OPINION | KCR Was Not His Usual Fire and Brimstone Self at Hyderabad Rally, Suspense on State Polls Remains
What KCR is attempting is a ‘Telangana Shining’ card, an updated 2018 version of the 'Bangaru Telangana' (Golden Telangana) dream he sold four years ago when he campaigned to turn from an agitator to an administrator.
Hyderabad: By K Chandrashekar Rao's own standards, his speech at the public meeting on the outskirts of Hyderabad on Sunday evening lacked punch.
A pugnacious orator, KCR is known to take sharp potshots at his political opponents in typical Telangana dialect and is extremely interactive in his manner of public speaking. Given that it was billed as the political meeting that will set the tone for the elections in the state, KCR was expected to be fire and brimstone. In sharp contrast, he was rather understated, almost muted in his attack. With a presentation of his government's report card, it came across as a case of much ado about nothing.
Opposition parties claim that is because KCR has read the writing on the wall, that his days as chief minister are numbered. Nonsense, say Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leaders who say they are set to win 100 of the 119 seats in the Telangana Assembly. The truth lies somewhere in between the two claims.
Given the mass transfers and showering of sops on just about every target voter group in the last week followed by a surprise cabinet meeting four hours before the public meeting, many expected KCR to announce the dissolution of the Telangana Assembly to facilitate polls this December. But clearly there is still more work to be done. Both deputy chief minister Kadiam Srihari and chief secretary SK Joshi indicated another cabinet meeting on September 6, suggesting Thursday might be D-day. In any case, six is the lucky number for astrology and numerology-obsessed KCR. And the TRS chief did indicate that with the cabinet authorising him to take a call on dissolution of the Assembly, the decision will be announced soon.
What is more important is that his speech gave enough indications of what the TRS electoral strategy is likely to be. What KCR is attempting is a ‘Telangana Shining’ card, an updated 2018 version of the 'Bangaru Telangana' (Golden Telangana) dream he sold four years ago when he campaigned to turn from an agitator to an administrator. In KCR's book, all the major promises he made in 2014 have been fulfilled and therefore if the people of Telangana want the good times to continue, they need to extend his term in office.
It is an attempt to cover the agrarian distress in Telangana with glitzy band-aid. The Congress says a state where 4000 farmers have committed suicide in the last four years can hardly crow about being a golden state. KCR's Rythu Bandhu scheme, under which he has given Rs 8000 per acre to 58 lakh farmers, keeps out the tenant farmers who are the ones actually tilling the land. A majority of the farmers who have received the cheques, burning a hole of Rs 12000 crore in the state exchequer, are non-cultivator landlords. How those left out vote in the election, could well determine KCR's political future.
The other strategy is to dub the Congress as a 'Dilli' (Delhi) party in contrast to the TRS which is a 'galli' (street) party. The reference is the High command culture of the Congress which necessitates every decision to be approved by Delhi. KCR, invoking Telangana pride, just like his political mentor NT Rama Rao did with Telugu pride four decades ago, wants to ensure he is seen as the sole custodian of the interests of the people of Telangana.
There is another important reason KCR harped on the need not to be slaves to Delhi. In the past couple of months, chatter over his growing proximity to Narendra Modi has gained currency. The Congress has dubbed the TRS as the outpost of the BJP in Telangana, alleging KCR has a deal cut out with Modi from the times of demonetisation when the Telangana CM was the first non-NDA CM to come out in open support of the controversial move. More recently, the TRS abstained during the no-trust vote and voted for the NDA nominee in the election to the post of deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha. KCR's rhetoric against the Congress is to paint the TRS as an independent regional voice, not subservient to Delhi.
The big worry for KCR would be the possibility of the Congress and the Telugu Desam setting aside their individual egos and historical differences to form an alliance.
KT Rama Rao, KCR's son and Telangana IT minister, is quick to dub the Mahagatbandhan as a Maha ghatiya bandhan but the clever turn of phrase does not hide the concern that arithmetic of the opposition alliance could give KCR's chemistry with the voter a run for its money.
Decrying the Congress-TDP alliance is also hypocritical because the TRS itself has poached 12 of the 15 TDP legislators.
The TRS pulled out all stops to make the Sunday event a show stopper. That meant the common man did not have sufficient access to public transport, which was instead used to ferry TRS cadre serving them liquor on the way. Visuals of these 'mobile bar' went viral, suggesting that the good times KCR promised was limited to those in high spirits. Taking away the buses to make them drinking joints, also showed an insensitivity to the people of Telangana.
And finally, the crowd was nowhere near the 25 lakh KT Rama Rao had bragged about. Conservative estimates put the number at around three lakh while the police estimated that the footfalls did not cross six lakh. The question is whether a presentation of his government's report card necessitated this splurge, when the same purpose could have been served with a televised press conference.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)