In the past four years since he became the first chief minister of the youngest Indian state, Telangana, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao had never been in the national headlines so much like this week. After giving enough hints, he kept everyone in suspense for the whole week and then announced dissolution of the state assembly eight months ahead of its full term.
For an ardent believer of Vaastu, astrology and numerology he chose September 6 to match with his lucky number ‘6’. Getting a little help from the stars is not unwarranted when there are too many goals to be fulfilled.
Show of strength
In the past few months KCR, as he is commonly known, has been busy penning a bigger role for himself in national politics. At the beginning of the week, he put up one of the biggest shows of political strength. Kongara Kolan on the outskirts of Hyderabad was painted pink for the Telangana Rashtra Samiti rally on September 2 in an apparent show of money power. All roads in Telangana led to Kongara Kolan that day and in the lead-up to the rally and larger-than-life cut-outs of KCR were put up along the entire stretch. The cash-rich party, which had made preparations to receive “25 lakh supporters” in order to make it the biggest rally ever in the country, apparently wanted the rest of the country to sit up and take note that KCR had arrived.
The Bahubali-style spectacle was initially intended to project the Telangana chief minister as a “national leader” and to showcase his potential to lead a non-Congress non-BJP “Federal Front” at the centre.
The 64-year old crusader turned administrator has been nursing ambitions that seem quite large for a party whose single purpose behind its formation was getting statehood for Telangana. He started his political career in the 1970s with the Congress and joined the Telugu Desam Party in 1983. He won several elections as a TDP leader before forming TRS in 2001. However, till the death of the then Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajashekhara Reddy in 2009, KCR’s cries for separate state remained muted. Soon after YSR’s death, KCR gained strength and spearheaded the agitation with his famous “fast-unto-death”, culminating in the formation of Telangana in 2014. Rumour mills have it that KCR was ‘drinking water’ during the fast, which saw several supporters giving up their lives for the cause.
Appreciating his efforts, Telangana chose him as its first chief minister, but he could only garner 63 out of 119 seats. The opposition has been criticising the government for its failures and unfulfilled promises. While the rally was apparently intended to present the report card of the government, it has to be seen in the context of some of the recent developments, which portray his inconsistent nature.
In the past few months KCR has been in talks with regional party leaders like Mamata Banerjee, HD Deve Gowda and MK Stalin. As the Congress party is his arch rival in the state, he does not want to align with the mahagathbandhan. From one who had touched the feet of Sonia Gandhi for granting statehood in 2014, KCR has come a long way to call the Congress Telangana’s biggest enemy and Rahul Gandhi a “buffoon”.
He has also been inconsistent in his relationship with BJP. While he proclaims TRS as a secular party and promoted a non-BJP front earlier, he softened his stand towards the saffron party after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and kindled speculations about a post poll alliance. At the same time, he is vociferous about “self-respect” of Telangana people and asks them not to become slaves of Delhi.
By dissolving the state assembly and advancing the polls, he wants to ensure that they are not held with the Lok Sabha election. If held together, chances are high that the national level issues and the national parties will hijack the state elections and the local issues. Further, if advanced, the opposition will get less time to prepare for the polls. By projecting himself as a national leader similar to what Jayalalithaa did in 2014, chances of a thumping victory in the assembly polls are high. He can also keep up this momentum for the parliamentary elections and become a decisive voice among the regional parties.
Once he shifts his focus on the political landscape in New Delhi, he would like to implement the party’s succession plan. KCR’s son and daughter are active in state politics, but KCR is also in a Bal Thackeray-like situation. His nephew Harish Rao has been with him from his early days in politics. Harish Rao has a strong grass-root level support base and has been known to pull off elections with large margins of victory. He has already showcased his potential to succeed KCR.
KCR’s son, KT Rama Rao entered politics only after his father established himself. With his marketing background in the US, he networks well with the corporate world. KCR seems to be inclined to choose his son over his nephew as his successor.
The Telangana chief minister could be making it to the national news more often than he used to do – at least that is what he would be hoping for. TRS has planned to organise 100 public meetings across the state in 50 days. Alliances, discussions and devising poll strategies will keep KCR and Telangana busy for the next few months. He has evidently taken a punt in advancing state polls. It would be interesting to see whether his constituents endorse his political instincts.