In a state where film stars enjoy cult following, it was no surprise that K Chandrasekhar Rao named his son after the matinee idol of Telugu cinema and his favourite hero N Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) over 42 years ago.
Decades later, he was to revive the movement for separate Telangana state to “liberate” the backward region from the “hegemony of settlers” from coastal Andhra to which the legendary actor belonged.
Thus, K Taraka Rama Rao, KTR as the Chief Minister’s son is popularly known, shares his name with the icon of the tinsel world but was drawn into a brand of politics that symbolised assertion of sub-regional identity.
The irony of the KCR family targeting the “Andhra ruling classes” at the peak of the Telangana agitation was not lost on the political observers, as NTR was, in a way, a symbol of Andhra pride.
“The statehood agitation was not against the people of Andhra but against the injustices meted out to Telangana region for decades. It was a reflection of the dream of millions of people in Telangana to guide their own destiny,” says KTR who is now the working president of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) launched by his father in 2001.
The TRS spearheaded the movement that culminated in the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to carve out separate Telangana state in June 2014.
Suave, urban face of TRS
A polyglot and a powerful communicator, KTR is the suave and urban face of TRS which drew its strength largely from the rural angst and sustained the momentum for 13 years by focusing on the ‘deliberate neglect’ of the backward region.
A post-graduate in Biotechnology and a Management Graduate from the City University of New York, he worked for a multinational company in the United States from 2000 to 2006 before returning home to take a plunge into the statehood movement and assist his father in expanding the party.
“I did not even tell my father that I was quitting my job and returning to India,” recalls the leader who is popular among the youth and arguably the most active politician from the state on social media. He has over 1.50 million followers on Twitter.
Always dressed in formal shirts and chinos, KTR has a ‘cool dude’ air about him, relaxed and approachable. If not for his political pedigree, he can easily pass off as one of those techies from the cubicles at Cyberabad, the IT hub of Hyderabad.
Whether addressing a gathering of farmers in a remote Telangana village or interacting with the captains of the industry at swanky convention centres in Hyderabad, KTR has a natural ease about him and a felicity for words one doesn’t normally associate with a conventional politician.
A charming host who can speak the urban lingo in a corporate gathering, KTR can slip with ease into the rugged Telangana dialect while interacting with the cadre or addressing public meetings.
His swift response to the public grievances posted on social media platforms has made him very popular. Whether it is a civic issue or financial assistance from the government for emergency medical conditions, the TRS leader is known to pitch in with help, cutting through the bureaucratic red tape.
If anyone had any doubt about the succession plan in the TRS, it was cleared on December 14, 2018, a day after KCR took oath as Chief Minister for a second term, following a resounding mandate in the Assembly elections.
The Chief Minister took his own party leaders by surprise when he announced elevation of his son as the party’s working president, a post that did not exist earlier. This cleared the path for KTR to take over the mantle of the party amid buzz that KCR was keen to play a larger role in national politics after the general elections.
The Chief Minister had, in March last year, mooted Federal Front, a conglomeration of the like-minded regional parties as an alternative to the BJP and Congress. The TRS leadership reckons that the LS polls will throw up a fractured mandate, providing ample opportunity for the grouping of regional parties to influence the shape of the next government at the Centre.
KTR has been the face of TRS for quite some time now — be it with international audience or in state politics. The first indication of the Chief Minister’s preference for his son over his nephew T Harish Rao, a close confidante till then and known for his organisational skills and building the party from the scratch, came during the elections to the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation in 2016. KCR told a gathering in one of the election rallies that he was ‘placing the IT city in the hands of KTR’ and that he would take it to greater heights.
It was virtually a baptism by fire for KTR as the city was never the party’s stronghold. However, the TRS went on to sweep the elections to the urban body, bagging 99 out of 150 seats, consolidating his grip over the party. He was already a minister in his father’s cabinet, handling Information Technology, Industries and Municipal Administration portfolios
The simmering friction in the first family of the TRS is talked about only in hushed tones. There has been an undeclared war of wits between KTR and Harish, notwithstanding a public show of bonhomie.
The discord within the family became more pronounced in the run-up to the December Assembly polls when Harish was excluded from the party’s list of 20 star campaigners.
However, the party did a U-turn later, apparently wary of the adverse political fallout, and submitted a modified list to the election authorities including Harish’s name among the star campaigners.
He was kept out of the Lok Sabha campaign responsibilities with KTR 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, was largely confined to Siddipet, his Assembly constituency.
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. While KTR is the 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. 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.
As IT and Industries Minister, KTR, a four-time MLA representing Siricilla constituency, was hugely responsible for transforming Hyderabad into an investment destination not only in the IT sector, but also in the fields of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, besides reviving and giving a major boost to the handloom sector in the State. T-Hub, Pharma City, Genome Valley, and textile and IT parks in tier-two cities are often cited as his achievements.
The young politician stole the show at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), hosted by Hyderabad in November 2017, moderating discussions at plenary sessions where panelists included Ivanka Trump, advisor to the US President and Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.