The friction within the first family of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is talked about only in hushed tones and has not come into the public domain so far. However, the feud appears to be deepening after the ruling party’s disappointing performance in the Lok Sabha elections.
An unstated yet clearly palpable friction between the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s son K T Rama Rao and nephew T Harish Rao has become the subject matter of discussion in political circles post-elections.
The TRS, which secured a second term in office with a landslide mandate in the December 2018 Assembly elections, was hoping to continue the winning streak in the April 11 Lok Sabha polls and bag 16 out of the total 17 LS seats in the state, leaving Hyderabad to its friendly party All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). However, it managed to win only 9 seats while a resurgent BJP bagged four and Congress, making a comeback after back-to-back disasters in the 2014 and 2018 Assembly elections, won three LS seats.
The defeat of Chief Minister’s daughter K Kavitha from Nizamabad has come as a major embarrassment to the TRS and revived the friction with the KCR family. The BJP wrested Karimnagar and Nizamabad seats from TRS, dealing a blow to K T Rama Rao who was handling the party’s campaign. However, the ruling party retained Medak LS seat with a massive majority. It was a constituency where the campaign responsibilities were entrusted to Harish Rao.
Who should take the blame?
Rama Rao, who is the working president of the party and the chosen successor, admitted that the LS elections threw up some unexpected results in Telangana but disagreed with the assessment that it was a setback to his party. The leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the key reasons for BJP’s growing vote share across the country, he pointed out. “These election results were unique and no single reason can be pointed to describe why we have lost in some seats. Different set of factors have played out,” KTR, as he is popularly known, said.
He also rejected the argument that Harish Rao, who was once a close confidant of the Chief Minister, was sidelined in the party. “All the party leaders were given responsibilities and all of them worked hard for the party’s victory. But the results were not on the expected lines,” he said.
On the question of his accountability, as the working president, for the loss in constituencies where he was in charge of the strategy and campaigning, KTR made a curious counter-point: “We won Medak Lok Sabha seat but the number of votes polled for the party candidate in the Siddipet Assembly segment were less than that were polled in the Assembly elections.” Siddipet is represented by Harish Rao, widely perceived to have fallen out of favour with KCR.
On the defeat of his sister from Nizamabad, KTR said that the Congress and BJP had colluded to ensure her defeat. A large number of farmers being in the fray was not the reason for the loss, he reasoned. “In fact, they were not farmers but politicians propped up by the Congress and the BJP,” he claimed.
Rubbishing the charge that TRS’s below par performance was a reflection on his own performance as the working president, he said: “Winning and losing are natural in the politics. Though TRS suffered loss in terms of seats, the party’s vote share has gone up considerably compared to previous LS polls.”
“It is wrong to assume that election results will affect the TRS which was born out of a movement and we will always remain strong,” KTR said.
KCR, who floated the TRS in 2001 to revive the Telangana statehood movement, runs the party with an iron hand. He has left no one in doubt about the choice of his political successor and has been grooming his son to take over the mantle. There has been a systematic attempt to sideline Harish Rao who is more popular among the cadre and known for his affable nature and trouble shooting skills.
The discord within the family became more pronounced when Harish was excluded from the party’s list of 20 star campaigners for LS polls. However, the party did a quick U-turn, apparently wary of the adverse political fallout.
Soon after the Assembly elections, KCR sprang a surprise by appointing his son the party’s working president, a post that did not exist earlier. The elevation of KTR, who served as Information Technology and Municipal Administration minister in the previous term, signalled a clear succession plan in the regional party.
Initially, it was Harish who served as KCR’s trusted lieutenant for years, 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 leading 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 with 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 years, a clear signal has gone to the cadre on who is the chosen one.
Collapse of Federal Front dream
A key fallout of the LS verdict has been the collapse of the Federal Front, a non-BJP, non-Congress conglomeration of regional parties rooted by KCR. His dream of playing a pivotal role in the national politics and the formation of the central government has come crashing down.
“Even if the TRS had won 16 seats, it would have done nothing in Delhi as the BJP has registered a landslide victory. We must remember that the idea of Federal Front was not limited to just the 2019 elections. The regional parties in various states will continue to strive to get a better deal from the Centre in the true spirit of federalism,” KTR said.
Since the Congress was not in a position to play any effective role as the opposition, it would be left to the regional parties to take up the mantle.