AHERO AND HIS PEOPLE

India Today - - PROFILE - By T.S. Sud­hir

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

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