Is the future doomed for Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao?

He wanted to monopolize the Telangana sentiment. In this double and dubious game, he lost and dragged the sentiment into silence.

ByN Venugopal

Published May 04, 2024 | 12:00 PM Updated May 04, 2024 | 12:00 PM

Telangana Assembly elections KCR

In the momentous process of turns and twists in politics, an incident or two, a defeat here and an insult there may not matter much, but in the life of a seasoned politician like Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, two consecutive developments that surfaced on Wednesday and Thursday signal an ominous change in his career.

On Wednesday, in an unusual move, the Election Commission banned him for 48 hours from electioneering. The next day, state police selectively leaked a former police officer’s statement that phone tapping was done at KCR’s behest.

One should add several ignominies, such as a near complete absence of protest on his daughter’s arrest and inability to get candidates to field in the elections, as well as those proposed by the party jumping onto other political bandwagons.

Though it is inappropriate to write off any person, more so a politician, in the middle of his or her career, the obtaining reality tempts one to write off K Chandrashekar Rao, a politician who appeared invincible just a few months ago.

He claims to have created a state single-handedly, revived and brought to centre stage the culture and identity of a particular region, had the mettle to steer the politics at the centre, developed a state from backwardness to prosperity in his ten-year regime, and so on. Still, after all that glory, he now stands on the verge of being forgotten from the political landscape of his own state.

Deciphering why and how such a transformation has taken place is an interesting study, more so in a land that is very particular about its identity and has waged a relentless struggle to assert it. Why is such a land rejecting the politician and his party known as the personification of that identity?

Before answering that question, one must examine how this “personification of Telangana identity” narrative evolved over time.

Related: BRS chief campaign ban

Shaping Telangana identity

The sense of Telangana identity and pride in the history, culture, and language of Telangana is very strong among Telanganites, along with the belief that their identity and culture were suppressed or ignored under united Andhra Pradesh. For a long time, it was a sentiment of the urban educated sections only, but at least since the 1969 Jai Telangana movement, if not decades earlier, there has been a consistent cultivation of this sentiment.

KCR is on record opposing this sentiment until 1999, at least for the first two decades of his political career. Even as the second phase of the struggle for a separate state began in 1995-96, he continued opposing it vehemently as a TDP legislator. He opposed the Telangana cause on the floor of the Assembly as late as 1999.

However, as a shrewd politician with animal instincts, he understood the sentiment’s potential and awaited an opportunity to capitalize on it. Chandrababu Naidu’s refusal to extend KCR a berth in his second cabinet provided that opportunity, and the narrative of KCR’s personification of Telangana identity began. Thanks to the subsequent 14-year struggle, the sentiment percolated to every village, if not every person.

This identity consisted of Telangana-specific cultural icons, including Batukamma, the historical legacy of the Kakatiyas, composite culture under the Qutub Shahi and Asif Jahi rulers, defiance to establishment reflected throughout history with many people and movements, pride in language, opposition to anything “Andhra” (raised to the levels of animosity and hatred by some elements, including KCR).

Of course, saner elements throughout were drawing a dividing line between ordinary Andhra people and those who came to grab Telangana resources and opposed only the latter. The identity also included political economy issues like denying a fair share in water, budgetary allocations and employment, and political power sharing.

Also read: ‘Captive to KCR family’

KCR’s cloak of identity politics

Though a late entrant, KCR powerfully used identity politics and took extreme positions as an eloquent speaker, crowd-puller, and political manager. He successfully sidelined and marginalised anyone who had developed the identity sentiment before and along with him. From 2001 to 2014, at least a dozen important Telangana identity advocates and propagators joined hands with him, only to be used by him and thrown out.

The narrative of the ‘KCR equivalent of Telangana identity’ was fully constructed by 2014, and any questioning of him would be treated as treason. People at large who associated themselves with Telangana identity, with sober positions, became suspicious if they harboured or expressed any idea different from his. Thus, he almost robbed Telangana identity from the people subtly and systematically. If you respect Telangana identity, you cannot question the leader; it has become the new normal. In other words, it was almost a death sentence for Telangana’s identity.

One cannot say whether it was deliberate. However, the sheer interest in survival at the cost of other contenders and a larger political economy made KCR exorcise the Telangana sentiment. At the same time, he wanted to use it whenever needed for his interests.

Aladdin wanted the genie to work only for him. He wanted to monopolise the Telangana sentiment. In this double and dubious game, he lost and dragged the sentiment into silence, inaction, disinterest, and mistrust. The reasons for silence, inaction, disinterest, and mistrust towards the humiliation he, his family, and his party are suffering now lie here.

Also read: KCR stokes Telangana feeling again

Deconstructing Telangana sentiment

Telangana sentiment had at least three angles to it – economic, political and cultural. On the economic front, except for some work on water, nothing that the sentiment aspired to came about. Even the little done in the water sector appeared riddled with corruption and mismanagement. Whether Telangana people who aspired for water got it is a moot question, but the contractors from “Andhra” have become the real beneficiaries, with the booty shared by the ruling party.

In politics, he deliberately decimated the Congress, indirectly paving the way for the BJP, indulged in the worst kind of horse-trading, bought several opinion makers to silence them and used police to suppress dissent. In fact, under his rule, Telangana suffered much more repression and violation of fundamental rights than in the united Andhra Pradesh.

To be fair, his regime seems to have tried to do something in the cultural field, but nothing tangible materialised except holding the Batukamma celebration for a few years. The domination of “Andhras” in the film industry, culture, and media continued. One who criticized and even boycotted “Telugu Mahasabha” (conference) during the agitation conducted the same with much fanfare.

Several singers and writers who contributed to the Telangana movement felt themselves ignored, and the film personalities against Telangana became buddies of the ruling family. A person who opposed anything Andhra in the demagogic speeches during those 14 years, who even said Telangana Telugu was a different language from Andhra Telugu, allowed whatever he criticized till yesterday.

Also read: KCR eyeing role in NDA?

What hurt Telangana people?

For Telangana people, besides undermining the aspirations of the statehood movement, what hurt most was the high-handed behaviour, arrogance, body language, and blatant corruption indulged in by some of the family members. People who, until then, dismissed the arguments that this was a feudal landlord family and respected it as a personification of Telangana identity started moving away.

Given that the BJP, which never had strong roots in this part of the country, is making inroads due to the vacuum created, those who want a regional, non-communal opposition instead of the BJP now feel sorry for the decline of the TRS/BRS and KCR.

Indeed, they are the real votaries of Telangana identity, and they are almost willing to condone KCR to keep Sangh Parivar away. However, can he make amends and come back or bury himself in his delusions?

(N Venugopal is Editor, Veekshanam, Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society. Views are personal.)

(Edited by VVP Sharma)