voters by accessing it from government schemes and a bunch of IT platforms. The Andhra Pradesh government, in turn, alleged that the data were collected by the TDP in a bona fide manner and it was the TRS government that had stolen them in an attempt to pass them on to Jaganmohan Reddy.

Shock defeat

The TRS’ victory in the Assembly elections has been slightly overshadowed by its shock defeat in all three Legislative Council seats from teachers’ and graduates’ constituencies and the embarrassingly poor public turnout at a rally in Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderabad, forcing KCR to skip the meeting.

An emaciated Congress leadership has been unable to cash in on the acts of omission and commission of the TRS. KCR has not visited the Secretariat for nearly five years. He functions from Pragati Bhavan, his palatial residence-cum-office, or from his farmhouse. He ran the new government with just one Minister for two months, reportedly on astrological considerations, and spends time on high-profile yagnas. He describes the Hindutva of the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as bogus and considers his own brand as real.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi mocked KCR’s superstitious beliefs at public meetings in Telangana by saying that “astrologers seem to have advised KCR that Modi’s star was on the ascendant and that he would have lost both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections if they were held simultaneously”.

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