It’s KCR vs the people; and the people of Telangana are flirting with the Congress!

All that we want is a change. That is the refrain you hear as you traverse Telangana ahead of the 30 November election.

ByVasu Gandikota

Published Nov 28, 2023 | 2:27 PMUpdatedNov 28, 2023 | 2:45 PM

KCR addressing a campaign rally. (File photoe/X)

A breeze is blowing — through foggy mornings, warm afternoons, and somewhat chilly evenings. The wind speed may not have achieved tornado levels, but as you dig deeper, you find the voters of Telangana singing duets with Congress candidates in the fine weather, even as sitting MLAs of the ruling BRS watch helplessly as those who stood by them for the last 10 years are suddenly flirting with new partners.

As one traverses through the towns and villages of India’s newest state, the unmissable mood is: “We have given two terms to KCR [Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao] and his men. We want a change.” People are not really bothered if the change will necessarily be good for them. At first, it seemed like a sense of fatigue, but as elections drew close, the mood turned into anger, driving them to seek change.

Pre-poll Survey: Congress has the edge in Telangana Assembly election

Rot behind the facade

The façade looks great. The roads are good. There is no shortage of power or water — the two factors that helped the BRS sweep the 2018 election when it won as many as 88 out of the 119 seats as against 63 in 2014 when the new state had its first election.

There are swanky buildings and car showrooms even in smaller towns. The infrastructure activity, largely based on borrowed monies, helped push up the GSDP and the per capita income, but it’s a rise that was not accompanied by equitable growth, which explains the distress and resultant frustration.

“No doubt, we are receiving the pension. But that’s not enough even to buy vegetables in a month,” complained Ande Aruna of Mulkanur village in Karimnagar district. The price rise is hurting. Add to this the stinking wealth accumulated by BRS legislators and their cronies through contractors, which is an eyesore for those who haven’t seen any significant improvement in their lives.

Post-2018, it is also that the ruling party is facing trouble over non-implementation or faulty execution of schemes. The two-bedroom housing scheme has been a disaster, with not many having got it. A good number of those who got it already have one, while the needy complain they have been left out.

The same is the case with the Dalit Bandhu, under which ₹10 lakh was promised to every Dalit family. In any given village, 5 to 10 percent got it, leaving the rest fuming.

Farmers are reasonably happy over Rythu Bandhu, under which assistance of ₹10,000 per acre is being disbursed, but again, the small and marginal ryots fret and fume as landlords owning dozens of acres receive the dole.

Besides this complaint, the real issue is about the tenants. Since the programme is to encourage cultivation, it should have been given to the actual cultivators, the tenants. But the scheme ended up not as sop to agriculture, but as a sop to the title-holder of the land.

The general feeling is that those already financially comfortable made more money, while others were excluded. Instead, the same money could have been used for the betterment of the genuinely underprivileged. “The government should not have launched schemes that are unimplementable,” pointed out Ramakrishna, who runs a medical shop in Parigi town in Ranga Reddy district.

Pre-poll Survey: Joblessness and price rise are the key issues for voters

Unemployed youth, a ticking bomb

At Vadiyal village abutting the Kodangal constituency from where TPCC president Revanth Reddy is contesting, farmer Krishnanna gives you this analogy: “You don’t sow cotton year after year. If you do that, pests will attack the crop. Same with the government. We have to keep changing them, lest they become complacent and arrogant.”

The perceived arrogance of BRS leaders at various levels, and their inaccessibility, is hurting the ruling party. That Chief Minister KCR has chosen to renominate at least 30-35 legislators despite multiple reports suggesting they no longer find favour with the people, has caused feelings of hurt that “our support has been taken for granted”.

The bigger social bomb that is ticking away is the massive force of educated jobless youth. The situation in Sarampalli village before you hit Sircilla town, the constituency represented by IT Minister KT Rama Rao, is a reflection of the crisis everywhere.

The village has 80 youth who did MBAs in private colleges in Hyderabad but find themselves jobless and returning to engage in transporting sand or doing similar daily wage work. The rest are engaged as delivery boys employed by the new age gig firms like Zomato or Swiggy in Hyderabad.

It’s also true that a good number of them are actually unemployable, but they have a degree dished out by the mushrooming private institutions operating practically without any supervision.

With education from the college level and beyond firmly in the hands of the private sector, costs have spiralled for families keen on getting their children educated. The same is true of the health sector. With most private hospitals not accepting Arogyasri health insurance cards, getting treatment has become a financial drain for most.

“We have a hospital here, but there is a shortage of doctors and paramedics. We are compelled to go to private hospitals in the district headquarters, or in Hyderabad, which is pushing up costs,” said Shiva, a resident of Pregnapur village in KCR’s Gajwel constituency.

Sectors like hospitality, health, and construction offer a good number of opportunities for the skilled, but that is a gap the government hasn’t cared to fill. As local youth become frustrated as they consider themselves educated but without the requisite capabilities, the “skilled jobs” are taken away by non-locals.

People view it differently. “TRS leaders are talking of thousands of jobs in the private sector in Hyderabad. But what’s the use if our own children are jobless,” asks Ellaiah, whose two sons did MBAs. One migrated to Dubai after remaining jobless for nine years, while the other is a gig worker in Hyderabad.

With nearly 30 lakh registered in unemployment exchanges, it poses a serious challenge to the social order in the not so distant future.

Shivani, who did a BEd and is jobless, says youth are voting for the Congress.

Pre-poll Survey: KCR remains top preference as a chief minister

Congress, the beneficiary

It’s not as if people are swayed by the guarantees promised by the Congress. Durgaiah of Sanigaram village in the Husnabad constituency in Karimnagar, a Dalit, remembers the two guntas he got under “Indiramma” scheme to build a house and the one acre each he and his two brothers were given for cultivation. He gets Rythu Bandu too.

“But, let there be a change. The current benefits will continue even if the Congress forms the government. Why worry?” he asked.

It also doesn’t matter to him who in the Congress becomes the Telangana chief minister. “All that we want is a change.”

It’s an election which can be dubbed as KCR vs the people. The Congress just happens to be the beneficiary. One has to wait and see if the flirting will culminate in a marriage on 3 December.