‘Due to BRS’ misgovernance, Telangana is a bankrupt State’: Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka

Vikramarka, a prominent Dalit leader from the Telangana Congress, is the first MLA from Madhira to have won in four consecutive terms.

Published : May 03, 2024 17:12 IST - 5 MINS READ

Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka.

Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka. | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

After years of working towards reviving the Congress in Telangana and playing a pivotal role in the victory in the 2023 Assembly election, Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka took charge as the State’s Deputy Chief Minister on December 7. He also holds portfolios in finance, planning, and energy. Vikramarka, a prominent Dalit leader from the Telangana Congress, is the first MLA from Madhira to have won in four consecutive terms. In an exclusive interview with Frontline, Vikramarka discusses the controversies about the fulfilment of poll promises, the State’s financial health, speculations about the Congress regime, and the Congress’ strengths in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Edited excerpts:

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha election, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have been criticising the Telangana Congress for not fulfilling the “six guarantees” within 100 days (as promised during the Assembly election).

We have strived to fulfil the guarantees to the maximum possible extent despite time constraints. Although they [BRS and BJP] have been in power for a decade, they haven’t accomplished anything. The BJP promised two crore jobs per year and failed. It promised Rs.15 lakh in each bank account, and returning black money to India; they did not accomplish that either. The BRS promised double bedrooms and failed. Where are the three acres of land for every landless Dalit family, one job per household, and the KG to PG mandal-level schools? Nothing has been implemented. They [BRS and BJP] are trying to preach to the Congress, which is working at a supersonic speed.

Each of the Congress’s six guarantees has a few sub-guarantees; some have been fulfilled, and some have yet to be.

We began work the moment we took oath in the Assembly. Within hours, we implemented two promises: hiking Aarogyasri [healthcare scheme] coverage from Rs.5 lakh to Rs.10 lakh (medical insurance for the BPL population) and free bus travel for women. After that, we fulfilled the promise of gas cylinders at Rs.500, free power for up to 200 units, and Indiramma houses for the homeless (3,500 houses for each constituency). By the time we began working on other guarantees, the election notification came. It is shameless that they [BJP and BRS] are blaming Congress while being aware of all the various factors.

Also Read | Telangana: Tale of two white papers

In December, you tabled a white paper on how BRS policies have impacted Telangana’s fiscal health. How are things looking now? Has the Congress begun course correction to avert further damage?

Due to the BRS’ misgovernance, Telangana is a bankrupt State. We inherited Rs.7 lakh crores of loans and debts. Each month, the interest and principal amount towards repayment of these debts gets automatically deducted from the State revenue at the source level [RBI]. In addition, we also have to pay off the off-budget loans BRS took. The financial mismanagement had several fallouts, such as the delayed disbursal of salaries. Starting in 2019, the BRS stopped paying salaries on time. For the first time after many years, the Congress deposited it on the first day of the month [from April]. We have also given salaries to retired employees on time. There were also many pending bills, such as mid-day meals, interest-free loans, NREGS and IKP worker’s salaries, and so on. We had to clear all of them.

You have been in office for nearly five months. What are your insights on how the spirit of federalism has been impacted under the BJP? Have there been any instances of unfair treatment?

India is a union of States. It’s a federal structure. You have to respect it. The Centre shouldn’t bulldoze any State. It is damaging to the federal spirit if the Centre wants to take all of the taxation [using GST] into its own hands and not share the deserved amounts with some of the States. One might be in a position to control it today, but that will lead to the suffocation of the States. Eventually, these States may revolt against the Centre.

The opposition keeps claiming that the Telangana Congress government will not last more than a year.

Both the BJP and BRS are power-hungry. They have no respect for democracy or democratically elected governments, and they have no respect for people’s verdicts. They want to unseat democratically elected governments and occupy power. Rest assured, the Congress stands strong.

Aside from the six guarantees, what do you believe will work in your favour in the Lok Sabha elections?

We promised Prajala [people’s] Telangana, and we delivered. We have given the Telangana people the freedom to express their thoughts freely. We have opened the doors of our offices to people and restored a democratic spirit. We have also opened doors for the opposition. Within months, the Congress issued a job calendar and appointed a public service commission. Nearly 30,000 posts have been filled. We have also begun focusing on skill development so that people can live respectably. We are concentrating on infrastructural development. Telangana is going to be a modern State with a modern spirit.

Also Read | How Bharat Rashtra Samithi lost its sheen to the Congress

Of the 64 seats that the Congress won in the 2023 Assembly election, 56 were from rural pockets. What helped the party?

There were no employment opportunities. The tenant farmers, agricultural labourers, and everyone else were suffering. There was no accountability. People were robbed of their self-respect. People realised BRS was cheating them. Our goal is to help people live dignified lives and it resonated with the people. Post-elections, we are working towards helping people achieve economic independence. For instance, the Congress revived interest-free loans to self-help groups. The plan is to provide loans worth Rs.1 lakh crore to Telangana women as interest-free loans over the next five years.

There are 24 Assembly constituencies in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation region, of which BRS won 16, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen retained seven, and the BJP retained one seat in the recent Assembly election. The Congress couldn’t win any. What’s your reading of that result?

See, earlier [during the Assembly elections] in Hyderabad, we couldn’t concentrate much. In this election, we are focused. We are getting good responses, and we will be getting good results.

The BJP seems to be your primary contender in Telangana in the upcoming elections.

The BJP and BRS are together anyway. We don’t see them separately. On one side, there is Congress, and on the other, there is the BJP and the BRS.

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