K Kavitha, a Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leader and the daughter of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, is "elated". The Women's Reservation Bill – that she has been lobbying for in New Delhi over the past few months – has been tabled in the Lok Sabha, ready to be passed.
"...it is a significant victory for every single woman in our nation. I extend my best wishes to all the citizens of our country, both sisters and brothers," Kavitha, a BRS MLC, said after the Union Cabinet approved the bill earlier this week.
In March earlier this year, Kavitha made the headlines for going on a hunger strike in the national capital, demanding the passage of the bill. Cutting across party lines, several politicians backed her demand.
Kavitha's political career, however, was marred with a major electoral defeat in the previous Lok Sabha elections, and not to mention her alleged involvement in the recent Delhi liquor scam case. Notwithstanding this, has Kavitha slowly emerged as the BRS' face in Delhi – at a time when the party is looking to find a national footing?
Kavitha & the Delhi Liquor Scam
On 27 February this year, KCR issued a statement condemning the arrest of Delhi's Deputy CM and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia, stating, "We condemn the arrest of Delhi Dy CM Sri Manish Sisodia by CBI. It is nothing more than diverting attention from Adani-Modi nexus."
Rao's statement in support of the AAP, however, came three weeks after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a second charge sheet in the Delhi excise case, placing the blame on Kavitha.
Until KCR launched the national party in October 2022, the BRS was a regional party known by the name of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). As Kavitha is a prominent leader in the party, a criminal investigation haunting her could derail the BRS' national ambition.
Sources in the BRS told The Quint in February that Kavitha is poised be the national face of the party in Delhi. The BRS' support for Sisodia, to an extent, bore testimony to this.
In fact, Chandrashekar Rao was not the only one to condemn the arrest of Sisodia. BRS leader, Telangana's IT Minister, and Kavitha's brother KT Rama Rao (KTR) took to Twitter to accuse the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government of targeting Opposition parties with Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax Department, and CBI.
The CBI has been linking Kavitha to the Delhi excise case – in which AAP leaders including Manish Sisodia are accused of having rigged the excise policy (2021-22) to favour some liquor businesses – without naming her as an accused. Kavitha is accused of being part of a business collective – South Group – which by allegedly bribing AAP ended up controlling 30 percent of the liquor market in Delhi.
On 8 February, tightening their grip over Kavitha, the CBI arrested her close aide Gorantla Butchibabu. Moreover, another aide of the woman leader, Arun Pillai, too has submitted sworn statements to CBI implicating Kavitha.
Kavitha's Journey From Delhi to Telangana and Back
In 2014, Kavitha became a TRS MP from Nizamabad, Telangana, only to lose the seat to Dharmapuri Arvind of BJP in 2019. While her loss in 2019 Lok Sabha polls coincided with the BJP's rise in Telangana, where the saffron party currently has four MPs, the BRS blames the loss on the Congress.
"A good share of the Congress' votes in Nizamabad went to the BJP in 2019, making it impossible for her to win. Besides, around 185 candidates were fielded against Kavitha with the sole intension of splitting her votes in favour of other parties," a BRS source in the know analysed.
Kavitha was visibly absent from Telangana's political scene for a while after her loss. "She kept a low profile and worked for the party. It was supposed to be that way and she did it," the source said. However, as a Member of the state's Legislative Council or the Upper House, Kavitha slowly came back to political life, mostly concentrating on her small constituency in rural Telangana.
"For two years, Kavitha was basically in Nizamabad and Hyderabad. Her interactions with the media too had reduced," the source observed.
In 2021, however, the tides changed – the BRS (then TRS) slowly emerged from its shell of silence on the Union government's policies and started criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders of the BJP. As speculation about the launch of a national political party became rife towards mid-2022, BRS leaders including KTR and KCR were very vocal about the BJP.
In this phase, Kavitha gained some of her prominence back.
"She was actively addressing the media and criticising the policies of the Union government. It was then that the Delhi excise scam came to prominence and we think it was meant to target her image," a BRS source said.
Kavitha's name figured in the first of CBI's charge sheet and the leader greeted it with poise. She announced her full cooperation with the investigation and even made statements against the BJP for targeting leaders of the Opposition without proof.
In the recent past, Kavitha was seen actively involving in the BRS' national activities. When the first public meeting of BRS was organised in Khammam, Kavitha, and not KTR, was present to support K Chandrahsekar Rao.
"She has been meeting with the leaders of the Opposition and is expected to play an important role in Delhi for the BRS," a BRS source said. The coveted role is expected to be that of the national secretary of the party. BRS has K Chandrashekar Rao as its national president.
As BRS is a fledging party in national politics, Kavitha has much work to do at the organisational level, party sources said.
Delhi Plans and the CBI Probe
A leader dealing with the social media campaigns of the BRS said, "We have decided to take on the BJP and be on the offensive. We want to project that the investigation of CBI is skewed to silence Kavitha, who is a vocal critic of the BJP."
Within three months of her name surfacing in the second charge sheet, Kavitha was in Mumbai, Maharashtra, offering tribute to Chatrapti Shivaji. In Mumbai she said, "Telangana shares nealy 1,000 km border with Maharashtra. When the Telangana government could supply drinking water to every household across the state, why cannot Maharashtra government implement such a programme?"
According to BRS sources, Kavitha is expected to travel the length and breadth of the country to "strengthen BRS."
However, some within the party, do feel that the CBI investigation could derail some of Kavitha's future plans. "We anticipate that she could be named an accused. The investigation is designed to tarnish her image not just in Telangana but also in Delhi, where she wishes to represent the BRS," a BRS source rued.
What has, however, come in Kavitha's favour is that the CBI's case against her is built around the incriminating statements of three persons – two Delhi liquor businessmen and one former aide. No forensic evidence has so far been submitted before the courts to implicate her.
Also, the BRS does feel that the national probe agency going after Kavitha could have some positive effects too.
"We can now wholeheartedly say that the BJP is after Opposition parties to kill their prospects in the upcoming election. This case coming up before Telangana Assembly election of 2023, is no coincidence," a BRS source speculated.
With Kavitha attaining the status of a persecuted political figure, the contest is on between the BJP and BRS in Telangana. The case has also made Kavitha a talking point in the national political arena. "From here, she can only rise," a BRS leader hoped.
The excise case notwithstanding, it is clear that for BRS Kavitha is a national leader, who will get a second go at an MP ticket, and KTR is the Telangana champion, standing in line for the CM's chair.
(This piece was originally published on 28 February 2023. It has been republished with updates from The Quint's archives in light of the Women's Reservation Bill being tabled in the Lok Sabha.)