As the chief architect and the chief minister of Telangana, K Chandrashekar Rao’s (KCR) party is on its way to woo the state’s four-crore electorate with far-reaching welfare schemes to remain politically unchallenged for the third time in a row.
A four-member panel that was set up to look into the welfare programmes has suggested many ‘people-friendly’ schemes to counter the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s costly and competitive poll strategies, sources who spoke to The Quint revealed.
With the state election scheduled to be held in three months, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s supremo has made it clear that he will brook no opposition and take on the Congress that has already announced at least 12 schemes for SC/ST communities alone.
The mystifying exercise of the manifesto launch is expected in the third week of September at a massive party function in Warangal, the BRS’ stronghold.
It is here that the BRS will publicly declare war on the two national parties and their vote-buying poll strategies. “Although our welfare schemes have been designed to reach every stratum of society, our focus groups for the upcoming election are women and farmers. Welfare will be coupled with development,” said S Venugopala Chary, Member of Parliament, BRS.
Farmers, Women are Key Focus Groups
As recently as 14 August, on the eve of the Indian independence, KCR announced a Rs 5,800 crore farm loan waiver for ryots whose outstanding with the banks is less than a lakh rupees. More than nine lakh farmers are known to have benefitted from the eschewal of loan repayment.
The Chief Minister and his party have been earning the glare of publicity in the last three months for continuously announcing benefits for various sections to consolidate his vote bank before the model code of conduct is enforced by the state election commission.
The farm loan waiver was preceded by legislation to draft in over 43,000 employees from the state transport corporation into the government rolls, regularising services of Village Revenue Assistants (VRAs), a Rs one lakh financial assistance to backward classes under the BC Bandhu scheme, and a lakh each to unemployed youth in the state.
In his defence, the chief minister is often heard saying that the populist schemes are directed towards 80 percent of the state’s population which is from socially and economically weaker sections of the society. “And it is for these sections that KCR is going to offer a sharp relief. In the last ten years, the BRS has raised the expectations of the people with new schemes after coming to power in 2014 and later in 2019. So, with every election season, nothing short of a bonanza is expected,” said Susarla Nagesh a senior political commentator who has watched the state since the 1990s.
Playing for these communities, including the women and farmers is going to be the name of the upcoming political game in the run-up to the elections. The committee of four that has been entrusted with the job of designing schemes for the people of Telangana include IT and Industries Minister KT Rama Rao, Finance Minister T Harish Rao, Member of Parliament Boinapally Vinod Kumar, and former speaker of the assembly S Madhusudhna Chary.
Most sitting legislative members who have earned the ticket for the 2023 elections told The Quint that the monetary benefit of the flagship schemes is going to be enhanced significantly and the spread of beneficiaries will widen too. The annual outlay of the nine flagship schemes and the 450 plus populist programmes and subsidies that have been commissioned cost the state exchequer more than Rs 90,000 crore each year.
Kalvakuntla Kavita, MLC, and former Member of Parliament from the Nizamabad constituency spoke exclusively to The Quint,outlining the party’s stand saying, “As we move forward, I assure you that the Bharat Rashtra Samithi remains committed to the welfare and development of Telangana. If we are entrusted with the responsibility for a third term, we will continue our journey of prosperity, progress, and inclusivity. We will leave no stone unturned and ensure that our state continues to lead in all aspects.”
A Wider Net: Quantum of Subsidies Higher
Political success in 2023 for the BRS would mean matching the Congress’ bid in every welfare scheme. And it is here that the regional party is unwilling to concede any space, economically and politically. “If the Congress announces a certain amount for any scheme, we are willing to enhance the quantum of aid for the voters or roll out a competitive scheme. In areas where we do not have a welfare measure, the dole will be given out in kind as a job or by way of granting land,” a senior BRS MP told The Quint on conditions of anonymity.
“Unlike the current Karnataka government that is excluding beneficiaries after winning the election, the BRS will relax eligibility criteria for the financial schemes to ensure more people are benefitted,” the BRS leader said.
Outfoxing the Congress at its own game and announcing a whopper of a welfare scheme is important to win the perception battle that regional parties can match up to the BJP and the Congress.
But the two deal clinchers are expected to be the implementation of the Pay Revision Commission reforms and the Police Recruitment to the Telangana State Police Recruitment Board (TSLPRB) where KCR has promised to recruit thousands of candidates from the districts to the police force. While the actual rollout of these two reforms is expected post-election, the proverbial carrot will be dangled during the release of the manifesto. “The Pay Revision Commission is expected to come at a huge cost to the state finances. However, if this and the police reforms are introduced, there is no looking back for KCR,” Susarla Nagesh said.
The Pay Revision Commission has been engineered in a manner that it comes up for review every five years coinciding with the election year. “The promise of higher pay and greater take home is alone enough for the BRS to sail through this election,” said Nagesh.
The only other metric that is rising along with the popularity of the BRS is the size of the debt.
In fact, both the Telugu-speaking states Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have been bearing the burden of entitlement with the governments delaying pay each month to their employees. “In an election year, it is rare for political capital to concede space to economics. The welfare schemes that have been announced by and for the Southern states make economics seem like a charade,” a former member of the Finance Commission who lives in Hyderabad said.
While the Telangana government is currently borrowing to repay its public debt, RBI data reveals Andhra Pradesh’s debt doubled since 2019 to Rs 4.4 lakh crore in FY 2023, clearly pointing to the fact that welfare spending has punched a hole in the fiscal deficit.
Andhra’s YSRCP and TDP to Match Congress’ Vote-buying Schemes
“It is difficult to say who has inspired whom when it comes to KCR and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh,” says Lakshminarayana Thunga from Visakhapatnam. The irrational welfare schemes indicate more than a lack of fiscal discipline - their point toward reckless use of resources, he said.
Jagan Reddy’s YSRCP is waiting for the opposition Telugu Desam Party to announce its manifesto during Dusshera this year to see how it can counter the TDP’s moves. With the anti-incumbency wave rising against Jagan, he is expected to throw the gauntlet at his opponents to retain power.
Mallu Rajesh, a former YRSCP Advisor who spoke to The Quint said that Jagan is expected to make an announcement to consolidate his vote bank. “It’s a life and death situation for the TDP so the daggers will be drawn. YSRCP has its Navaratna Schemes and its turf to protect. So, there won’t be anything less than a war in the next six months where both parties will try to better each other making promises that they just won’t be able to keep,” Rajesh said.
The Telugu states were divided in 2014. What is uniting them is their staunch dislike for the national parties - the Congress and the BJP. So, who is winning the elections?
The welfare schemes.
(Deepika Amirapu is a multi-media journalist who has reported for print, broadcast, and online news corporations since 2008. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)