AHERO AND HIS PEOPLE
K. Chandrasekhar Rao is assured of a permanent place in Telangana’s history. But with polls to be won, more pressing concerns lie ahead.
On February 18, the day the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the entire political contingent representing Telangana in New Delhi celebrated. In their midst, though, was a man who looked visibly tense and irritable. It was Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, better known as KCR. His mind was busy doing the maths in case BJP played truant in the Rajya Sabha. It was only when the bill sailed through in the Upper House two days later that he eased up. After 13 years of waiting at the ‘T’ junction, he had finally reached his destination.
“Ek aur dhakka, Telangana pucca (One more push and Telangana is certain)” was a slogan KCR had coined over five years ago, making his supporters believe statehood was within grasp. But the Telangana Rashtra Samithi ( TRS) chief, who turned 60 this February, had not contended with the political connotation of Newton’s third law of motion. That every Telangana action would be met with an equal and opposite reaction from Seemandhra. KCR’s triumph in the face of stiff resistance put up by the powerful moneybag politicians of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema was almost a David vs Goliath fight. In the end, perseverance won. “KCR is a political acupressure specialist. He knows exactly where to put pressure to get the desired result,” says K. Nageshwar, independent MLC in the state Legislative Council. KCR managed to checkmate those opposed to bifurcation by ensuring that the central leadership of both Congress and BJP were compelled to back the bill in Parliament. Despite Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy’s last-minute pinch-hitting, he ensured Telangana was the winner.
The very mention of KCR evokes admiration and hate in equal measure. Facebook pages with both emotions abound. Personal attacks on KCR have revolved around his love for Bacchus (his family says he quit drinking a few years ago). Actor-turned-politician Roja of the YSR Congress once described the TRS chief as someone who indulges in “raat mein bar, din mein durbar (the bar in the night, politics by day)”.
Not that KCR doesn’t give it back in good measure. A master’s in Telugu and a poet—he named his daughter Kavitha— he is a communicator par excellence in Telangana slang. KCR has often targeted Telugu Desam Party ( TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu for his doublespeak and fuzzy stand on the Telangana issue. “Notla bellam, kadupulo kattulu (Jaggery in the mouth, dagger by the waist)” is how he described Naidu. “Make a guest appearance once a fortnight, abuse people and disappear. That’s KCR’s style of politics,” tweeted bete noire Naidu in December last year, referring to KCR’s penchant for disappearing from the public eye for days on end to retire to his farmhouse in Medak, 75 km from Hyderabad. Cut to the quick, KCR took a media team to his farm to show his potato and capsicum crop to buttress his son-of-the-soil credentials. It isn’t as if KCR and Naidu always had this Tom-and-Jerry relationship. Colleagues in TDP since the mid-1980s, KCR supported Naidu during his August 1995 coup against TDP founder N.T. Rama Rao and served as transport minister from 1996 to 1999 in Naidu’s Cabinet. In a con-
voluted way, many thank Naidu for the creation of Telangana. The story goes that KCR quit TDP to float TRS in 2001 after being denied a berth in Naidu’s Cabinet in 1999.
KCR flirted with the Congress in 2004—and became labour minister in UPA 1—and then was convinced by the Left parties to patch up with Naidu ahead of the 2009 elections. However, the expected transfer of TDP votes to TRS candidates never happened, resulting in just 10 Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats for the party. But things looked up for KCR after Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death in September 2009 plunged the state into political turmoil. He sat on an indefinite fast in November that year, his deteriorating health only fuelling the Telangana sentiment. On December 9 midnight, the Centre caved in, announcing the beginning of the process of formation of India’s 29th state.
But Telangana’s freedom at midnight and KCR’s tryst with destiny was short-lived. The entire political class from Seemandhra revolted, forcing the Centre to take a U-turn within a fortnight and announce the Srikrishna Committee to buy time and peace for a year. But having once forced the Congress government to accede, KCR did not take his foot off the pedal, mounting a series of agitations that crippled life in Telangana. As the 2014 elections drew close and Congress realised that its Andhra Pradesh citadel was in a shambles, KCR pushed Sonia Gandhi to bite the bullet on Telangana.
It is to this first-generation politician’s credit that he succeeded when the odds were stacked against him. Several politicians before KCR had taken up the Telangana cause and failed. KCR also managed to keep the Telangana agitation fairly non-violent, despite passions running high. The movement, however, saw a fair share of verbal violence, with KCR himself being the culprit many a time. His “Andhra waale bhaago (Go away, people of coastal Andhra)” diatribe injected hatred and bitterness into the bifurcation debate. His calling off of some agitations sparked rumours of deals being struck in Delhi through the backdoor, but he insisted sustained negotiations too have a role to play.
Though opinion polls put TRS ahead in Telangana, KCR is too shrewd a politician to know that the euphoria won’t last long and a lot could change between now and the polling day. He now has to shift gears from an agitation mode to selling dreams for the new state. “It is not about him being a clever politician, it is about perspective. When others are looking at just the battlefield positions in front of them, he has this ability to zoom out and look at it from a Google Earth-like perspective,” says daughter Kavitha. He has made a start by donning a statesman-like persona, calling Seemandhra-origin people living in Telangana “brothers and sisters who can live happily in the new state”.
He will also have to manage problems that come with power. A divide within TRS is on the way as some leaders favour a merger with the Congress while others want only an alliance and to keep a line open with BJP. TRS is also associated closely with the forward Velama caste, which KCR is from, and he will have to work hard to ensure that the transfer of power is not merely from the hands of the powerful in Andhra Pradesh to the powerful in Telangana.
But with statehood, KCR has ensured that the title of “the father of Telangana” is his forever. His family, however, says KCR has miles to go before he sleeps. Which means he won’t find time to watch either a re-run of his favourite Amitabh Bachchan film Abhimaan, or any of the James Bond classics he enjoys. Humming Kishore Kumar melodies is the only luxury this talented singer can afford, for now.
Follow the writer on Twitter @Iamtssudhir