“Where is KCR?” is the most frequently asked question in Telangana these days as Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has not made any public appearance or participated in official meetings in the last ten days.
The political row over his long absence could not have come at a more inopportune time as the COVID-19 crisis in the state is turning grimmer by the day.
Amid growing speculation in the social media over his health condition, an independent political activist and popular television show host, Ch Naveen Kumar alias “Teen Maar” Mallanna, filed a petition in the High Court on Wednesday (July 8), seeking a direction to the government to disclose the whereabouts of the chief minister.
The opposition parties—Congress and BJP—have demanded that the government should issue a health bulletin to allay apprehensions of the people. They alleged that Telangana was in the grip of administrative crisis with the head of the state himself missing in action amid a raging pandemic.
There are reports that more than 20 persons employed at “Pragati Bhavan”, the chief minister’s official bungalow in Hyderabad, have tested positive for COVID-19. This has led to speculation that KCR may have opted for self-quarantine, along with his close family members, at his farmhouse on the city outskirts.
The chief minister was last seen in public on June 28 at the launch of the centenary celebrations of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.
Three journalists, including the editor of ‘Aadab Hyderabad’, a local Telugu newspaper, have been arrested by the city police for publishing a report which claimed that the Chief Minister had tested positive for the virus. They were later released.
Local television channels have been carrying live debates with Opposition leaders on the health condition of the Chief Minister, though there is no official word on the matter.
“Personally, I wish KCR to be safe and healthy. At the same time, people have every right to know about their leader and that a clarification is warranted from the CMO,” D Aravind, the BJP MP from Nizamabad said.
The state Congress leaders alleged that there was an administrative vacuum in the state. “The COVID-19 situation is alarming with the mounting number of cases and inadequate hospital infrastructure and shortage of oxygen cylinders and other emergency equipment. The chief minister’s silence in this critical hour is baffling,” state Congress chief N Uttam Kumar Reddy said.
The party’s working president Revanth Reddy demanded that the government should release a health bulletin on KCR’s health status because it is a “crime to keep his health condition a secret.”
“If KCR is not in a position to administer the state, he should entrust his responsibilities to any other leader at least for the time being,” he said.
The chief minister had last month said he would take a decision at the cabinet meeting on re-imposing lockdown in view of the surge in the number of coronavirus cases. “But, no decision has come so far. The people are in a state of confusion,” the Congress leader said.
‘Governor must step in’
Congress leaders went a step further and urged Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan to step in and monitor the situation in the absence of the Chief Minister by invoking the Section 8 of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 in the interest of people at large.
As per the provisions of the Reorganisation Act, the Governor shall have special responsibility for the security of life and property of all those who reside in the capital city area.
However, senior analyst Prof K Nageshwar dismissed the plea of the Congress, saying the application of Section 8 of the AP Reorganisation Act is out of context and it amounts to subversion of the people’s mandate.
Earlier, the Governor made an unsuccessful attempt to take up a review meeting with Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar and senior officials from Medical and Health department to take stock of the measures in place to contain the pandemic. But the scheduled review did not take off as none from the government turned up at the Raj Bhavan.
Last week, the Governor visited the government-run hospitals—Gandhi hospital and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS)— where the COVID-19 patients are being treated and expressed her displeasure over the way the government is responding to the pandemic.
Another senior Congress leader P Lakshmaiah demanded imposition of the President’s rule in the state. “KCR has gone into hiding at a time when people are facing a lot of hardship due to increasing intensity of the pandemic,” he said.
It was unfortunate that even the chief secretary and special chief secretary of medical and health department did not bother to attend a meeting called by the Governor to review the COVID-19 situation, Lakshmaiah, the former PCC chief, said.
Petition in court
The petitioner, Mallanna, appealed to the high court to issue an appropriate writ or direction to the government to disclose the details about the chief minister.
Stating that as a citizen of the state he was worried about the health condition of KCR, the petitioner said the state administration had miserably failed to provide information to the people about the health status and the whereabouts of the chief minister.
He pointed out that the chief minister had attended a public event— ‘Haritha Haram’ (the tree plantation programme)— on June 25 without wearing a face mask. Over 100 people had participated in the event.
“This has caused a lot of concern, as the number of COVID-19 cases has been increasing exponentially. Adding to this, the news reports that more than 20 persons at Pragati Bhavan (KCR’s official bungalow) have contracted the virus, have aggravated our concern,” the petitioner said.