There was a time when he was known as a man everyone should be afraid of because he was leading a pack that wanted to usurp the power of political parties and set up a liberated zone in Telangana.
When reminded about this, M Kodandaram laughed. Today, he has his own political party, the Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS), but the first election in India’s newest state will see him stay out of the limelight. He has decided not to contest, and is instead working hard to coordinate the chaotic grand alliance, the Mahakutumi that has diverse elements — the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in alliance with the TJS.
Kodandaram has to be among the small number of left-wing leaders who still believe in praxis. It was 2004, and he had floated the Telangana Intellectuals Forum to create a separate state that would free Telangana from the rule of feudal despots and give it a new identity. Kodandaram had been to JNU as a student and later got his PhD from Osmania University, where he later became a lecturer. Having grown up and studied in Warangal, opposition to feudalism came to him naturally. For him, the personal was also political.
Warangal is considered the epicentre of the Telangana movement. It was also a major centre of activities to protect civil liberties — that is frequently and wrongly understood as supporting Maoists. He played a big role in uniting various factions in the Telangana Joint Action Committee that became the precursor of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). TRS leader in those days, K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) used to consult Kodandaram frequently on mainstreaming the many diverse streams that finally coalesced into the TRS. In 2014, the TRS won victory. The state was bifurcated and KCR became chief minister.
Kodandaram and his band of men stayed autonomous of the ruling party and government but remained influential. In 2017, however, the intellectual became a practising politician and announced that he would float his own political party to oppose the government. This came to fruition only in February 2018.
What is the rationale behind the political party? Kodandaram concedes that while the TRS government has done a lot for farmers and irrigation, it neglected an important part of the movement for a separate statehood: The fight for the self-respect of Telangana.
The chief minister is furious. “He was just one of the lakhs of Telangana activists I groomed. Now, he has the audacity to give a call to the people to dethrone me. He does not have the ability to win even as a sarpanch, let alone running a party to fight against me,” the CM said recently in Hyderabad.
Kodandaram dismisses all this. “I have no personal agenda, except to fight on issues concerning the people, which the TRS government is ignoring,” he says. He has a nuanced position on charges of nepotism: Merely the fact of being born in a certain family does not mean nepotism is at work, he says. It is the work that second generation family members of politicians do that matters, he says.
Kodandaram is an interesting figure because he is one of the few people who is actually trying to live the things he has learnt and has taught. He is at once, an indefatigable fighter for the cause and a reconciler of contradictions. His party is contesting about a dozen seats in the Telangana assembly. It is not just how many the TJS wins, but what it does with its victory if it does win.