Behind KTR’s fresh crusade against Vizag steel plant privatisation

Vizag steel plant is an emotional issue in Andhra. Coming amid systematic denial of justice to the state, the privatisation issue resonates with the people. Therefore, the BRS finds it an effective entry point into the political discourse in Andhra.

ByK Nageshwar

Published Apr 04, 2023 | 11:00 AM Updated Apr 04, 2023 | 11:00 AM

In the past, BRS Working President KTR has opposed the Centre's privatisation of the Vizag steel plant. (Supplied)

Telangana minister KT Rama Rao has spoken yet again against the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam steel plant.

KTR’s exposition on Vizag steel was certainly exhaustive and substantive, and he didn’t confine himself to just rhetorical statements. But no statement of a politician is sans political intent and content, that too at a time when the battle for a fresh people’s mandate has already begun.

An issue that unites Telugu people

This is not the first time KTR spoke his mind on the Visakhapatnam steel plant.

KTR and his party have been consistently opposing the privatisation of the Vizag steel plant, of course with a sense of astute timing.

I at least remember two occasions — during the run-up to the GHMC polls and graduate MLC elections in Hyderabad. The support of a significant number of voters hailing from Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema was indispensable to winning the elections on both these occasions.

Telangana goes to polls in less than a year. The electoral landscape is getting ready.

The BJP is moving heaven and earth to fight the BRS. The saffron party is most likely to pose a formidable electoral challenge to the BRS in and around Hyderabad.

The TDP is also trying for a revival. The likelihood of a BJP-TDP bonhomie, at least in Telangana, cannot be totally ruled out. Remember, this alliance fared well in the 2014 Assembly elections.

There are issues that trigger conflicting emotions among the Seemandhra electorate. For instance, the Amaravati question or the proposed three capitals will divide these voters. But Vizag steel is one issue that unites people across regional and political differences.

Issues such as special status or Polavaram have the potential to trigger opposing emotions in Telangana, especially if some other regional outfit or a leader can incite it. But the Vizag steel plant privatisation issue cannot result in any such counter-emotions among voters who hail from the Telangana region too.

Also read: Workers set for showdown as Centre prepares to invite EoIs to sell Vizag Steel

Vizag Steel plant workers protest against privatisation (Supplied)

Vizag Steel workers protest against privatisation (Supplied)

Vizag steel plant privatisation fits into electoral idiom of KTR, BRS

KTR, was, therefore, careful enough to link the privatisation of Vizag steel with prospects of the Bayyaram and Kadapa steel plants. Thus, he was trying to find a convergence of interest between Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions on one side and both Telugu states on the other.

The strident anti-Modi campaign is the electoral plank of the BRS. The anti-Vizag steel plant privatisation perfectly fits into the chosen electoral idiom of KTR and the pink party.

BRS, given its history of regional chauvinistic rhetoric, finds the Andhra Pradesh political terrain hostile and inhospitable.

The competing Andhra political parties are quick to remind the voters in the state about KCR’s comments on Seemandhra food culture and politics during the movement for a separate state.

In the social media age, the BRS cannot so easily obliterate such images and echoes from people’s minds. Therefore, the party is desperately looking for an entry point for a safe landing in Andhra Pradesh politics.

Ignored by Andhra parties

The issue of privatisation of the Vizag steel plant is most appropriate for essentially two reasons.

Firstly, as already explained, it has a universal appeal across the political spectrum and regional boundaries.

Secondly, the three major political parties in the state — the YSR Congress, TDP, and Jana Sena, for their own reasons, have failed to take up the issue — as it would be a direct confrontation with the Modi regime.

YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, facing a series of CBI and ED cases, cannot afford to rub the BJP on the wrong side, especially, when the saffron regime has acquired a dubious distinction in unabashedly misusing central agencies.

Chandrababu Naidu certainly doesn’t wish to open yet another war front with the Centre as he is completely bogged down facing an oppressive opponent in the YSR Congress.

Pawan Kalyan still enjoys a bonhomie with Narendra Modi and wants to rally the BJP in his anti-YSR Congress crusade. In this milieu, KTR and the BRS find a political opportunity in taking up the Vizag steel plant issue.

The Vizag steel plant privatisation issue, unlike in other cases, is not an ideological binary of public sector versus private sector.

It’s an emotional issue. Many even sacrificed their lives to get Vizag steel. Telugu people consider it their right.

Amid denial of justice to the state

The issue becomes more emotional as it is located against the backdrop of systematic denial of justice to the Seemandhra region, which now constitutes the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh.

The undivided state of Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated much to the chagrin of the people of this region. The anger and anguish of people were compounded by the fact that the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh lost a vibrant city such as Hyderabad without being properly compensated.

The special status is denied on flimsy grounds. A host of actions mentioned in the bifurcation act, including that of a Vizag railway zone, remain unimplemented.

The absolute lack of political commitment to defend the rights of the beleaguered state due to spineless politics makes the people of the state feel more let down.

Therefore, the Vizag steel privatisation issue resonates with the interests of the people of Andhra Pradesh. Therefore, the BRS finds it an effective entry point to penetrate into the political discourse in Andhra.

Also read: Posters against privatisation of Vizag Steel Plant in K Balagopal memorial

Arundhati Roy with others at the K Balagopal memorial meeting

(From Left) K Anuradha, Jaha Ara, M Apparao, Sarat Marpu, K Dinesh, Arundhati Roy, Ahmad Valli, Clifton D’ Rozario, Mihir Desai, and Mohammad Rahman. Apparao, Sarat, Dinesh, Ahmad and Rahman are from the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant and part of HRF Vizag (Ajay Tomar/South First)

PM’s two faces in Andhra & Telangana

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently displayed stark duplicity during his visit to the two Telugu states. Standing on Telangana soil, he tried to assuage the feelings of the local people by vehemently denying that his government intends to privatise Singareni Collieries, an accusation the non-BJP parties make.

The state BJP leadership prevailed over the central BJP to express with such clarity over the question of privatisation of Singareni Collieries.

On the contrary, the prime minister, standing on Visakhapatnam soil, was conspicuously silent on the vexed question of privatisation of the Vizag steel plant.

Also read: As Modi visits Vizag, why are steel plant workers seething in anger?

Centre rudely rejects alternatives to Vizag steel plant privatisation

The Union finance minister, who has a connect with the Telugu land, has repeatedly spoken in Parliament about the Modi government’s unwavering decision to hand over the Vizag steel plant to the private sector irrespective of whether this flagship company is making profits or losses.

The Modi government has been rudely rejecting all possible alternatives to privatisation effectively presented by the unions, political parties, and the state government.

The state BJP is helpless and has never shown any intention to even register with the central leadership, the prevailing public sentiment in the state.

Thus, the saffron brigade stands thoroughly exposed on the issue of privatisation of the Vizag steel plant.

Can there be any other better issue than this for the BRS, at a time when the party is on a national political odyssey to fight the Modi-led BJP? Thus, the BRS battle cry, as expressed by party supremo KCR himself, is that the Modi government intends to privatise profit and socialise losses.

Also read: Vizag steel earns a profit after six financial years