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The Countdown Begins for 2019

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has primed his weapons at the Prime Minister ahead of the 2019 state and general elections

 

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) continued his volley of attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday saying that there had been all round response to his criticism of the Congress’ and BJP’s failure to lead the nation. “People voted for BJP out of anger against the Congress, but BJP has failed the people,” he said at a media interaction in Hyderabad.

He subsequently told party leaders that he had received phone calls from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Jharkhand’s former Chief Minister Shibu Soren, as well as several MPs from Maharashtra, and that it was time to take the lead for a non-Congress, non-BJP Third Front in the country. Ally MIM’s (Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) Asaduddin Owaisi backed KCR’s claim of leading a Third Front.

“Our federal system is outdated and obsolete. National parties have become irrelevant as only the regional parties represent the people’s needs. The Centre should hand over health, education, urban development and agriculture to states and stop its ‘chillar’ (cheap) politics,” he said.

This is not the first time that KCR has lashed out at the BJP-led NDA and the Prime Minister in particular.

Whether a slip of the tongue or deliberate, the comments on Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Telangana Chief Minister and TRS (ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti) supremo Kalvakunta Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) on February 26, has triggered an avalanche of protests from the Telangana BJP.

At a public meeting launching the newly-conceived Farmers’ Coordination Committees at Karimnagar, KCR charged that both national parties, the Congress and the BJP, which had held power at the Centre for the past 70 years, were anti-farmer. “The last Union Budget of Rs 24 lakh crore has not allocated even Rs 2 lakhs for farmers’ welfare,” he said.

“Whether it is this ‘Modi gaadu’ (this fellow Modi) or any other national leader, none of them have any concern for the farmers who are driven to suicides year after year in spite of having rich soil, abundant rivers and the will to survive,” he continued.

KCR also said that he had told Modi twenty times that MNREGA (the 100 days work guarantee scheme) should be linked with agriculture for better utilisation of the scheme. “I said the same to the PM, the FM (Finance Minister) and also recently, to a fellow from Delhi – what is his name…?” To which the others on the dais gave him the answer. “Oh, that advisor to Modi, Sri Arvind Subramanian. All nodded and appreciated what I said as a good suggestion. But finally, the farmer is left to himself and his field – either to grow grains or hang himself – on his own,” he lamented.

It has been a consistent demand by both Telugu states, who alleged starvation of funds – for a linkage of MNREGA with agriculture, so that they could use this central scheme for the betterment of farmers.

Both states have waived farmers’ loan arrears in thousands of crores and have also given 24×7 free power supply to farms. From this cropping year, the TRS government is also giving a total input farm subsidy of Rs 4,000 per acre for two crops to 35 lakh farmers in the state. “With this, we aim to contain farmers’ borrowing from private money lenders and suicides,” said Agriculture Minister P Srinivas Reddy at the meeting.

KCR’s acidic tongue hit a raw nerve. Defense Minister Nirmala Seetharaman demanded an explanation from KCR, but his son and state Industries Minister KT Rama Rao responded in a lighter vein that “it was a slip-of-tongue remark by my father and he did not mean it”.

BJP Telangana chief Dr K Lakshman said it was unbecoming of KCR to address a Prime Minister as – vaadu (that fellow), veedu (this fellow) and gaadu (useless person). BJP took out protest meetings in Hyderabad and demanded an apology from KCR. In Warangal, BJP leaders burnt an effigy of KCR.

The Chief Minister though, prefers to stay silent in the aftermath of his political jibes, letting his son KTR and his daughter K Kavita (MP) to handle the flak. KTR told the Defence Minister that it was just a “slip of the tongue” while Kavita quipped that he might have said it in the “flow of his speech”.

KCR’s Timed Attack On BJP

Telangana got just Rs 450 crore against a demand for Rs 4,200 crore in the 2018 Budget. But instead of lashing out against the Centre for not granting more funds, KCR took the battle to the Centre on a different platform.

During the UP elections of 2017, KCR was annoyed as an appointment fixed with the PM was cancelled at the last minute after he landed in Delhi with a delegation of opposition parties. Later, the BJP explained that the meeting was deferred as KCR had brought a delegation on the issue of Scheduled Castes categorisations, a crucial point in the ongoing election campaigns of UP and Rajasthan.

The reason for KCR’s renewed attack on the Centre and the BJP was that the two Bills for 12% Muslim quota and 10% Scheduled Tribe quota passed by the Telangana Assembly were returned by the Union Home Ministry without forwarding it to the President for his endorsement. The reason quoted by the Home Ministry was the Supreme Court’s decision on the issue. Earlier, the state BJP had decried the allotment of quota on religious basis and urged the President of India not to sign it.

The TRS leadership was also angry when BJP chief Amit Shah, during his Telangana tour in January, accused the KCR government of corruption, of taking credit for Central government schemes and perhaps worst of all, of being an autocrat and a despot. KCR had hit back bluntly saying – “We don’t know any Amit Shah. I am the Badshah of Hyderabad.”

TRS Versus BJP: Countdown to 2019

KCR’s recent comments have signalled a sudden twist in his approach towards the BJP with whom he has been lukewarm for the past few years, although he has shied away from being too friendly. In fact, KCR invited the Prime Minister to flag off the Metro Rail and his flagship drinking water program – Mission Bhagiratha.

Political observers contend that KCR is upping the ante against opposition parties including the BJP in Telangana ahead of 2019, when the state and the country go to polls. “It seems to be his ploy to attract the minorities and to shed any image of cosying up with the seemingly communal BJP. We may even see KCR attacking Modi in the election campaign, for stalling the Muslim Reservations Bill,” said KVV Charya, a Hyderabad based columnist.

Whatever be the political compulsions, KCR’s acidic tongue has created a buzz in Delhi’s power corridors. Coming at a time when neighbour Andhra Pradesh’s MPs are threatening to resign from Parliament over the issue of the Centre not granting Special Status to the state, the TRS chief’s outburst on the farmers’ issue has given a breather and buffer to the BJP to refocus issues in the ensuing Parliament session beginning March 05.

“We are not worried and KCR knows how to transform a critical situation into an advantage,” said TRS MP Vinod Kumar. But the state BJP leaders are ramping up protests, in vain, despite the BJP national leadership asking them to sit back and watch the political drama that will unfold in Delhi in the coming days.

KCR’s track record though, shows that he is a politician who can jump ship overnight. In 2008, he had allied with the BJP and subsequently dumped them when they lost. In 2014, a promise of allying with the Congress following the creation of Telangana was also broken, with KCR unceremoniously dropping the party like a hot potato. Now KCR wants to lead a Third Front. And he claims that the Bengal Chief Minister has offered support to that idea. But the Trinamool Congress, in June 2017, was present in Chennai, holding hands aloft with Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) MK Stalin, the National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, among others. Whether KCR will follow through on his words, or whether his posturing is simply to get the Muslim Reservation Bill in the state passed, is anybody’s guess.

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