The friction in the first family of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is talked about only in hushed tones. An undeclared war of wits is on between Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s son and party working president KT Rama Rao and nephew T Harish Rao, who is credited with building the party since its inception in 2001.
However, the Chief Minister, who runs a tight ship, has left no doubts about the choice of his political successor. He has been grooming his son to take over, and there has been a systemic attempt to sideline Harish, more popular among the cadre and known for his affable nature and problem solving skills.
Flip flop on star campaigners
The discord within the family became more pronounced when Harish was excluded from the party’s list of 20 star campaigners. When the list, which contained some nondescript names, was submitted to the state chief electoral officer (CEO) on March 23, Harish’s supporters were shocked. However, there was not even a whisper of protest, in fear of being targetted by the party leadership. It turned out to be a bitter weekend for his camp.
Two days later, the party did a U-turn, apparently wary of the adverse political fallout, and gave a modified list to the CEO including Harish’s name among the star campaigners. “I am herewith surrendering vehicle permission pass of J Santhosh Kumar, star campaigner, issued by CEO. Hence, I request you to kindly replace the same by one with the name of Harish Rao, MLA and former minister,” said the TRS general secretary M Sreenivas Reddy in a curiously-worded letter.
Soon after securing a resounding mandate for a second term in the December 2018 Assembly elections, KCR sprang a surprise on everyone by appointing his 42-year-old son as the party’s working president, a post that did not exist earlier. The elevation of Rama Rao, who served as the information technology and municipal administration minister in the previous term, signalled a clear succession plan in the regional party.
In a further snub, Harish was kept out of the Lok Sabha campaign responsibilities, with KTR (as Rama Rao is popularly known) taking complete control over the party, formulating campaign strategies, scouting leaders from other parties to cross over to the ruling camp and making a whirlwind tour of the state. Harish, who was once a key strategist and organiser for the party, is now confined to Siddipet, his Assembly constituency.
Clearly, blood is thicker than politics for KCR, who revived the Telangana statehood agitation by launching TRS in 2001 and successfully positioned himself as the sole crusader of the statehood cause. Initially, it was Harish who served as his trusted lieutenant, and was responsible for building the party from scratch.
The rise and fall of Harish in the evolving family drama in TRS is reminiscent of the developments that shook Bal Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, which led to the exit of his nephew Raj Thackeray. Like Uddhav Thackeray in Maharashtra, Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Sukhbir Singh Badal in Punjab, it is the son who is the first among equals in the family politics of TRS.
KTR and Harish represent contrasting styles in political management. KTR, a management graduate from New York City University who worked in the US for several years before returning home to join the statehood movement launched by his father, is a suave and urban face of the party. Harish, 46, on the other hand, is an earthy, dyed-in-the-wool provincial politician with a strong connect to the rural cadre. A six-time MLA representing Siddipet constituency, he served as irrigation minister in the previous term and was instrumental in taking up several ambitious irrigation projects. After the creation of Telangana in 2014, KCR inducted both of them into the cabinet. But, over the years, a clear signal has gone to the cadre on who is the chosen one.le in the first family of TRSimmering trouble in the first family of TRS