K. Chandrashekar Rao has been promoting farmer-friendly schemes and addressing rallies to win the hearts of rural voters.
On April 30, Maharashtra woke up to full-page advertisements in all leading Marathi newspapers about the opening ceremony of the newly-built Telangana secretariat named after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. (These ads ran in Tamil Nadu as well.)
These advertisements, which were politically impactful, were yet another attempt by Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao to increase his and his party’s visibility in Maharashtra.
For the past one year, Rao has been trying to grow his presence in Maharashtra politics. He addressed his first rally in Nanded, a district near the Telangana border, on September 5, 2022. This year he visited Nanded again on March 26, 2023, speaking at a rally in Loha, and addressed another rally in Aurangabad on April 24. He made it a point to mention his government’s Rythu Bandhu scheme everywhere and appealed to farmers to seek Rs.10,000 an acre as government assistance.
Rao, popularly known as KCR, has been making efforts to build his Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) in Maharashtra over the past one year. Sources said that he has reached out to various farmers’ organisations and social activists asking them to join the BRS.
Manik Kadam, a farmer’s rights activist, was the first to align with him in August 2022. Kadam said, “I was in my cotton field when I got a call from KCR. He invited me to come to Hyderabad and see the work his government is doing for the farmers.”
Kadam is a popular activist among farmers of the Marathwada region. His campaign, ‘Mi atmahatya nahi karnar’, received a good response in the region.
Later, Dasharath Sawant, the State chief of a powerful farmers’ movement called Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, also joined the BRS.
Since then, 10 former MLAs of parties such as the NCP, the Congress, the BJP, and the Shiv Sena, as well as two former MPs of the BJP and the Congress, have joined the BRS. Kadam was appointed Bharat Rashtra Kisan Samiti chief in February 2023.
The BRS leader has given Kadam the task of getting on board as many as farmers and social activists as possible across the State. He has also appointed five persons as in-charge of each of the five regions of Maharashtra. They are in constant touch with Jeevan Reddy, the BRS MLA from Armur, Telangana, who keeps track of who’s joining the party.
Kadam said, “Maharashtrians are fed up with the current political situation in the State. Nobody knows who will join the government and when. This is hampering the State’s development. That’s why people like us felt that Telangana, which is a new and smaller State than Maharashtra, is presenting the right model of development. We want to clean the system and bring the focus back on people’s issues.”
Focus on rural areas
The BRS’ focus in Maharashtra is essentially on its rural pockets. It has been wooing marginalised farmers and Dalits by presenting schemes such as Rythu Bandhu, crop insurance, and 24-hour power supply. It has also designed a Dalit Bandhu scheme aimed at the Dalit community.
Kadam said, “Maharashtra still does not have a scheme like Rythu Bandhu or 24-hour electricity supply to farmers. The reason is not the [lack of] resources but the political will.”
There are few contentious issues on the Telangana-Maharashtra border areas, mainly involving irrigation projects. For instance, the Telangana government, in an agreement with Maharashtra, is building a barrage on the Painganga river in Chanaka village of Velapur taluk of Yavatmal district of Maharashtra. There is a fear among the villagers that the building of this barrage could submerge the entire village. Also, the adjoining eight villages in Maharashtra are fearful of a scarcity of drinking water. Rao has called a meeting with villagers in Hyderabad on May 3. He has promised to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution, in a bid to project himself as a leader of farmers, Dalits, and the marginalised sections of society.
He is also trying to promote the timely completion of some irrigation projects in Telangana as an achievement, the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project being one of them, since Maharashtra has been struggling with delays in the completion of various irrigation projects for years that has been hurting agriculture, mainly in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions.
Meanwhile, BRS approached the State election commission in January 2023 to grant it the status of State party and assign it the car symbol. The request is still pending before the commission. This is being done in preparation for the upcoming local body elections as well as the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Kadam said, “We are here to contest and make a difference in public life. Post-poll alliances are a different issue. Right now, we are preparing to contest all the upcoming elections.”
A senior NCP leader told Frontline that Rao’s moves were similar to that of another Telangana leader, Asaduddin Owaisi, whose All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) had similarly entered Maharashtra through Muslim-majority areas in Marathwada. His entry proved costly for the Congress and the NCP all over the State for 10 years.
“By focusing on districts where most farmers have committed suicides in the State, KCR could prove to be another Owaisi,” the leader said.