If unpredictability is a political craft, then the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao qualifies to be its master. Political observers often miscalculate his moves and end up making inaccurate predictions.
Many expected the opposition alliance of the Congress, Telugu Desam Party and the Left to unseat his government in December 2018 assembly elections but KCR, as the Chief Minister is popularly known, had the last laugh, securing a massive mandate for second term in office. Then, he went on to decimate the Congress by luring 12 of its 18 MLAs into his camp.
Again, the indefinite strike by the 48,000-strong employees of the state road transport corporation, demanding better wages, was widely expected to trigger his downfall, given the ruthless manner in which his government sought to crush the agitation.
Initially, he surprised both his admirers and critics alike by adopting an unusually aggressive approach, ordering dismissal of the agitating staff, refusing to hold talks with them and even ignoring the High Court’s advice to sort out the issues through negotiations.
Then, in an equally surprising volte face without any explanation, the Chief Minister not only conceded all the demands of the striking staff but announced a few more sops like increasing the retirement age from 58 to 60 years without anyone asking for it.
As a result, the brewing storm of resentment lost its steam and turned itself into a shower of goodwill for the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government. As an icing on the cake, his party wrested Huzurnagar Assembly seat from the Congress by a huge margin in a by-election held in the midst of the employees’ stir in October.
This prompted the political observers to wonder how KCR manages to win election after election in the state despite his dictatorial style of functioning, allegations of family rule and corruption.
Blow hot and blow cold
Known to rely more on pragmatic politics rather than ideology-driven positioning, KCR has been quite unpredictable in fashioning his approach towards the NDA government.
At one point, his detractors had even dubbed him as the “B Team” of BJP for his unqualified support to the NDA on contentious issues like demonetisation and GST roll out schedule. His party voted in favour of several controversial legislations including abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and RTI Amendment Bill.
However, he sprang a surprise by strongly opposing the new citizenship law and directed his party MPs to vote against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in both houses of the Parliament.
Following pressure from his political ally All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), the TRS has now joined the anti-CAA and anti-NPR protests in the state.
The TRS government is also expected to follow the other non-BJP ruled states and soon announce its decision not to allow the NPR exercise in Telangana.
Given the political realities on the ground, KCR reckons the BJP as his principal adversary. The saffron party, which considers Telangana as a ‘low-hanging fruit’ in its Look South mission, had given a jolt to the TRS by bagging four out of 17 Lok Sabha seats in the April elections. The biggest catch was Nizamabad where the Chief Minister’s daughter K Kavitha was defeated by the BJP candidate D Aravind.
The Vastu-loving, deeply religious KCR has an unconventional style of functioning. For instance, he doesn’t go to the Secretariat but prefers to conduct the official review meetings and even the cabinet meetings at “Pragati Bhavan”, a sprawling camp office cum residence.
The opposition leaders often accuse him of leading a “Nawabi lifestyle”.
KCR’s personal habits have provided fodder for his political rivals in the past too. His laid-back lifestyle and penchant for escaping from public glare to spend time at his farm house in the neighbouring Medak district have often evoked derisive response from his detractors.
“Raatri Bar, Pagalu Durbar” (Bar at night and Durbar during the day) was how the actor-turned-politician Roja, now with the YSR Congress Party in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, described his life style.
“No other political leader’s personal habits have been subjected to scrutiny as much as KCR’s,” says a close aide of the Chief Minister. However, when it comes to connecting with the masses, he is undoubtedly the tallest figure in the state now.
Che Guevara of Telangana
KCR (65) is the Che Guevara of Telangana statehood movement and widely seen as the architect of the new state. However, his transformation from a rabble-rousing rebel to a ruler has not been smooth. He has his own share of idiosyncracies; impulsive, mercurial and haughty.
Adore him or abhor him, but one cannot ignore him. For Telangana, the backward region yearning for statehood for six decades, KCR was the folk hero who liberated the region from the clutches of “exploitative forces”. For the rest of Andhra Pradesh, though, he was a divisive force and a rabble-rouser who sowed seeds of hatred and separated the Telugus.
“KCR is like Sachin Tendulkar of Telangana politics. People don’t want him to fail,” says one of his close aides.
A post-graduate in Telugu literature gifted with mesmerizing oratory skills and razor-sharp sarcasm, KCR has already earned the image of a folk hero in Telangana, having dominated its politics for nearly one-and-half decade now.
His quirky one-liners, dubbed by his detractors as offensive and unparliamentary, never failed to grab media headlines.
Frail, lean with emaciated look and dressed in white trousers and full-sleeve shirt, KCR at first glance does not come across as an ideal candidate to lead any mass movement. But, give him a mike and a crowd, he transforms into an orator par excellence, holding the audience in rapt attention with his biting one-liners.
Even his bitter critics would vouch for his mass appeal, persuasive skills and political craft based on pragmatic calculations. Emerging as the powerful symbol of Telangana identity, he had succeeded in bringing the statehood issue to the centre-stage of national politics.
The political journey of this five-time legislator and five-time MP has been a bumpy ride, making friends and enemies with equal ease.
Whether it was his participation in the UPA-I government at the Centre in 2004 or his stormy exit a year later accusing it of delaying decision on Telangana demand, KCR was provocative, eccentric, rebellious and rabble-rousing all rolled into one.
The defining moment in KCR’s career came in December, 2009 when his indefinite fast forced the UPA government to announce the initiation of the process for creation of separate Telangana state. “KCR chachudo, Telangana vachudo” (Either Telangana comes or KCR dies) was his slogan before launching the fast.
At the height of the Telangana movement, KCR positioned himself as a rabble-rouser in the mould of Shiv Sena leader late Bal Thackeray, targeting people from the rest of Andhra Pradesh who have made Hyderabad their home. His call “Telangana Waale Jago, Andhra Waale Bhaago” injected bitterness into the bifurcation debate.