Telangana Rashtra Samithi

Telangana dividend

Print edition : May 02, 2014

K. Chandrasekhar Rao, president of the TRS, in Hyderabad on April 4 when he announced the first list of the party's candidates in Telangana. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

K.T. Rama Rao, MLA and son of Chandrasekhar Rao. Photo: Satish H.

Harish Rao, TRS MLA and nephew of Chandrasekhar Rao. Photo: Mohammed Arif

THE Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) spearheaded a rejuvenated movement for a separate Telangana and coerced the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre to concede the demand. Now, it is all set to upset the apple cart of the Congress itself.

All through the bifurcation process, TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao and his son, K.T. Rama Rao, gave the impression that the moment Parliament passed the Telangana Bill (Andhra Pradesh State Reorganisation Bill) the TRS would be merged with the Congress. The expectation was that after the merger the Congress would sweep the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, ensuring, more importantly, all the 17 Lok Sabha seats for itself in the region.

But the subregional party realised that the popular sentiment was in its favour and was willing to play hard politics. After ruling out the merger, the TRS made known its intention of going it alone in the elections in Telangana on April 30 and announced the first list of 69 candidates (Telangana has 119 Assembly seats), leaving the Congress stumped and nervous.

With the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the BJP clinching a deal on seat adjustment, the TRS and the Congress appear worried about the risk of a fractured mandate working to the benefit of the TDP-BJP combine. It has to be seen if they strike an alliance at the last moment.

Chandrasekhar Rao, in his party manifesto, speaks of the reconstruction of Telangana, the transformation of Hyderabad into a global software and hardware hub like Silicon Valley and Shanghai, 10 thermal power projects to overcome the power shortage, two-bedroom houses for the weaker sections, three acres of cultivable land to each Scheduled Caste family, and a 12 per cent job quota for the Scheduled Castes and minorities.

Chandrasekhar Rao launched his party in 2001 after resigning from the TDP after he was denied a berth in N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Cabinet. Telangana politicians were generally dismissive of him as yet another disgruntled leader who raised the separatist bogey whenever he was politically jobless. But within six months Chandrasekhar Rao proved that he was different by winning several of the mandal parishad and zilla parishad territorial constituencies in the region.

A good orator who always spoke Telugu in the typical Telangana dialect, he struck an emotional chord among the people of the region and soon became a champion of their concerns, which ranged from discrimination in the allocation of water for irrigation to the denial of government jobs. He is often charged with dividing Telugus, but the fact is that in the continuous neglect of the region he saw the opportunity to take up the concerns of the people.

Many people in the region believe that the demand for Telangana would not have reached the crescendo it did if development issues had been addressed in the 1950s and the 1960s. A feeling of alienation, neglect, discrimination and angst was always lying dormant and it required a smart politician to bring them to the fore, which Chandrasekhar Rao did at the right time.

Using the political skills he learnt during his long association with Chandrababu Naidu in the TDP, he entered into an electoral alliance with the Congress in 2004. The combine reaped a rich harvest and enabled the Congress to return to power after a gap of a decade. The TRS won 26 Assembly seats and five Lok Sabha seats and joined the governments both at the Centre and in the State. Within two years, the alliance developed cracks and the TRS walked out of the UPA government as it showed no sign of delivering Telangana.

It was obvious that the TRS faced intense pressure from people of the region and threats from the Maoists too. Accepting a Congress leader’s challenge, Chandrasekhar Rao resigned and got re-elected from his Karimnagar Lok Sabha constituency. This set off a string of byelections in the region. Two years later, in 2008, he made all TRS MLAs and MPs resign, triggering another round of byelections. This time his gambit failed as the party could retain only half of the Assembly and Lok Sabha seats.

Dejected by the way the Congress dodged the issue of a separate Telangana, the TRS went with the TDP’s grouping in the 2009 elections and became part of its “rand alliance”, which included the CPI, the CPI(M) and the Third Front at the national level. The TRS’ performance was dismal: it won only 10 Assembly and two Lok Sabha constituencies, represented by Chandrasekhar Rao and the film actor Vijayashanthi. The latter has now switched over to the Congress.

Notwithstanding the poor performance, Chandrasekhar Rao built pressure on the Congress by going on an indefinite fast in December 2009. This led to Union Minister P. Chidambaram’s famous statement on December 9 about initiating the process for the formation of a Telangana State. After much dilly-dallying, the UPA government took four more years to finally decide to carve out Telangana, a promise it made in the 2004 and 2009 election manifestos.

The TRS and the Congress are now locked in a fratricidal war, not only over taking credit but also over forming an alliance. The TRS’ strategy is to take full credit citing its relentless 13-year-long struggle and go it alone on the plank of rebuilding Telangana. But going by its past performance, it is going to be a challenging task for many reasons. First, there are about 50 Assembly constituencies in Telangana, 17 of them in Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy districts, where people from Seemandhra are in sizable numbers. They are unlikely to prefer the TRS as they put the blame for separation squarely on it.

Second, unlike the Congress and the TDP, the TRS does not have a sound organisation and cadre base. Chandrasekhar Rao is also accused of promoting his family. His son, K.T. Rama Rao, and a nephew, T. Harish Rao, are MLAs and his daughter, Kavitha, heads the cultural wing. For a decade he promised to make a Dalit the first Chief Minister of Telangana if it became a reality, but now he does not speak of it anymore. Instead, his supporters are bargaining with the Congress to make him the Chief Minister, a sticky point that came in the way of the two parties forming an alliance.

As of now, Chandrasekhar Rao appears to be keeping his options open. If he manages to get a majority of the 119 seats and if the NDA government assumes charge in New Delhi, he will have no qualms about supporting it.

K. Venkateshwarlu

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