WILL SOPS SEE HIM THROUGH?

APART FROM THE MAHA KU­TAMI OP­PO­SI­TION AL­LIANCE, KCR IS ALSO BAT­TLING HIS OWN AU­TO­CRATIC IM­AGE

India Today - - BIG STORY | TELANGANA - By Amar­nath K. Menon

AS­TROL­OGY MIGHT UNDO THE first-mover ad­van­tage Te­lan­gana chief min­is­ter K. Chan­drasekhar Rao (KCR) had hoped for when he dis­solved the 119-seat leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly on Septem­ber 6, nine months ahead of a full term. Both polling day—De­cem­ber 7, that falls on amavasya or New Moon Day—and the day of count­ing of votes—De­cem­ber 11, a Tues­day—are con­sid­ered in­aus­pi­cious. But first the Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi (TRS) chief has more down-to-earth prob­lems on his mind. KCR has set him­self an am­bi­tious tar­get of win­ning a 100 seats and cor­ner­ing at least 50 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote. To this end, he is re­ly­ing heav­ily on the var­i­ous sops he has an­nounced with the widest pos­si­ble out­reach. He is try­ing to en­sure that each fam­ily ben­e­fits from at least three of the 40 ma­jor de­vel­op­ment and wel­fare schemes, in which his gov­ern­ment has pumped a stag­ger­ing Rs 2,18,377 crore into since June 2014. The gov­ern­ment claims 15 mil­lion of the state’s 21.4 mil­lion ru­ral pop­u­la­tion has ben­e­fit­ted from th­ese. Were one to to­tal all the var­i­ous schemes, their num­ber would be over 69.2 mil­lion, nearly dou­ble the 35.2 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion of Te­lan­gana. This, the rul­ing party is con­vinced, will help it reap rich div­i­dends at the hus­tings.

“‘Phir ek baar, KCR’ is the tagline of the TRS,” says his son and in­dus­try, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy and mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tion min­is­ter K.T. Rama Rao (KTR), who is cam­paign­ing for the party and his fa­ther. Ac­cord­ing to him, even though Te­lan­gana is a new state, it is grow­ing at 17 per cent per an­num and con­trib­utes more in taxes to the cen­tral gov­ern­ment than any other state de­spite be­ing de­prived of funds for ‘game-changer’ schemes such as the Rs 15,000 crore it needs for Mis­sion Bha­gi­ratha to pro­vide piped drink­ing wa­ter to all

homes in the state and Rs 5,000 crore for Mis­sion Kakatiya to re­ju­ve­nate vil­lage ir­ri­ga­tion tanks. In­ci­den­tally, the NITI Aayog had, af­ter an eval­u­a­tion, rec­om­mended th­ese schemes as wor­thy of repli­cat­ing in other states.

But even though this might help his cause, KCR faces a stiff chal­lenge in the cal­i­brated cam­paign the Congress has mounted to paint the 2018 poll as a dharma yud­ham be­tween the KCR fam­ily and the peo­ple of Te­lan­gana. Ri­vals have re­peat­edly raised four ma­jor is­sues: that the TRS gov­ern­ment is au­to­cratic, with the state be­ing re­duced to a fam­ily fief­dom of KCR, KTR, nephew and state ir­ri­ga­tion min­is­ter T. Har­ish Rao and daugh­ter and Lok Sabha mem­ber K. Kavitha; they and other top lead­ers are in­volved in mas­sive cor­rup­tion; all demo­cratic rights are sup­pressed bru­tally by the rul­ing TRS; and that the party has a tacit un­der­stand­ing with the BJP in Delhi and the All-In­dia Ma­jlis-e-It­te­hadul Mus­limeen (AIMIM) in Hy­der­abad.

An­a­lysts say KCR hopes to win the elec­tions with the sup­port of Mus­lims and then shift loy­al­ties to the BJP for the Lok Sabha polls. The TRS voted for the BJP can­di­dates in the pres­i­den­tial and vice pres­i­den­tial polls, and was the first to sup­port Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on de­mon­eti­sa­tion and GST. “KCR is un­der the im­pres­sion that by giv­ing doles and pro­vid­ing all kinds of ben­e­fits, peo­ple will have no other choice but to sup­port him,” says po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor C. Narasimha Rao. “[But] peo­ple are not im­pressed by doles alone. When they doubt his hon­esty and truth­ful­ness, and when they find no other leader in the party to cor­rect him, peo­ple will desert in des­per­a­tion. It isn’t po­lit­i­cal par­ties that will de­feat him but the peo­ple.”

The Congress, though stunned by KCR’s de­ci­sion to dis­solve the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly in ad­vance, has cob­bled to­gether a maha ku­tami (grand al­liance) with the Tel­ugu De­sam Party, the Te­lan­gana Jana Samithi and the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia, and will an­nounce a com­mon min­i­mum pro­gramme af­ter the Dussehra fes­tiv­i­ties on or

af­ter Oc­to­ber 20. “Anti-in­cum­bency is also ris­ing, be­sides the wide­spread dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the TRS and the de­sire to teach it a fit­ting les­son,” says Te­lan­gana Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent N. Ut­tam Ku­mar Reddy. “Peo­ple are see­ing through KCR’s game and he can’t rely on stok­ing Te­lan­gana emo­tions for­ever.”

In his speeches so far, KCR still in­vokes the TRS’s con­tri­bu­tion for sep­a­rate state­hood and he tar­gets the Congress and TDP—which rules con­tigu­ous Andhra Pradesh—for be­ing “in an un­prin­ci­pled and unholy al­liance”. Never mind that the TRS fought the 2009 polls along­side the TDP. “KCR’s out­bursts against the Congress and the maha ku­tami are part of his tac­tic to di­vert at­ten­tion from his cor­rup­tion, but peo­ple will not fall for it,” says AICC sec­re­tary Madhu Yaskhi. “Was KCR’s self re­spect not of­fended when he de­cided to name his son af­ter TDP founder NTR or when Andhra con­trac­tors were awarded most works dur­ing TRS rule? Is KTR not do­ing busi­ness in as­so­ci­a­tion with Andhra peo­ple in Bengaluru?”

KCR is peeved about the op­po­si­tion par­ties com­ing to­gether and of the coali­tion arith­metic co­a­lesc­ing in their favour. Adding to his woes is the grow­ing dis­si­dence in his party ranks by those de­nied party tick­ets. His de­ci­sion to field most sit­ting mem­bers, in­clud­ing MLAs who de­fected from the Congress and the TDP to the TRS, has left those who con­tested and lost on the TRS ticket in 2014 dis­grun­tled. Res­o­lute TRS rebels are pre­par­ing to con­test in 30 con­stituen­cies as in­de­pen­dents while wait­ing for the fi­nal line-up of con­tes­tants to be­come clear by early Novem­ber.

KCR is hop­ing that splin­ter anti-es­tab­lish­ment groups and smaller par­ties will form a third front against the maha ku­tami, di­vid­ing the anti-TRS vote in the process. Tel­ugu ac­tor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party and the YSR Congress are likely to sup­port the TRS. The BJP, BSP and AAP plan to con­test all the 119 seats. The dis­si­dence against the TRS is spread across the state, par­tic­u­larly in Kham­mam, Waran­gal and Nal­go­nda. A wor­ried TRS leg­is­la­tor E. Ravin­der Reddy was caught on video of­fer­ing women’s self-help groups Rs 5 lakh to vote for him. The video, which soon went vi­ral, showed the women hag­gling for larger sums. In Kham­mam, dis­si­dents re­leased anti-TRS songs. In a ma­jor set­back, the party’s tribal face, Ra­mulu Naik, nom­i­nated as an MLC for a six-year term in 2014, has switched to the Congress on be­ing de­nied a ticket, al­leg­ing that the TRS has be­come “a pri­vate lim­ited com­pany in which there is no in­ter­nal democ­racy and which is home to the be­tray­ers of Te­lan­gana”.

Has KCR made a blun­der by ad­vanc­ing elec­tions? “Cit­ing pend­ing cases filed by ri­val par­ties as the rea­son is un­ten­able as the courts are part of the con­sti­tu­tional scheme of things,” says for­mer Supreme Court judge B. Su­dar­shan Reddy. “The KCR gov­ern­ment suf­fers from a trust deficit.” Then, there are un­ful­filled poll promises, in­clud­ing 12 per cent reser­va­tion for Mus­lims, three acres to each Dalit fam­ily, two-bed­room houses and a job for each poor fam­ily. Also, few women would have for­got­ten the promise of a Bathukamma sari on Dussehra. The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion stalled the dis­tri­bu­tion of 9.1 mil­lion saris the state had spent Rs 280 crore on.

“Not all promises made by a po­lit­i­cal leader can be im­ple­mented in a short time, that too in a fed­eral polity like ours,” says Prof. Ram­abrah­mam Iva­turi of the Uni­ver­sity of Hy­der­abad. “The chal­lenges of mo­bil­is­ing re­sources and mon­i­tor­ing them are many in the con­text when a chief min­is­ter does not even visit the state sec­re­tariat. There is a grow­ing neg­a­tive opin­ion against KCR and it re­mains to be seen how he deals with it.” It looks like the TRS chief may have to pull a few more out­ra­geous tricks out of his hat to shake off the neg­a­tive im­age of him­self and his party and vin­di­cate his de­ci­sion to ad­vance the polls and en­able the TRS to emerge a win­ner.

STYLE PHOTO SER­VICE

SOP SELLER KCR a day af­ter his Sept. 6 an­nounc­ment to dis­solve the state as­sem­bly

STYLE PHOTO SER­VICE

MAHA KU­TAMI CPI, Congress and TDP lead­ers an­nounce the Te­lan­gana Pari­rak­shana Vedika on Sept. 11

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