Can BRS, the new national party launched by KCR, offer an alternative?

When it comes to authoritarianism and politicising religion, the Telangana chief minister is no different from the BJP.

ByN Venugopal

Published Oct 08, 2022 | 6:54 PMUpdatedOct 10, 2022 | 8:30 PM

KCR launched the BRS, his new national party, on 5 October 2022

As the inflated fanfare, in Telangana if not in other states of course, dies down, one has to get to the fundamentals to find out whether the new national party BRS, the brainchild of Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) and his 21-year-old hugely successful regional party, would be able to walk the talk.

There are promises galore, but if past history and current mismanagement are any indicators, it is a moot question if at least half or a quarter of them would be delivered.

The Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) promises to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and become an alternative, albeit with the help of other non-BJP and non-Congress regional or national outfits.

There are some pressing issues, even leaving aside the million-dollar question on why would any other regional or national party take this offer by a leader from a south Indian state with 17 parliamentary seats, with the party having a chance of winning only around 12 seats. Can a leader holding not more than 12 seats in his pocket run the show in a House of 542 seats?

New party of KCR and the BJP

More important than everything else is whether KCR represents an alternative to the BJP in any meaningful way. What is common between them is a strong anti-Congress sentiment, but it ends there.

In fact, KCR began his political life with one of the Congress outfits, the infamous Sanjay Vichar Manch, in the mid-1970s. But soon he moved to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the known anti-Congress political stream.

From there, he launched his own TRS and had a brief honeymoon with the Congress during the separate statehood movement and also in the coalition government during 2004–05. After 2014, he not only disassociated himself from the Congress, but also tried everything to weaken it including buying MLAs elected on the grand old party’s ticket.

Supported notes ban, GST

His relationship with the BJP for most part of these eight years had been friendly and subservient at the cost of Telangana as well as federalism.

Till recently, KCR was one of the first non-BJP chief ministers to support each and every economic policy of the BJP including demonetisation, GST, lockdown, financial packages, and monetisation of assets. Though the GST law undermined federalism, KCR was the first chief minister in the country to endorse the State GST Act, convening the Telangana legislature extraordinarily on a Sunday, 9 April 2017.

Related: Will Telangana model convince voters across India?

Open about being authoritarian

KCR religious rite and Hindutva

KCR at the Maha Samprokshana Yagam in Yadadri in March 2022 (Twitter/Kavitha Kalvakuntla)

Coming to Hindutva politics and politicising religion, KCR cannot be termed as an alternative to the BJP at all since he openly practises religious rites in public life and takes pride in doing so. He is on record claiming that he was second to none in being a Hindutva-vadi. He has just kept AIMIM in good humor to claim his secular credentials.

If the BJP rule is opposed for authoritarianism, KCR himself categorically said that his eight-year rule in Telangana was as much, if not more, authoritarian than the saffron party’s.

Silencing dissent, even after PFI ban

He successfully scuttled all opposition, either by co-option or discrediting or silencing criticism using state machinery. The closure of Dharna Chowk (reviving it only after the High Court struck down the order), banning 23 mass organisations including the Civil Liberties Committee (the order was withdrawn just before the High Court was about to strike it down), arresting activists just before the scheduled protests, allowing police onslaught on teachers, Anganwadi workers, Adivasis, RTC workers, and Village Revenue Assistants (VRAs), not addressing people’s concerns, and not being accessible to people at large are just a few of the authoritarian practices in the state in the last eight years.

While KCR was criticising the authoritarian practices of the BJP, the latter promulgated a ban on the PFI and its sister organisations. The policemen of KCR’s government threatened the hall owners and scuttled a round-table meeting organised by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) to criticise the authoritarian act of banning the organisations.

Related: As KCR transforms TRS into BRS, here is what it takes to be recognised as a national party

Not fulfilled promises to Telangana people

Even in fulfilling the aspirations of people who massively participated in the separate statehood movement, the record of the TRS is not satisfactory, to say the least.

K Kavitha celebrates Bathukamma with Telugu people in Bahrain in 2016 (Supplied)

K Kavitha celebrates Bathukamma with Telugu people in Bahrain in 2016 (Supplied)

The basic aspirations, as Prof K Jayashankar described, revolved around water, financial allocations, employment, and self-respect.

In the last eight years, water has been gradually turned into a sentiment. In the name of providing water to one crore acres, thousands of crores were spent and critics say most of it went into the coffers of the contractors.

On the funds front, a supposedly rich state that began with ₹60,000 crore debt incurred ₹3.5 lakh crore in just eight years and now is unable to pay the salaries of government employees on a fixed date every month. The employees are getting their salaries on any date from the 1st to the 15th according to the convenience of the government.

In the last eight years, the government did not recruit more than 40,000 employees while the unemployed aspired that they would get 2.5 lakh positions once the state was bifurcated. All tall promises of employment generation in the last eight years have been empty talk. As the rate of annual retirement is around 5,000, the recruitment did not even match the retired positions.

Except for the Bathukamma festival and promising a building each for almost all castes (fulfilling some of them), nothing has been done to revive the self-respect and identity of Telangana.

With this track record, can the new national party of KCR offer an alternative, really?

(N Venugopal is the Editor of Veekshanam, Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society. These are the personal views of the author)