Even the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS’s) worst critics concede that in the three-odd years the government has been in power, it has not just promised but delivered on many of its promises.
And yet, at least two top leaders of the TRS (including Visheshwar Reddy, Telangana’s richest MP and son in law of hospital mogul Prathap Reddy) have left the party.
Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Yadava Reddy has been suspended for anti-party activities. Home Minister Nayani Narasimha Reddy made no secret of the havoc he could wreak at a press conference if his son in law Sreenivas was not given a TRS nomination. And, eight rebel TRS candidates are in the fray, despite efforts to make them stand down. November 22 was the last day for withdrawal of nominations.
So, despite widespread approval of the TRS’s government’s governance record, why is it being seen losing ground?
First, the TRS has renominated all but two MLAs: which means anti-incumbency is running high — not against the Chief Minister but against the MLAs. This is probably why at a public meeting, K Chandrashekar Rao, or KCR, shrugging metaphorically, said in Telugu slang: ‘I will lose nothing if TRS loses. If it wins, I will come back and work for you. If it loses, I will go home, draw a sheet over my head and go to sleep’. Most analysts see this as the first indication of a loss of the old bravura and spirit of aggression that brought him to power in 2014.
At the height of his power, KCR had 62 MLAs. Districts like Nizamabad, Adilabad and Karimnagar were a clean sweep for TRS. Nizamabad (the Lok Sabha constituency of his daughter, Kavitha) and the neighbouring Zaheerabad account for nine assembly constituencies. TRS had them all in the outgoing assembly.
But in Nizamabad now (where Madhu Gaud Yaskhi of the Congress lost the last Lok Sabha election) questions are being raised about past promises: two units of the Deccan Sugar Factory have been shut for years and the TRS promised to reopen them in 100 days of coming to power. Also promises were made to set up a maternity hospital, a girls’ college, a processing unit for turmeric and a staple crop in the region, among others.
Maybe for this reason, KCR is now having to resort to the lowest common denominator in elections: reservations. Instead of highlighting the achievements of his government and MLAs, he opted at his last election meeting to focus on 12 per cent reservations for Muslims in jobs and education. “I have written 30 letters and handed them over to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But he has the ‘Hindu-Muslim’ disease,” KCR said. “He (Modi) doesn't have the heart to treat everyone equally. The PM lacks compassion. We will form the federal government and force the central government to bend before us and give us our rights,” the CM thundered from the stage.
Sharif and Rafeeq, both 28, sipped Irani tea and nodded as they heard KCR’s speech on TV in Hyderabad’s Broadway Bakery, promising to tussle with Modi on reservations. “There have been no riots in Telangana. Most of his schemes have actually taken off and their results are there for all to see on the ground. We (the minorities) are happy with him. But there are fears,” they said.
It was the ‘Andhra go’ campaign that raised ‘the other’ discourse during the Telangana movement. Now, there is a move to subtly revive that – especially as the patron saint of Andhras in Telangana, Chandrababu Naidu has come together with the Congress to cause KCR and TRS a lot of political pain. TRS workers are telling each other that if Naidu’s TDP and Congress form a government in Telangana, the spectre of Andhra domination will come back and haunt them forever. “We don’t want Babu (Chandrababu) back here. We didn’t launch a movement that cost thousands of lives, just to have Andhras return and dance on our heads again,” said Mohan Rao.
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But many others see the revival of anti-Andhra rhetoric as a way to stem the slow slip sliding away of TRS. “After all, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) was swept by the TRS just a few months ago! That showed that the Andhras had put their animus against the TRS behind them and were ready to do business with them. And now, the TDP is back to revive those feelings,” said Mohan Rao.
Most voters are generous about KCR and his work. But they are a little hesitant about putting a number to his chances of staging a return to power. At the other end of the spectrum was Shamim, an auto driver. When asked who would come to power in the election, his answer was an unequivocal one: ‘Congress’. He had voted for TRS since Telangana was formed but would no longer do so, he told Business Standard. “Abhi opposite ho gaya” he said.