A HARVEST OF HANDOUTS
KCR goes all out on quotas and sops to consolidate his party’s position in the 2019 assembly polls. But mounting state debt could play spoiler
CHIEF MINISTER K. Chandrasekhara Rao is in a hurry. On a sweltering Sunday, April 16, the Telangana legislature sat for the whole day and made history of sorts by increasing the reservations for Muslims in the state from four to 12 per cent, and for Scheduled Tribes from six to 10 per cent.
In another unprecedented decision, just three days earlier, on April 13, he took even his cabinet colleagues by surprise by announcing that farmers in the state will be provided fertiliser at state expense from the next kharif. All 5.5 million farmers in the state, both big and small, will get Rs 4,000 an acre annually for purchase of fertilisers from the next financial year. It is apparently one of the most radical measures ushered in since Independence for the farming sector. Of course, it will cost the state about Rs 6,000 crore a year.
Earlier, on April 11, fulfilling a key pre-poll promise, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government released Rs 4,000 crore as the final instalment of the Rs 16, 374 crore crop loan waiver scheme benefitting over 3.6 million farmers. “The slew of measures, including fertiliser grant, loan waiver, quality power supply and improved water sources will lead to sustainable farming in the state,” says state agriculture minister P. Srinivas Reddy.
That the TRS, at its biennial plenary session in Hyderabad on April 21, will renew its faith in KCR as chief minister and party president is a given. It’s also likely that greater responsibilities will be assigned to his son, K.T. Rama Rao, the state’s municipal administration and information technology minister. KCR is clearly positioning himself as the saviour of Telangana, embellishing the status he enjoys as the founding father of the fledgling state and possibly positioning KTR (as his son is known) for the driver’s seat. That KTR is bracing for a larger role, perhaps as working president, has been evident in recent weeks with him doing the rounds of the districts extensively.
“Why can’t Muslims have reservations?” asks a belligerent KCR. “Are they sinners? Don’t they pay taxes? Are they not citizens of India? I am not going to beg the Centre (for assent). I am going to fight for it, if required. If the Centre does not come forward (to facilitate assent for the Bill), we will raise the issue in Parliament,” he declared during the debate on the bill in the legislative assembly.
Incidentally, with this move, KCR has somewhat stolen the thunder from a similar plan the BJP has with the constitution of the new look OBC commission. It too will grant reservations to economi-
cally backward Muslims. Coincidentally, on the day the Telangana assembly passed the bill, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was speaking at the BJP national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar about Muslims in backward regions benefitting from the commission (which the party has resolved to accord constitutional status).
However, the new reservation law presents its own hurdles for Telangana. With the proposed increase, the overall reservation quota would rise to 62 per cent violating the Supreme Court’s cap of 50 per cent. The state BJP, the only party opposing the move, has protested vociferously both inside the legislative assembly and statewide, calling the move “unconstitutional” and “reservation on the basis of religion”. The Congress and the TDP, while supporting the bill, have dismissed it as a political ploy.
Unfazed, KCR argues that the quota hike fulfills a poll promise. As he anticipates, it is likely to face challenges from the Centre and the courts. There’s also a lot riding on the fate of the case over Tamil Nadu’s reservation policy (standing at 69 per cent), which is now before the Supreme Court. Any which way, it’s a win-win for KCR. If it gets stalled at some stage either by the Centre or the courts or both, he can always blame them and take the kudos from the voters.
Whatever the impact, the TRS supremo is hoping the quota hike and the slew of other sops will ensure the party a second term in power. Telangana’s farmers use about 26 million tonnes of fertiliser a year and bearing that cost will go a long way in mitigating the plight of farmers.
KCR has already announced another major subsidy to farmers in supplying power free of cost to the lift irrigation projects being commissioned in the state. This involves a subsidy, as the chief minister admits, of another Rs 12,000 crore.
In effect, subsidies will account for a fourth of the 2017-18 state budget, most of it as direct benefit transfer schemes. Mandarins of the state finance department are already at their wits’ end on how to manage the state’s finances from next year. By the end of 2017-18, the total debt burden of Rs 1.4 lakh crore will be almost as much as the state budget. The state government is reworking agreements with banks and financial institutions on repayment of debt and interest after two years when its current term ends in 2019.
The pressure to come good on its poll promises is increasingly being felt by the TRS. KCR drives policy personally, holding review meetings of one or more departments every day to take stock of the progress. “The chief minister is just 64 now, younger than many. He is very aggressive; when he wants to do something for Telangana, he will do it. The state needs such an aggressive CM,” says KTR. He rules out any plans for early polls, claiming that “the TRS is confident of coming to power not only in 2019, but after that too”.
Following the reorganisation of the districts (up from 10 to 31) last Dussehra, the TRS is now focusing on officials to deliver. KCR plans to set up District Knowledge and Information Centres manned by an officer who analyses data and can offer innovative solutions, and work with the district collector and officials of concerned departments. “The onus will now be on officials heading district-level departments to achieve the objectives at the field level,” says policy affairs advisor B.V. Papa Rao. “They will be encouraged to study data and focus on areas where it is wanting so that human development index parameters in the district can be improved steadily.”
The TRS is also revving up the party machine by adopting novel ways to mobilise funds. In the run-up to the April 21 party plenary and the Foundation Day rally in Warangal (April 27), leaders have been essaying different roles to raise funds through token sales and labour. So irrigation minister T. Harish Rao raised about Rs 8 lakh selling tea and vegetables in Siddipet district and KTR raised around Rs 7.5 lakh working as a juice maker at a hotel in Hyderabad near the plenary venue. Hindu religious endowments minister A. Indrakiran Reddy made Rs 6.11 lakh working at a hospital, rice mill and shopping mall in Nirmal district.
Predictably, rival parties are not impressed. “KCR is treating the state as his fiefdom and is not sincere about the promises he makes, particularly the increase in the reservations quota,” says the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy. KTR is dismissive of such talk. “Bangaru (golden) Telangana will be a reality only if the Congress is buried alive,” he says.
And it will be KTR himself who will most likely lead the charge to make the last promise a reality. The chief minister, who created smaller districts for the sake of administrative convenience, has decided to do away with the practice of appointing district committees. The party will appoint committees in each assembly constituency led by the respective MLA to look after party affairs. This is consistent with an earlier out-ofthe-box initiative of KCR to build an office-cum-residence for MLAs at state expense, all done to cut the district satraps down to size. Given his master strategist reputation, KCR is already covering all the bases in the run-up to the next elections.
KCR holds up a potato plant at his farm in Medak district