A mixed bag

Print edition : June 26, 2015

K. Chandrashekhar Rao taking the oath of office as Chief Minister of the new State of Telangana in Hyderabad on June 2, 2014. Photo: PTI

The TRS government in Telangana has seen ups and downs during its first year in office, but the people seem to be in a mood to give the Chief Minister more time.

"if any one of us strays from the path of achieving a separate Telangana, stone us."

-- K. Chandrasekhar Rao, quoted in Frontline, June 22, 2001.

ON May 17, 2001, when Chandrashekhar Rao threw this challenge at the Simha Garjana (roar of the lion) rally at Karimnagar, it marked the revival of the Telangana agitation after three decades. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) that he formed after leaving the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) following differences with N. Chandrababu Naidu was to be the spearhead of the movement. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decision to carve out Uttaranchal (Uttarakhand), Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as three new States from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh respectively gave Chandrashekhar Rao the impetus to move decisively for the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.

The neglect of the Telangana region by the Andhra Pradesh government, irrespective of the party in power, over the decades was Chandrashekhar Rao’s recurring theme as he took his party out of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I government at the Centre and walked out of the alliance government in Andhra Pradesh after quitting the post of Deputy Speaker. Drought-stricken farmers, out-of-work weavers and tribal and other poor people were the ones he walked with to create a new Telangana.

The turning point arguably came in November 2009 when Chandrashekhar Rao went on an indefinite fast demanding the introduction of the Telangana Bill in the Lok Sabha. He ended his fast on the 11th day amid growing violence and tension when the then Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, announced that the government would start the process of forming a separate State.

The TRS kept up the pressure on the Centre through college students (described as “wheels of the movement” by Chandrashekhar Rao), government employees, teachers and others, despite counterpressure from the Samyukta Andhra movement for keeping Andhra Pradesh united.

The efforts eventually paid off after several twists and turns involving, among other things, the setting up of the Srikrishna Commission and the rejection of its report by Chandrashekhar Rao in December 2010.

With the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passing the Telangana Bill in early 2014, the decks were cleared for the birth of the 29th State of India, which subsequently came into being on June 2, 2014, with Chandrashekhar Rao taking the oath of office as Chief Minister following impressive victories for his party in the elections from the Telangana region to the Lok Sabha (12 of 17 seats) and the Assembly (63 of 119 seats).

The going has been anything but smooth from the beginning. The TDP took him on on his promise that he would make a Dalit the Chief Minister. Said State TDP president L. Ramana: “First, he [KCR] said during the election campaign that he would make a Dalit the Chief Minister. He said he will cut his throat if he did not. Now he has made all his family members Ministers.” Rao’s son, K.T. Rama Rao, is a Cabinet Minister in charge of Information Technology and his nephew T. Harish Rao heads the Irrigation Ministry.

Soon after taking charge, Chandrashekhar Rao appointed a Dalit Madiga leader, T. Rajaiah, as Deputy Chief Minister with the charge of the Health Ministry. The appointment was welcomed, but an epidemic of swine flu, the worst the region has experienced so far, led to the sacking of Rajaiah in January this year. Chandrashekhar Rao initially defended his deputy, saying the swine flu deaths were not Rajaiah’s responsibility alone. But following a rise in the number of deaths, 60 by mid-February, and a slew of bad reports in the media, heads rolled.

In the education sector, his support base of teachers and college students is disappointed with the budgetary allocation for the sector. The government initially announced an allocation of Rs.160 crore for this year, but increased it by another Rs.100 crore following protests by the staff of Osmania University (O.U.).

A long-standing grouse of academics has been the low budgetary allocations, even as low as Rs.49 lakh for an entire year, in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. Salaries in O.U. alone require an allocation of Rs.330 crore, according to Mallesh Sankasala, vice-chairman of the newly created Telangana State Council for Higher Education and former principal for arts and science courses at O.U.

Said Professor Satyanarayana, president of the Osmania University Teachers’ Association: “We expected an increase in the budget to State universities, better administration and better support from the State government, but contradictory to this, all posts of Vice-Chancellors of the 12 universities have been vacant since July last year. The Principal Secretary of Education is the In-Charge V.C. of O.U. After taking charge, he has not visited the university even for an hour.” Having a Vice-Chancellor is a requirement for the coveted certification from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).

The higher education sector is also caught up in allegations of corruption in the appointment of teaching staff, and so on. Chandrashekhar Rao says a “stringent new mechanism for appointment of Vice-Chancellors will be in place soon” and adds that the reason for not appointing them right now is “intentional”.

The strategy for pulling farmers out of their misery rides on Mission Kakatiya, an ambitious irrigation and agricultural revival plan with an outlay of Rs.20,000 crore over five years. Tenders have been floated online and contractors selected to dig over 46,000 tanks in the hope that when the rain does come, they will get filled and help improve the ground water level.

Speaking to Frontline, the new Telangana Congress Committee president, Uttam Kumar Reddy, alleged that Mission Kakatiya had become a programme to enrich lower-level cadres of the TRS. This criticism is echoed by leaders from the Left and the TDP. Communist Party of India State secretary Chada Venkat Reddy said, “Big tanks are being occupied by MLAs and MPs.” His counterpart in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Thammineni Veerabhadran, said, “We welcomed the programme. In fact, we even asked the Chief Minister to call an all-party meeting to chalk out the modalities in order to make it a truly inclusive exercise. But he went ahead with a unilateral decision on its execution. Now we are hearing stories of favouritism in awarding contracts and of not employing locals in the ongoing works.”

The Rythu Swarajya Vedika and the All India Kisan Sabha, which work to mitigate agrarian distress, say cases of suicide by farmers are under-reported as their families fear bureaucratic delays in the award of compensation and because there is a general trepidation to file police complaints. They, however, say it does not take away from the fact that farm suicides are at a record high because of the “severe crisis” in agriculture. While they cite figures well over 600 since the formation of the State, officially the number is about a hundred. Chandrashekhar Rao refutes the charge of distress and says the numbers are exaggerated (see interview). He acknowledges a decline in the sector but blames the governments of undivided Andhra Pradesh for doing “great injustice” to Telangana by not allocating enough funds for agriculture. There may be some truth in this considering that 68 per cent of the catchment area of the Krishna river is in Telangana, but the region got only 32 per cent of the water. Also, 69 per cent of the catchment of the Godavari is in Telangana.

A section that is rather pleased with the Chief Minister’s one year in office is lawyers. The legal fraternity played a vital role in legitimising the separate Statehood demand. The Rs.100 crore “fund for their development” and the Chief Minister’s proactive approach to find a solution to the division of the judiciary between the two States have found widespread appreciation.

Mohan Reddy, who was Advocate General of Andhra Pradesh during Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s term, says it is widely acknowledged that only about a third of the lawyers practising at the High Court in Hyderabad are from the Telangana region. Telangana’s judiciary was paralysed this February and March after the All India Judicial Services Examination announcement to fill about 85 vacancies for the positions of Junior Civil Judges in the lower courts for both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Protests across the State led to the virtual shut down of all district courts for well over a month. A petition by Telangana lawyers in the High Court eventually allowed the conduct of the examinations but the declaration of results was stalled.

In the final analysis, the general perception is that deficiencies are many and expectations from the government are high. The yardstick to judge Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao must be how he will reshape Telangana in the long term into a prosperous State.

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