TRS Chief KCR Ready for National Role: Will Use 'Telangana Model' to Fight BJP
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has positioned himself against the BJP and its central government.
In November 2009, a robust crowd of young Osmania University students marched from the varsity’s historic College of Arts to NCC gate, shouting ‘Telanganaku Addevaru?’ (Who is against Telangana), as the state police hauled teargas at them. The state was witnessing a resurgent agitation for Telangana statehood, and K Chandrashekar Rao, the calculative leader of pro-statehood Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), had already started an indefinite hunger strike.
The 11-day-long strike paid off with Indian National Congress and its United Progressive Alliance government agreeing to grant statehood to Telangana. However, the formation of the state happened in 2014 after prolonged protests, during which Rao and his TRS remained close to grassroot movements and quietly gained political traction.
It paid off. The TRS has won two consecutive terms in Telangana since the state's inaugural 2014 Legislative Assembly elections.
Now, for the two-time chief minister of Telangana, the statehood agitation is a stale sentiment of sorts to regurgitate during his fierce speeches. But, as he seems to be at the threshold of entry into national politics, what may come in handy for KCR is the way in which he handled the struggle. He had remained close to people’s movements, and democratic concerns which are often ideologically moored.
What KCR Said About His National Political Ambitions
At the TRS plenary which was held in Hyderabad on 27 April the mood was jubilant, with most leaders speaking about KCR being the alternative that Indian politics needs. Almost every speaker at the event lashed out at the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government.
KCR's son, IT Minister and TRS Working President, K Taraka Rama Rao was the most scathing in his criticism: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s coinage, ‘Sab ka vikas’ has morphed into ‘Sab mein vidvesh’ and the motto, ‘Make in India’ has turned into ‘Becho India,’ he said.
At the plenary, the TRS adopted a 13-point resolution, a key point of which was to play a bigger and more central role in national politics.
KCR, however, remained measured as he succinctly positioned the Telangana model of development – with its lift irrigation projects, social inclusion policies, and round the clock electricity – as an alternative to the Gujarat model, which had, arguably, propelled Modi from Gujarat chief minister post to the prime minister’s chair.
Hinting that he would take the plunge into national politics, KCR said that a suggestion has come to float Bharatiya Rashtra Samithi. “If such a new agenda springs from Hyderabad and spreads to the rest of the country, it will be a matter of pride for us,” he said.
Repeat of ‘For and Against’ Political Formula
During the peak of Telangana agitation, the TRS supremo was most known for his acerbic speeches against Andhra region’s ‘oppression’ of Telangana people. He famously said, ‘Telangana Wale Jago, Andhra Wale Bhago’ (Arise, Those of Telangana…Run, Those of Andhra), a slogan that caught on.
On 28 April, when the frail leader stood facing a pink sea of party leaders and supporters, he asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi in dakhni influenced Telugu, “Idi emi galeez rajaneethi?” (What dirty politics is this?).
The plenary’s sentiment raged against the prime minister and politics in BJP-ruled states.
A section which worships Gandhi’s killers are thriving, he said. Referring to the BJP rule in Karnataka, he warned against the politics of ‘hijab and halal.’ Referring to guns and swords being brandished in religious processions in New Delhi he said, “Who would want to go to a place like that?”
KCR was spot on. The crowd whistled and shouted ‘Jai Telangana,’ even as the CM had just minutes ago said, “The point is not to bring down Modi and replace him to Yellaiah or Mallaiah (a Telugu version of Tom, Dick and Harry) as the next prime minister.” What is required is a “people’s agenda,” he had earlier said in the same speech.
This was a covert political tactic, where a political front is positioned against a looming enemy even while identifying the need for a collective struggle towards a common goal, straight from the book of Telangana struggle.
The subtext clearly read: Then, Andhra was the antagonist. Now, the BJP and its policies are.
In a recent election campaign, the TRS had asked its people Dilli Party Kavala, Galli Party Kavala? (Do you want a party from New Delhi or the party from the local alley?). The campaign line became a rage.
KCR's experience of leading the Telangana agitation could help him during his political foray. He brings the Telangana resilience and diction of confrontation to the national political front.
His politics is not ideologically moored like other regional players, but is powerful.
He could make anti-BJP politics palatable.
However, he will have to remain close to grassroots organisations and leaders, just the way he did during the T-agitation, to make a mark.
‘Anti-BJP’: What KCR Brings to the Group of Regional Political Players
How can KCR contribute to the group of regional players and their possible coalition before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?
To an extent, the TRS is troubled by BJP's growing clout in Telangana. BJP ate into the party’s seat share by winning four out of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The TRS managed only nine, but retained the support of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and its one seat, won by Asaduddin Owaisi from Hyderabad. The BJP has also gained ground in urban local body polls winning over 40 blocks.
Also, unlike parties like Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu and Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala, the TRS does lack ideological clarity when it comes to tackling the BJP.
The party, which has been promoting seers like Chinna Jeeyar, who maintain cordial ties with PM Modi, may not use the language of secular politics that separates religion from the state. At the TRS plenary KCR said, “TRS has been providing Telangana with Sree Rama Chandra Raksha (protection of Lord Ram).”
But, KCR does add the Telangana resilience and its diction of confrontation, to the group of regional political parties who have been opposing the BJP. He is the political leader who, by his simple yet powerful assertions, could make anti-BJP politics palatable for the silent majority in the country.
KCR once said while playing on the words Hinduism (religion) and Hindutva (majoritarian ideology). “Why is the BJP saying Hindutva khatre mein hai? Why are they saying this, even when the prime minister, president, chief justice of India, and most chief ministers are Hindus?”
At the plenary, however, the CM seemed to have discarded the ‘federal front’ talk to tap into the street-side appeal of his politics. In the plenary he took a step back from the ‘federal front,’ which he had proposed before 2019 general elections, saying the country does not need political reorganisation or regrouping. It needs a “visionary agenda” for the people. India requires a new agricultural, economic and industrial policy, he said.
He implied that the BJP is an enemy even while referring to the larger concern of India's development. Cleverly played?
KCR, however, should attempt to re-establish ties with like-minded parties in India, to add weight to his political posturing against the BJP. He should rekindle the relationships he once had with grassroots organisations during the Telangana agitation, and also attempt to do the same beyond the state's borders.
Return to Pragmatic Agitational Politics vs Ruling As CM
It was a common belief, during the Telangana agitation, that KCR would form alliances with anyone – from the BJP to the Congress and even Maoists – if it suited his demand for Telangana and the power he wanted to wield in the state. Cutting across party lines, he could gather support of intellectuals, cultural icons, and government employees, all united by a common sentiment – realisation of Telangana state.
Back then, he was always the pragmatic politician waiting for his turn, even as he capitalised on ground-level idealism of his cadres.
About TRS’ political journey, KCR’s son and TRS working president K T Rama Rao, in a TV channel interview, said, “TRS transformed from a party for agitation to a legislative party. We have been doing what any parliamentary party would have done in politics.” But now that the party seems to be planning to relaunch nationally, the party should regain its political pragmatism that always benefited from a pinch of ground-level idealism.
In Telangana, the TRS has not been siding with most people’s movements. When the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) employees went on a strike in 2020, the party crushed it by dismantling the existing unions. Ironically, the party which had held many a sit-in at Hyderabad’s Dharna Chowk, also wanted to close down this public space designated for democratic protests. In 2021, the ruling party cracked down on several NGOs, calling them fronts for Maoist outfits.
It could be time for KCR to win back the trust of Telangana’s intelligentsia to raise the goodwill. Time is ripe to protest on streets, to the accompaniment of Telangana balladeers, once again. To an extent KCR does know this.
How KCR Is Setting the Stage for TRS in New Delhi
For the past few months, Rao has been on a war path over the Centre’s paddy procurement policy. The state has been buying paddy from all farmers, paying rates compatible with the minimum support price. The Centre does not want to procure the collected paddy from the state, KCR has been claiming.
In the second week of April, when he led a protest over paddy procurement in New Delhi, on the dais with him was Rakesh Tikait, the Bharatiya Kisan Union leader who had successfully ledthe farmers’ agitation against the Centre’s farm laws.
In the run-up to his national political foray, KCR could turn Telangana into a meeting place for dissenters like Tikait. His son, KTR, seems to have already got the wheel turning, by inviting stand-up comedians Kunal Kamra and Munawar Faruqui to Hyderabad to defy the BJP government and its police in Bengaluru.
Could such invitations be extended to those who represent “people’s agenda?” Of late, meetings between non-BJP chief ministers of regional parties, including TRS, in the south have become more frequent. Moreover, KCR has softened his stand on the Congress and is no longer asking for an alternative to both the Congress and the BJP.
Could KCR enter into a national political alliance with the Congress, even as he keeps a distance from the party in his home state? Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, did pull off this strategy. Besides, unlike the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi, the Congress and the BJP are not yet a huge threat for the TRS in Telangana.
Could KCR be a name to reckon with in national politics? He may, if he plays his cards well.
In his TRS plenary speech, he has already set the stage for his ambitions as he lashed out at the Centre’s ineptitude to rein in inflation and fuel prices. He asserted the role of the states in the Indian union, adding that governors are being used by the Centre to prevent elected state governments from functioning.
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