I.V. Ramana Rao
Khammam (Telangana): More than a month after renaming his 21-year-old Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) as the Bharath Rastra Samithi (BRS), Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao held a maiden mega public meeting at Khammam on Wednesday (January 18).
Khammam is a small town with a population of around 15 lakh in the south-east part of Telangana. It not only shares its borders with Andhra Pradesh but also echoes its socio-cultural ethos. On Wednesday, it looked like the city had been dressed in pink, with thousands of banners and balloons in party colours dotting the skyline.
The TRS came into being at a public meeting – ‘Simha Garjana’ – at Karimnagar, attended by about 2.5 lakh people. Now, two decades later, KCR is ready to set out his national expansion plan through the formal launch of the BRS. This time, however, the tagline is Righteous War (Dharma Yuddham).
Many were surprised by KCR’s decision to hold the rally in Khammam, as it has never been a strong base for the TRS/BRS. In the 2013 and 2018 assembly elections, out of ten constituencies in the district, the TRS could bag only one seat each time. It has been a difficult terrain to manoeuvre and therefore elusive. But KCR, a shrewd tactician, is aiming to achieve more than what meets the eye.
This massive public meeting was the first of its kind in Khammam; a meeting of five lakh people was unheard of here before Wednesday. Having four chief ministers on the dais also made it unique – Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, Punjab’s Bhagwant Singh Mann and Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan kept KCR company on stage. Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and D. Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), were among the invitees. The Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and CPI came together to show their solidarity with KCR, who has been claiming to promote an alternative politics and bring a qualitative change to India’s national politics.
At the rally, KCR revealed some of the finer points of the party’s farmer-centric and development-oriented agenda. The chief minister elaborated on the need for new policies on the economic, environmental, electricity, water and women’s empowerment front.
There is no dearth of resources in this country, KCR argued. When compared to 29% of cultivable land in the US and 16% in China, India has 41 crore acres – amounting to 50% – of cultivable land. Every year, India has 75,000 TMCs of water available for use, and 139 crore hard-working people. Then why, KCR asked, do we still import palm oil and other essential food items? He lamented the failure to resolve water disputes over the Krishna river, claiming various other countries could construct projects that could preserve 4,000 to 6,000 TMCs of water. “If these resources are utilised efficiently, India need not have to kneel before the World Bank, the US or any other country to progress,” he said.
The BJP’s policy, KCR said, is to privatise profits and socialise losses. “Let Modi sell off now, we will reverse the privatisation of institutions like the LIC. We will cancel Agnipath and revert to the old system form of defence recruitment,” KCR said. He promised that he would extend the free water supply, Dalita Bandhu and Rythu Bandhu programmes to the whole country if elected.
Earlier, Kerala chief minister Vijayan appreciated the ‘Kanti Velugu’ (universal eye screening 2.o programme). He also praised the state-of-the-art collectorate complexes in every district. He criticised the BJP government at the Centre for its anti-poor programmes, and added that the basic structure of the constitution is being destroyed by the National Democratic Alliance government.
Delhi chief minister Kejriwal said governments should learn from others when they see success stories. Providing eye screening to the four crore people of Telangana free of cost is a wonderful programme, he said, and he would like to implement the same in Delhi and Punjab. He appreciated KCR’s initiative of visiting mohalla clinics in Delhi, and his basti davakhanas have been modelled after them, Kejriwal said. Punjab chief minister Mann criticised the BJP for failing on its poll promises like employment for two crore youth every year and Rs 15 lakh in each person’s account. BJP should stand for “Bharatiya Jumla Party”, Mann said.
- Raja paid tribute to martyrs of revolutionary struggles like Ravi Narayana Reddy, Makhdoom and Giri Prasad. He reminded the people what Dr B.R. Ambedkar said: “If India were to become a Hindu rashtra, it would be the biggest calamity.”
Akhilesh too hit out that the BJP’s model of leadership and praised some of the Telangana government’s welfare programmes.
Several of the chief ministers also brought up how the office of the governor is being misused by the Modi government. “In fact, it is not the governor but Modi saab. The governors get calls asking them to hassle the state governments. If the PM can only think of disturbing the states, and CMs 24×7 how will the country develop,” Kejriwal said.
The meeting was conducted on a 100-acre ground, with an additional 450 acres set aside for parking vehicles. Fifty LED screens had been arranged for the crowd, drawn from 13 Telangana assembly constituencies and also from Andhra Pradesh. Earlier in the day, KCR inaugurated the Integrated District Offices Complex and launched the Kanti Velugu programme. He also laid a foundation stone for the construction of a government medical college.
Khammam has been a traditional Left citadel, though the Congress too held sway over a very large population. Since many people here have their roots in the Krishna and Guntur districts from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSRTP are also hopeful about electoral outcomes in the region.
KCR’s party, meanwhile, has been facing an internal challenge. Ponguleti Srinivasa Reddy, a former Member of Parliament from Khammam, joined the TRS after the 2014 elections. To his surprise, he was denied a ticket to contest in the 2019 elections. Angry at being sidelined, he is in no mood to wait for another term to go by and started holding meetings with his followers. On January 1, at a meeting with rank and file, he expressed his displeasure at the humiliating treatment from the powers above. Since he has considerable clout among the electorate, the TRS/BRS can’t afford to wait and see what happens.
Tummala Nageshwara Rao, former minister in the TRS government’s first term, has also been unhappy about the lack of importance given to him at party programmes. Being a seasoned politician, he is weighing his options and playing the ‘waiting game’. Reddy made his intentions clear about contesting elections – not only himself, but also with his followers in all ten assembly constituencies. Setting his own house in the district in order has become KCR’s priority. Perhaps instead of a meeting in the heartland of Telangana, a meeting in Khammam – which shares borders with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and claiming the identity of ‘Bharath’ – is also more comfortable and convenient for KCR.
The two Left parties have also mobilised for the BRS meeting as they hope to have an electoral understanding with the pink party for the ensuing assembly elections. The Left suffered a massive electoral erosion in the recent past in Khammam district, which was earlier a red bastion. It now wants to script its revival using the present bonhomie with the BRS. The Left’s support is critical for the BRS to defeat the BJP in the state. This is all the more needed when Srinivasa Reddy, former MP, is all set to leave the BRS for the saffron party.
Since the BRS leadership was able to placate Thummala for now, there haven’t been any rude shocks. With the TRS transforming into the BRS, the political hopes of the TDP in Telangana too have been rekindled. Recently, TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu addressed a big public meeting in Khammam. The weakening of the TDP had mainly benefited the TRS. The BRS fears a loss of electoral support if the TDP is revived. The pink party expects to indirectly counter the political moves of the TDP by holding a meeting in Khammam.
Though Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had shown no inclination for Telangana politics, his sister Y.S. Sharmila recently launched the YSRTP. She has also announced her plans to contest assembly elections from the Paleru seat in Khammam district. She believes that her father YSR’s legacy is still popular here. Taking all these factors into consideration, KCR fired his first salvo at the Khammam public meeting.