From living a life of near anonymity as a Congress foot soldier to becoming the mascot of Telangana pride who brought down the then mighty Congress to its knees and wrested statehood, K Chandrasekhar Rao has navigated the choppy waters of politics with the ease of a masterful oarsman.
With the emphatic victory of the TRS, the party he founded with the sole aim of realising the decades-old dream of a separate Telengana, Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, 64, has reinforced his position as the tallest leader of the youngest state of the Indian union.
The victory in the assembly elections, the first in Telangana after its formation in June 2014, might well act as a springboard for the leader, often accused of perpetuating family rule and promoting nepotism, to realise his ambition of playing a greater role in national politics.
KCR's suave and sophisticated son K T Rama Rao, a minister in his cabinet, is his heir apparent, while his daughter K Kavitha is Lok Sabha MP from Nizamabad. His nephew Harish Rao is also a minister.
KCR, as Rao is popularly known, has been one of the votaries of a broad-based non-BJP and non-Congress federal front, and the win would further fortify his position as a regional satrap.
Rao's decision to dissolve the House in September, several months before its tenure was to end, and go for an early election, is being seen as a masterstroke, as national issues might have overshadowed those of the state if simultaneous elections were held for the Lok Sabha and the state assembly.
A canny politician that he is, Rao was first off the blocks when he announced the names of 105 candidates for the 119-member assembly barely a couple of hours after recommending its dissolution.
TRS nominees hit the ground running and the gamble paid off.
Rao retained a majority of his MLAs, leaving some of the ticket hopefuls dejected, but he managed to silence whimpers of protest and keep his flock together.
The TRS supremo whipped up the issue of 'Telangana pride' by repeatedly targeting his former boss and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, accusing him of having stalled the development of Telangana and calling him an outsider. All the while he continued to harp on the welfare schemes launched by his government.
Welfare measures like social security pension and 'Ryuthu Bandu', a farmers investment support scheme that gave the tillers Rs 8,000 per annum per acre, tackling power shortage, and his accusation against the Centre that it blocked his plans to raise quotas for Scheduled Tribes and Muslims in jobs and education underpinned his campaign rhetoric.
The self-proclaimed farmer from Chintamadaka village in Medak district, whose assets soared 41 per cent in the last little over four years to Rs 226 million, cut his political teeth in the Indian Youth Congress as an ordinary member.
Rao joined the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) founded by film icon N T Rama Rao in 1983. His first outing at the hustings the same year ended in failure when he lost to the Congress candidate in Siddipet.
He wrested the seat in 1985 and there was no looking back for him ever since. Rao won 13 elections to the Lok Sabha and state assembly on the trot. He won Karimnagar, Medak and Mahbubnagar Lok Sabha seats five times, including twice in by-polls.
Rao became a minister in the NTR government and subsequently that of his son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu. He was also the deputy speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly.
However, the dream of a separate Telangana never left him. Rao quit the TDP in 2001, accusing Naidu of discriminating against Telangana. He floated the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, and revived the statehood movement that lay dormant for years after the late 1960s.
He joined hands with the Congress that promised statehood for Telangana and fought the 2004 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with it.
The TRS won five seats and Rao was made a cabinet minister at the Centre but walked out of the alliance after accusing the Congress of not being serious about creating Telangana.
In the 2009 assembly elections, TRS allied with the TDP after the latter agreed to extend "unconditional support" for creation of Telangana.
Rao and his TRS remained a fringe player in undivided Andhra Pradesh as the Congress returned to power in 2009 under the charismatic Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.
Following Reddy's death in a helicopter crash in 2009, Congress plunged into turmoil as his son revolted against the party high command over the leadership issue.
Sensing an opportunity, Rao began a fast unto death for Telangana statehood. As Telangana plunged into turmoil with mass protests and suicides by young men, glory came to Rao who ended his 11-day fast following an announcement by the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on December 9, 2009 that steps will be taken for Telangana's formation.
However, in a set back for the TRS boss, the UPA government buckled under pressure from people of coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema region who protested the "unilateral" announcement. The government felt more consultations were needed before the new state could be formed.
Rao steeled himself for the battle ahead as he went about convincing people of the Telangana region that "injustice" being done to them could end only if it was granted statehood.
He breathed fire and brimstone with slogans like "Telangana waley jaago, Andhra waley bhago (People of Telangana arise, those of Andhra run away)". He threatened a "civil war" and "bloodbath" if Telangana was not created.
As Andhra Pradesh, geographically undivided but cleaved by strong regional sentiments, headed for the 2014 assembly elections, Rao's steadfast and aggressive pursuit of Telangana saw the TRS reap a handsome electoral harvest.
And when the new state was born, TRS had 11 of the 17 Lok Sabha and 63 of the 119 assembly seats. Having realised his Telangana dream, he fortified his position as nearly 20 MLAs from the TDP, Congress and other parties switched over to the TRS.
With Telangana firmly under his belt, the political craftsman, a blend of abrasiveness and accomodation, could well seek greater space for himself in national politics should a non-BJP, non-Congress front materialise amid growing aspirations of regional satraps eyeing a piece of New Delhi's power pie.
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