FIRST MOVER AD­VAN­TAGE

The Te­lan­gana CM wrests first-mover ad­van­tage by ad­vanc­ing the state as­sem­bly polls by eight months

India Today - - INSIDE - BY AMAR­NATH K. MENON

The Te­lan­gana CM ad­vances as­sem­bly polls by eight months, catch­ing ri­vals un­awares

EEver since he founded the Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi (TRS) in 2001, Kal­vakun­tala Chan­drasekhar Rao (KCR), 64, has never com­pleted a full five-year ten­ure from any con­stituency, whether as an MLA or as an MP. Nei­ther have any of the 108 oth­ers elected as TRS MLAs. As an im­pe­ri­ous leader, bank­ing on a mix of astrol­ogy, numerology and vaastu be­sides re­alpoli­tik, KCR has en­gi­neered elec­tions ahead of time, staving off chal­lenges and suc­cess­fully stay­ing ahead of ri­vals.

That char­ac­ter­is­tic bel­liger­ence was again on dis­play on Septem­ber 6. The chief min­is­ter got the state cabi­net to rec­om­mend the dis­so­lu­tion of the first 119-seat Te­lan­gana leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly, eight months ahead of sched­ule, and then had Gov­er­nor E.S.L. Narasimhan call for an early elec­tion. Te­lan­gana, there­fore, will have as­sem­bly polls with Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Mi­zo­ram, which com­plete their full term. With this move, KCR has given him­self the first-mover ad­van­tage, catch­ing ri­vals un­awares and un­der­pre­pared, while he hopes to cash in on the de­vel­op­ment nar­ra­tive of the state.

Tak­ing the of­fen­sive as well as the ini­tia­tive, he de­rided Rahul Gandhi as “the big­gest buf­foon in the coun­try” and de­scribed the Con­gress as Te­lan­gana’s ‘big­gest en­emy, curse and mis­for­tune’, ac­cus­ing it of in­dulging in ‘un­lim­ited id­iocy’. “Te­lan­gana state can ill af­ford the po­lit­i­cal fragility that op­po­si­tion par­ties were seek­ing to in­tro­duce, par­tic­u­larly when the state was mak­ing rapid progress,” KCR said. Un­der the cir­cum­stances, the best course of ac­tion was to go back to the peo­ple and seek a reaf­fir­ma­tion of the man­date to con­tinue the work that put Te­lan­gana on top of all the states in terms of eco­nomic growth and pub­lic wel­fare. Hence the ad­vanc­ing of the as­sem­bly poll.

By run­ning ri­vals down, KCR hopes to keep the fo­cus sharply on the re­gional nar­ra­tive, em­pha­sis­ing the slew of ini­tia­tives he has taken to build a Golden Te­lan­gana. Early elec­tions, he wants to re­mind vot­ers, are a con­tin­u­a­tion of the cam­paign for state­hood that started in the 2014 as­sem­bly polls. In that very vein, a vote for the TRS will help it com­plete the un­fin­ished tasks on the agenda to re­deem the self-re­spect of the peo­ple of the youngest state in the coun­try.

KCR wants to cash in on the per­ceived feel-good fac­tor in Te­lan­gana fol­low­ing plen­ti­ful rains, fill­ing ma­jor reser­voirs. He is bank­ing on the huge in­vest­ments—with loans of Rs 2 lakh crore—the state has made in ir­ri­ga­tion and power, in­clud­ing the unique in­vest­ment sup­port scheme of­fer­ing all farm­ers a grant of Rs 4,000 an acre per sea­son. He also wants to high­light how he has wooed in­vestors, espe­cially in­dus­try and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy sec­tor, by push­ing through ad­min­is­tra­tive re­forms and cre­at­ing ef­fi­cient pol­icy in­stru­ments that have made the state a top ranker in ease of do­ing busi­ness.

The state claims to have granted ap­provals to over 6,800 in­dus­tries, which prom­ises to bring around Rs 1.27 lakh crore of in­vest­ment and jobs for about 530,000 peo­ple. The ini­tia­tives have helped Te­lan­gana notch up an an­nual growth rate of 17.17 per cent in the past four years.

In terms of social sec­tor spend­ing, KCR has en­sured that at least two wel­fare schemes cover the dis­ad­van­taged and needy, ir­re­spec­tive of caste and com­mu­nity. Sig­nif­i­cantly, be­fore launch­ing the schemes, he com­mis­sioned an In­te­grated House­hold Sur­vey in 2015 that pro­vided near ac­cu­rate de­mo­graphic data across the state so that the funds for wel­fare schemes reached their tar­gets. Be­fore ex­tend­ing in­vest­ment sup­port to all farm­land own­ers, KCR had up­dated land registry through­out the state un­der a ‘pu­rifi­ca­tion’ scheme last year.

Where KCR has lagged is in ful­fill­ing prom­ises like grant­ing three acres to in­di­gent Dalit fam­i­lies, pro­vid­ing two BHK homes for the poor un­der the ‘Dig­nity Hous­ing’ scheme, set­ting up 21 su­per-spe­cialty hos­pi­tals in the 21 new dis­tricts, open­ing 100-bed­ded hos­pi­tals in each as­sem­bly seg­ment. He has not achieved even the rel­a­tively sim­ple tasks of in­stalling the tallest ever statue of B.R. Amed­kar, for which a high min­is­te­rial del­e­ga­tion vis­ited China, or the in­ter­na­tional class Mar­tyrs’ Memo­rial for those who sac­ri­ficed their lives dur­ing the Te­lan­gana state­hood ag­i­ta­tion. Other prom­ises like 12 per cent reser­va­tion for Mus­lims, free ed­u­ca­tion from KG to PG (kinder­garten to post­grad­u­a­tion), cre­at­ing 100,000 jobs, re­ju­ve­nat­ing the Musi river and clean­ing the Hus­sain­sagar lake in the heart of Hy­der­abad re­main largely on pa­per.

How­ever, KCR is con­fi­dent about the ap­peal the TRS’s gov­er­nance has among vot­ers. He wants voter at­ten­tion to stay Te­lan­gana-cen­tric rather than be­ing eclipsed by the Naren­dra Modi ver­sus Op­po­si­tion po­lar­i­sa­tion that is emerg­ing in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elec­tion. His cal­cu­la­tion is that a larger na­tional nar­ra­tive could im­pact voter pref­er­ences to the detri­ment of the TRS if both the Lok Sabha

As an im­pe­ri­ous leader bank­ing on astrol­ogy, numerology and vaastu be­sides

re­alpoli­tik, KCR has en­gi­neered elec­tions ahead of time to stump ri­vals

and as­sem­bly polls were held to­gether. The irony is that KCR was among the ear­li­est votaries of the prime min­is­ter’s One Na­tion, One Poll plan.

Fol­low­ing Ganesh Chaturthi on Septem­ber 13, KCR plans to step up the cam­paign­ing, with two ral­lies a day spread over 50 days. By re­leas­ing the names of con­tes­tants for 105 of the 119 con­stituen­cies soon af­ter seek­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of the as­sem­bly, he has tried to out­wit his ri­vals. Changes on that list are im­per­a­tive be­fore the poll sched­ule is an­nounced. In 2014, TRS won 63 of the 119 seats and boosted its tally to 90 by wel­com­ing de­fec­tors, from the TDP and the Con­gress. Try­ing to ac­com­mo­date them, at the cost of those who lost on the TRS ticket in 2014, has led to in­fight­ing in sev­eral con­stituen­cies. Con­tain­ing dis­si­dence, there­fore, is a big chal­lenge for him.

The less re­source­ful, rel­a­tively weak and frac­tious Op­po­si­tion, led by the Con­gress, is plan­ning to get its act to­gether as the ma­haku­tami (grand al­liance) to take on KCR and the TRS. De­spite the marked an­tag­o­nism between the Con­gress and the TDP, which rules Andhra Pradesh, they de­cided to join hands with the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (CPI) and are to bring on board oth­ers, in­clud­ing the fledg­ling Te­lan­gana Jana Samithi, made up of those dis­il­lu­sioned with TRS as well as KCR de­trac­tors. In their first move, they asked Gov­er­nor Narasimhan to re­move the care­taker min­istry and im­pose pres­i­dent’s rule.

Such alignments have cut both ways in erst­while Andhra Pradesh. The ma­haku­tami of the Con­gress, TRS, CPI and CPI (Marx­ist), led by Y.S. Ra­jasekhara Reddy, against the rul­ing TDP tri­umphed in 2004. But in 2009, when the TDP got the oth­ers, in­clud­ing the TRS, on its side, the rul­ing Con­gress still man­aged to win. In most seats of­fered to the TRS that year, the lo­cal TDP lead­er­ship did not sup­port them, which ul­ti­mately re­flected in the votes it got. So, the man­ner in which the ma­haku­tami co­a­lesces will be a ma­jor de­ter­mi­nant of its suc­cess.

“The TRS has noth­ing to worry about even if all the op­po­si­tion par­ties come to­gether and fight the elec­tion,” claims KCR. “Born as a sec­u­lar party, the TRS will re­main sec­u­lar at any cost.” Te­lan­gana Pradesh Con­gress Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent N. Ut­tam Ku­mar Reddy de­scribed it as a bat­tle between the “ar­ro­gant and cor­rupt KCR fam­ily” and “the peo­ple of Te­lan­gana”. The party’s poll slo­gan is ‘KCR hatao, Te­lan­gana bachao’ in the only south­ern state where Hindi is spo­ken widely. Oth­ers say his im­pe­ri­ous­ness and the fam­ily’s dom­i­nance could be TRS’s un­do­ing in the long run.

“I am the mo­gadu (He Man),” KCR thun­dered soon af­ter the process of dis­so­lu­tion of the as­sem­bly be­gan, sug­gest­ing there is none to stop him and the TRS. Upbeat about the prospects, he pointed out that opin­ion polls com­mis­sioned by the TRS have re­vealed that the party will get more than half the votes in 100 con­stituen­cies. “KCR has been a mas­ter at po­lit­i­cal dis­trac­tion all through his term in gov­er­nance. He never al­lowed the Op­po­si­tion to have any space, or voice dis­sent or to be among the peo­ple to raise their is­sues,” says BJP spokesper­son Kr­ishna Sa­gar Rao, ac­cus­ing KCR of bait­ing vot­ers with their own money by rout­ing it through the state trea­sury.

“KCR’s ear­lier vic­to­ries were when he was seek­ing state­hood, un­like this time hav­ing been in of­fice for over four years. What mat­ters most in gov­er­nance, even if all prom­ises can­not be kept, is cred­i­bil­ity. This is want­ing both in KCR and the TRS in the mind of the man on the street,” says po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor C. Narasimha Rao, cau­tion­ing that “when peo­ple rise like a tsunami, it can well be the ruler’s po­lit­i­cal Water­loo”. Coun­ter­ing the cred­i­bil­ity deficit will be crit­i­cal. For KCR, this is the great­est chal­lenge if his lat­est gam­ble is to earn him a rich re­ward.

SHOW OF STRENGTH KCR at the TRS’s Pra­gathi Nivedana Sabha pub­lic meet on Septem­ber 2

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