For 45-year-old Renuka, a native of Maripalli village in the drought-prone Mahboobnagar district but settled in Hyderabad as a domestic help two decades ago to supplement her husband’s income, the choice before the December 7 elections in Telangana was simple and clear: press the car symbol on the EVM and vote for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
As you engage her in a conversation, Renuka, whose husband works as a watchman at an apartment, cites multiple reasons for her decision before summing it up succinctly: “He (KCR) did something for every section of the society. If elders are happy with pensions being hiked from Rs 200 to Rs 1,000, farmers believe that finally, here is someone who cares for them.”
In the last four-and-a-half years, apart from taking up several irrigation projects, hundreds of tanks and lakes have been restored and rejuvenated to enable farming. But the game changer was 24/7 power supply. From a situation, where farmers had to wake up at unearthly hours to run pumpsets as power was usually supplied at night, has come such a transformation that, now even crops like paddy are grown in the perennially drought-prone Mahboobnagar district. Add to this, financial assistance of Rs 8,000 per acre per year at the rate of Rs 4,000 per crop.
And, then there are health kits for the poor in villages and Rs 1 lakh monetary support for performing marriage of girls. None of the schemes, seen in isolation, may have radically transformed Telangana, born out of a prolonged statehood movement. But each of them was seen as the dawn of a new era, prompting almost every section (read also as community) to back the TRS despite their reservations over certain aspects of governance and KCR’s style of functioning, described by critics as revolving only around him. In other words, Captain hogging all the limelight, virtually relegating everyone else to the background.
KCR, however, doesn’t care much for this kind of criticism. “In any team, it’s the captain who shows the way”- is his answer to critics. He is equally dismissive of the charge that he rarely visits the Secretariat and prefers to work from his office-cum-residence.
“What matters is not where you function from but what you deliver to the electorate,” he points out. For people of Telangana or the earlier combined state of Andhra Pradesh, long used to Congress leaders utilising party offices and the Secretariat for political machinations, the Grand Alliance’s allegation against KCR on this count was apparently flimsy.
Besides these factors, for one to fully understand the stupendous victory of the TRS - it won 88 out of the 119 seats at stake in the Telangana Assembly reducing the Opposition to a rubble - a rewind is imperative. It was surely not a bed of roses for KCR ever since he broke away from the Telugu Desam in 2001 to float the TRS to achieve the goal of statehood for Telangana.
There were times when he was subdued, went into hibernation, the party fared poorly in elections and he had to wait endlessly in the national capital for an audience with the Delhi bosses. Yet, backed by growing support from the civil society for the movement, he remained on course until 2014 when his mission was finally accomplished.
KCR is described by many in various ways but the one trait he has always been credited with and the one which strengthened further during the movement is his willingness to listen to others for hours. But, his ability to assess the impact of any political step and his keenness to know the answer for “what next” is not so well-known. Those, who worked with him during the statehood stir, recall an instance.
A “Chalo Secretariat” rally was organised demanding jobs for the local youth. When the activists returned to him after the ‘successful’ rally, his first question was: “What next?” None had an answer. The logic behind his query being that no political movement can be sustained without a plan and no step should be taken without clarity on the next.
Prof M Kodandaram, the activist-face of the T movement, who joined hands with the Congress and the TDP in the electoral battle against the TRS, is candid enough to admit the same though he is convinced that the TRS has turned undemocratic after tasting power. “We were no match to the campaigning undertaken by the TRS or their poll management. We had ideas and an alternative developmental model, but did not have a plan or strategy to convince the voters,” he recalls, adding that KCR was already on strike on the pitch while the alliance leaders were still at net practice. No wonder the Grand Alliance, comprising the Congress, Telugu Desam, Kodandaram’s TJS and the CPI, could not convert opposition to KCR into votes.
Having matured first as a politician and then, as the spearhead of a people’s movement with all its ups and downs, KCR is notches above in reading the public pulse. While Congressmen were bickering over the distribution of seats and selection of candidates (there were almost a dozen CM contenders in the party), the TRS had completed one round of intense door-to-door campaigning explaining each and every scheme implemented by the KCR government. Another term in office will help the government finish the unfulfilled agenda and take up more development works was its message to the people.
It’s a hard grind since if there is one perceptible change that came about during the statehood movement, it is the increased political awareness among the people. Strategies that work elsewhere are unlikely to pay off in Telangana. If the TRS reached out to every single voter, dousing opposition to it in the process, the Congress relied on its traditional model - depend on village elders to swing the votes for the alliance.
When Andhra Chief Minister and TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu decided on the perilous move of embarking on an aggressive campaign in Telangana, it was game, set and match for the TRS. An expert like no other in creating euphoria or in raising sentiment, KCR had a simple question to the voters: “Do you want someone (Naidu) who worked against the formation of Telangana to again lord over us through the backdoor?” In the end, the electoral battle turned into one between KCR and Naidu, and you do not require human or artificial intelligence to guess the outcome.
Quoting a colleague at the Human Resource Development Institute of Telangana, Dr Gautam Pingle, Dean of the Centre for Telangana Studies, says while it was true that people were unhappy with their legislators in some constituencies, they considered KCR alone and none else at the polling booth. Apart from various other schemes, it was for the first time that land owners were given computerised passbooks and a programme to supply potable water to each and every household is nearing completion. “What more can anyone ask for?” Srinivas, the librarian at the Institute told him after the results were declared.
What the alliance calculated was political arithmetic, adding up the vote-banks of the Congress, TDP and others and hoping for a good result. But they did not factor in the political chemistry and hangover of Andhra rule, still lying dormant. As an insider of the alliance acknowledged, when Naidu began the campaign and stepped it up closer to polls, old memories came to the fore so much so that even those who came from Andhra and settled in Hyderabad did not want to be seen as aligning with an Andhra party. A caste-wise division among the “settlers” ensued with only those representing the politically dominant “Kamma community” backing the TDP, if at all, while the rest plumped for the TRS. Contrary to the fears fuelled during the time of agitation that a separate state will lead to violence and forcible return of Andhras, Hyderabad and the rest of Telangana remained peaceful since 2014 and continued to attract investments. Therefore, they found no reason to disown the TRS.
Sowmya Anand, who underwent training at the HRD Institute after her selection to the Income Tax service, was among those who paid field visits to villages as part of the orientation course. “Overall, the satisfaction level among the people was found to be reasonably good. Power and water supply apart, accessing loans has become easier for self-help groups while deliveries of pregnant women at homes have almost gone down to zero. Even a primary health centre is now equipped to handle basic services,” says Sowmya, who visited Yapral village in Nalgonda district, where people suffered for years on account of diseases caused by consumption of water with fluoride content.
Harshvardhan, her batchmate but in Railway service, echoes the same. He recalls his fellow students from North India, observing that villages in Telangana are far more developed compared to those in the North. “Hamara village se toh bahut achha hai,” one of them told Harsh while returning from Mallareddypet in Sircilla district. “Of course, the aspiration levels of people are growing too and they want every village/town to be on a par with Hyderabad. But, this need not be seen in a negative context as it reflects hope for a better future,” he remarks, pointing out that one of the suggestions made by locals was to link MGNREGA with farming instead of such works as laying of a road.
Even supporters of the government agree on the need to consolidate gains made by Telangana in the four-and-a-half years since it took birth and fine-tuning existing schemes like Rythu Bandhu, the benefit of which may have possibly accrued more to owners than tenant farmers. One way out is to consider a scheme by which tenant farmers could purchase land from landlords with the government guaranteeing loans that scheduled and commercial banks may lend for this purpose. Also being suggested is the revival of water users associations for maintenance of tanks restored under the “Mission Kakitiya” scheme.
Having won the battle in his state, KCR is now pitchforking himself for a bigger role at the national level bringing up the need to form an alternative platform to both the Congress and the BJP. The issues he has raised like the Centre’s overreach in subjects like education, roads and healthcare, do find resonance among many but how far will he go will be known only in the months to come. The key lies in building a democratic civil society movement in support of his new agenda just as he did in furthering the cause of Telangana statehood.
Congress allies may not be with it forever, says KCR's daughter Kavitha
How did you achieve this kind of victory notching up almost 50 per cent of the vote?
We were regularly getting public feedback on the performance of the government and local legislators. Wherever we got negative feedback about MLAs, we passed it on to them and most of them embarked on course correction. The few who did not were replaced. We changed candidates in seven segments and won all of them. Almost every scheme has been designed in such a way that it made the participation of MLAs mandatory in implementation. In the case of some schemes like two-bedroom homes for the poor and free education from KG to PG, we may not have achieved quantifiable result in the first term but we are getting there.
The Congress accused you of being the B team of the BJP and the saffron party blamed you for squandering the first term in office. How do you respond?
This is a typical strategy of both the national parties to counter regional parties which are growing in strength. We are on our own. We believe poverty has no religion or caste and we strongly feel that Telangana model can be replicated elsewhere. For far too long, the Congress and BJP have taken advantage of religion and caste for the sake of votes. Even in states like UP, we are of the view that people, farmers in particular, voted for BJP hoping for a better deal, not for a temple. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to walk the talk on development promises. Similarly, Congress never cares for issues confronting the states. Hence, the need for an alternative.
But most regional parties, including the DMK in Tamil Nadu and JD(S) in Karnataka, are now with the Congress while some are with the BJP. Where do you find space for an alternative?
What we are visualising is not just an electoral alliance at the time of polls. It has to be an alternative on the basis of issues. Today, the DMK and JD(S) may be with the Congress but that need not be the case forever.
24x7 Power Supply
Power supply was a crippling issue for Telangana when the TRS government assumed the mantle. The farming sector was on its knees amid fears of a power shortage following creation of the state. Among the TRS poll promises was 24-hour free power for agriculture sector. True to its word, the KCR government went about power purchases and ensured uninterrupted power supply to the farmers. Domestic and industrial consumers too were not left out. Reason why KCR kept harping on this achievement during the recent poll campaign.
Rs 1 lakh farm loan waiver
About Rs 17,000 crore farm loan waiver came as a major relief to aid the distressed farmers. Challenges of increasing debts among farmers had to be addressed and KCR came up with this favoured Congress scheme. Several farmers, however, were moving out of the farming sector and to contain that, road tax waiver for agriculture tractors was also introduced.
Farmers' investment and support scheme of Rs 8,000 per acre, provided in two phases, has made farming more doable in the critical phases of agriculture crisis. The rectification and purification of land records in this process proved beneficial as it helped confirm the total number of farmers in the state. Under the scheme, farmers will get Rs 10,000 per acre in the second erm of the TRS. KCR is keen on highlighting this scheme as a panacea to solve agrarian crisis at the national level.
Irrigation projects on fast track
The goal is to provide irrigation to one crore acres of land by constructing projects on the Godavari and Krishna rivers. Palamuru-Rangareddy lift irrigation project will be fast-tracked just like Kaleswaram, Sitharama and Dindi irrigation projects.
Restored thousands of minor irrigation tanks and lakes through the project. Rejuvenation of tanks took place in the process and close to 12 lakh acres of fresh ayacut was supplied with water.
Purified and safe drinking tap water to every household. The project is yet to be completed. The lift irrigation project is almost ready to supply drinking water to every household in the State. Several states have taken the project as the role model. If all goes well, every household will get this water by next March.
Assistance to senior citizens, disabled, and the like has been a flagship programme that has provided not just monetary benefit but also self-respect and dignity to the beneficiaries. The first term of TRS government saw a hike in Aasara pensions from Rs 200 to Rs 1,000 to senior citizens, and from Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 to the disabled. And, in the second term, the amount is being doubled to Rs 2,016 and Rs 3,016 respectively.
Kalyana Lakshmi and Shaadi Mubarak
Financial assistance of Rs 1,00,116 for a girl's marriage through Kalyana Lakshmi and Shaadi Mubarak scheme helped lessen the financial burden of marriages on the weaker sections. Due to the burden of marriages, a lot of families are pushed into debt trap in Telangana. Though the scheme was initially meant to provide aid of Rs 51,000 to the beneficiary, it was later increased after rise in enrolment numbers.
663 schools were set up under TRS KG to PG Free and Compulsory Education Programme to boost education among all sections of the society. Provision of fine rice to students in government schools and hostels to ensure that there is no discrimination among various classes of those being fed was effectively implemented.
The long-standing demand of tribals to recognise thandas and gudems was implemented and new districts were formed. It was also to ensure good governance and usher in transparency through 31 new districts, 25 divisions, 125 mandals, 4,380 village panchayats and 1,311 tribal hamlets, which were upgraded as panchayats. New commissionerates were also formed for ease of governance.
KCR Kit, Kanti Velugu and Amma Vodi
Strengthening healthcare in Telangana by implementing KCR Kits for mothers, Kanti Velugu for many who have a weak eyesight and Amma Vodi programmes. The schemes helped in creating mass awareness on rising health concerns. Basthi Dawakhanas were also introduced to tackle seasonal diseases.
Double Bedroom Housing scheme
Under the free Double Bedroom Housing Scheme for poor people, in the second term of KCR, those who have land will beprovided funds so as to help them build a home for their dreams.
Encouragement for artisans
Distribution of 74 lakh sheep for shepherds in the Yadava community. A Rs 1,000 crore fund for fishermen was also provided to boost the fisheries sector. Help for handloom weavers, financial aid to all hereditary professions from Backward Classes and creation of MBC Corporation with a fund of Rs 1,000 crore.
Allocated Budget of Rs 2,000 crore. Celebrating all cultural and religious festivals with pride. Construction of Shaadi Khanas in various constituencies was taken up.
Generated Rs 1,35,000 crore investment through TS-iPASS. Direct and indirect jobs were created for 8.5 lakh people. Industries can beestablished through a single window scheme in 15 days, else, the application for approval is deemed accepted.
Special Development Fund for SCs and STsFunds allocated based on the ratio of populations.