Will ‘Captain’ Uttam Reddy’s Cong-TDP Fighter Jet Win KCR Empire?
Exclusive: TS Sudhir catches up with Telagana’s Uttam Kumar Reddy, before the assembly polls.
A poster of Uttam Kumar Reddy in his Indian Air Force uniform with a fighter jet in the backdrop welcomes you at the entrance to Gandhi Bhavan, the headquarters of the Telangana unit of the Congress party in Hyderabad.
The headline reads ‘Our Captain’, almost as if to underline that Reddy, the president of the Telangana Congress, brings a no-nonsense and disciplined approach to the cesspool of party politics in the state.
A Close Shave...
Inside his office, the man looks nowhere like the officer on the poster. Reddy, who now sports a thick beard, quit the IAF in 1994 after 13 years of flying MIG-21 and MIG-23 over Tezpur, the Western sector and being involved in skirmishes over Siachen. His thick facial hair owes its existence to a vow that Reddy took about four years ago, that he will not shave until the Congress comes to power in Telangana. Reddy's visit to the barber now is subject to the Telangana voter's nod.
I am sure we will win and you will see a clean-shaven Uttam after the elections. I agree that in the IAF, we are not used to this look. But in three months, my beard will come off.Uttam Kumar Reddy to The Quint
Uttam Kumar Reddy has the toughest job in Telangana politics right now. Far tougher than flying a fighter jet, he insists. With K Chandrasekhar Rao dissolving the assembly eight months ahead of schedule, Reddy has to ensure a united opposition can put it past the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).
He has successfully completed the first sortie with opposition parties including the Telugu Desam (whose DNA for 36 years has been anti-Congress), the CPI and Telangana Jana Samiti on board.
“Vote transfer will take place because over several issues in the last four years, the parties have been fighting together. The cadres are prepared for it. In fact, on our ‘Shakti’ app, we did a poll to ask 1.5 lakh Congress cadre, and the response from them was that we should go in for an alliance,” says Reddy.
Reddy’s Vow to End ‘Family-Rule’ in Telangana
Within Congress circles, leaders are aware of the TRS strategy to make it a KCR vs Nobody match. The TRS chief can be a powerful and entertaining orator, given to delivering political punches in Telangana slang. He revels in rubbishing his opponents, as if to convey that he considers them worthless of being competitors.
Reddy therefore is banking on arithmetic to beat the chemistry that KCR enjoys with the voter. Which is why the Congress-led alliance is harping on allegations of corruption in developmental projects, and how KCR has been unable to get the NDA government to deliver on promises made in the AP Reorganisation Act.
Reddy also senses that there is resentment against the family rule of KCR and his inaccessibility, ammunition which he has been using to hit back at the CM.
“This is going to be the end of KCR rule. Family rule will end,” he insists.
It has not been easy for Uttam Reddy in the hot seat, given that the Telangana Congress comes with the reputation of being a divided house, with mega egos to take care of. In the initial years after he was appointed in 2015, his rivals within the party spared no effort to get him removed. But Reddy has shown the tenacity of a soldier, and his ability to lead has been tested. The disparaging joke about the Congress is that it has as many as 31 chief ministerial candidates, one from each district.
“This is media overplay,” says Reddy. “Who will be CM, will be decided by Rahul Gandhi. Higher number of aspirants shows the strength and the capabilities of the party.”
Congress’ Trojan Horses
Another worry is that all the hard work put in by Reddy and Co could be undone by the Trojan horses who may be KCR's men and women within the Congress. This is a concern expressed by many senior leaders in private conversations.
Reddy does not deny the existence of moles within his party who are on the payroll of the TRS.
“That problem existed. But those Trojan horses have left the party now,” he says with the confidence of a military man who understands how the best plans can come undone with a Brutus in the camp.
Reddy is often at the receiving end of barbs from his rivals, both within the party and outside, alluding to the 2014 election when cash worth Rs 1.5 lakh was found burnt in his car bonnet. The allegation of corruption has since been thrown at Reddy to corner him. More recently, a tweet from his handle where he referred to KCR's son, IT Minister KT Rama Rao's days in the US as a “dishwasher” smacked of a class bias. Reddy's defence is that he wanted to convey that KTR was an upstart who had made a lateral entry into his party, but his team did not word the tweet properly.
From Reel Life to Real Life
In 2016, Reddy played the role of chief minister in a Telugu movie Terror which disappeared without a trace, from the box office. Reddy laughs aloud when reminded of his experience donning greasepaint. “A filmmaker friend was short of funds and I was free. That's how I landed the role,” says Reddy.
The reel disaster notwithstanding, Reddy would hope he would get the chance in real life, where he can put his experience of flying high to good use.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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