In an exclusive interview with New Indian Express, K T Rama Rao, presumed heir apparent of the TRS, says regional parties will be back in the reckoning at the Centre in 2019
HYDERABAD: While the BJP may be betting on the South to maintain or increase its numbers in the 2019 election, the prognosis for the party south of the Vindhyas is not so rosy, says K T Rama Rao, the presumed heir apparent of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the IT minister of Telangana.
Scotching frequent speculation that the TRS is a potential ally of the saffron party, the suave US-educated leader says his party considers the BJP as much an adversary as the Congress, and dismisses any possibility of the TRS and BJP working together. “More importantly, I don’t see the need for it,” he says.
In a wide-ranging interview with New Indian Express, K T Rama Rao says the Narendra Modi government has no great achievements to speak of in the last three years but several failures such as demonetisation to deal with. As for the Congress, “it is a tried and tested and dusted” party, he says.
Excerpts from the interview:
It is now more than three years since the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) came to power in the new state. How do you rate your performance at this juncture?
Honestly, we are one of the most progressive states in the country. This is not a boast. When we started off, we were a power-deficit state. Today we are power-surplus. When we began, there were doubts about our political stability and about our ability to attract investment. The other question was how the state would stabilize itself given the past experience with new states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. It is not just the government of India or private rating agencies who are giving us the tag of a progressive state. Even the people of Telangana have acknowledged it going by the resounding success we have had in elections since 2014 such as the Greater Hyderabad Corporation elections in which we and our friendly parties won 143 out of the 150 divisions.
But is the mood changing now? There is a stridency in the Opposition’s attack on your government.
I don’t see any evidence of it on the ground. Take the recent election to the Singareni Collieries Union. Despite the Opposition closing ranks, we emerged successful. So was the case with every bypoll since 2014. The people of Telangana have experienced Congress rule for 50 years and have seen through it. They are tired of the party, fed up and, if I may say so, rather disgusted.
Am I to infer that in 2019 you do not see the possibility of any Opposition party – Congress or BJP—putting up a tough fight against you?
There is always a runner-up. I would presume it would be the Congress though by a huge gap. In a democracy, we need an Opposition, we need diverse views. Therefore, to say we have no rival is not right. As for the BJP, I don’t see the possibility of it making any impact in 2019 because the party has no base here. In fact, I don’t think BJP will be able to retain the five seats it currently has in the Assembly. The BJP has nothing to highlight as good work done by it for the people of Telangana. Or for that matter for the people of this country.
Are you saying that in the last three years and more the BJP did nothing?
The NDA government has not done anything that can be touted as a massive people-oriented programme. Unfortunately, the Opposition is really weak. The Congress is possibly in its worst shape ever. That is what is helping the BJP just as the Congress benefitted from the TINA factor in the past. Therefore, the Hon’ble Prime Minister is riding a tide of good luck. Other than that, I don’t think they have anything to talk about. See, they talked about black money and demonetisation. The stated purpose of demonetisation changed every day. First it was about black money and then terrorism. The narrative keeps changing even as we speak. It is actually funny.
So would you rule out a TRS-BJP alliance in 2019?
We were never ever close to the BJP. Or Congress, for that matter. It has worked for us and we have no reason to change our stance.
Why then does this speculation keep coming up that you intend to join the NDA government?
I’ll tell you why. Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of the country and he is a BJP leader. As a party ruling a newly created state, we met the PM and other ministers on several occasions to demand what is our right to seek. Beyond that politics was never discussed. On specific issues such as GST – which is supposed to be based on the principle of one nation, one tax – we supported the Centre, just as other parties did cutting across political lines. Similar was our stance on the original narrative of demonetisation, which all of us believed would do good for the country. In hindsight, it has not. It is the common man who has suffered hardships. Wisdom lies in accepting that fact. Whether we like it or not, that is the truth about demonetisation. It has not worked.
Having said that, I do not see the scope for the TRS and BJP to work together. More importantly, I don’t see the need for it.
Where do you think the NDA government has failed given the high expectations that were raised back in 2014?
I think the connect with the people is missing. Unfortunately, most schemes have remained as good slogans. Make in India. A great slogan. The fact is we are doing assembling in India, not manufacturing. As a minister for IT and Industry, the truth is we still do not have a fab (chip fabrication hub). So what are we talking about? The very ingredient that goes into the manufacture of a mobile phone or a chip is missing. Slogans are good but what India needs is deep-rooted, ground-based good policies. When Apple wants to manufacture in India and seeks certain concessions, GOI is unwilling to look into it. The government doesn’t seem to understand what it takes to manufacture a world class product like the I phone.
Slogans or good ideas are not enough. They have to be backed by policies based on pragmatism. I do not intend to singularly blame the PM or his ministers. What is needed is creating space for collective wisdom to make things work. It involves building consensus. In regard to GST, we made a huge fuss because initially we were told it would be one nation, one tax. It was only later that we realized that state-specific issues were not taken care of by GOI. In Telangana, we have lakhs of people dependent on beedi making. We fought for removal or reduction of tax. GOI was not keen.
We have seen one-party governments at the Centre and also coalition regimes. What difference do you see and which do you think works better?
In a diverse country like India, you need a participatory dialogue happening all the time. You have to keep that going, no matter how big or small the voices are. If you really want India to be the United States of India or a Federal Republic as we call it, we need all voices to be heard.
Take South India, where the BJP has a presence in just one state. In the rest, it is practically non-existent. The entire country is run by the BJP but they don’t have any voice in the South. I wouldn’t call it anti-South, but there’s a not-so-favourable decision-making towards South India. They always talk of a Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. Why can’t we conceive a Golden Quadrilateral like what Atal Bihari Vajpayee did. The South has three vibrant metros – Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. You can’t be oblivious to this and overlook South India which has contributed significantly to the growth of this country.
Now we are talking of a bullet train. Again, between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Why can’t it be between Delhi and Chennai connecting Bangalore and Hyderabad as well? We have had MPs and parties from the South playing a significant role in the past at the national level. That is not the case now. I do believe coalition governments are better suited for us, though some might argue otherwise. And, I do believe that a coalition regime will be back in 2019.
Are you suggesting that the BJP cannot win enough seats on its own in the next election?
I strongly feel so. Like I said, there is not much for the BJP to talk about in terms of achievements.
Critics say the same thing about the TRS as well. That you have frittered away the faith reposed by the people in a party that fought for a separate state.
We can showcase a lot. Ours is the only state that has promised potable water to every household. Our chief minister had the guts to say that if we don’t do this, we will not seek votes. We have almost achieved it. We are a role model for others. We are not the ones saying it. Niti Aayog is saying this. Power supply has improved. The reason why we say we are rooted in basics is because of our focus on the farm sector. We have waived loans worth Rs 17000 crore. We have also taken this revolutionary step of providing farm inputs that would cost us Rs 4,000 per acre for two crops in a year. We have increased agri godown space manifold. We are launching India’s largest textile park. We are the first government to offer 50 per cent discount on yarn and chemicals to handloom weavers. We are the only state to spend Rs 46,000 crore on welfare schemes per year. I can give you a 350-page report on what all we have achieved. No one can take away all this from this.
The narrative appears to be changing at the national level. Do you seek scope for a revival of the Congress?
Don’t think so. For Congressmen to hope that people will vote for them just because they are there gives me a sense they are not rooted in reality. It is a party that has been tried, tested and dusted.
If as you say support for the BJP is waning and there is no hope for the Congress, how do you foresee the political map of 2019?
I believe regional parties will do well and that is great for the country. We are not a two-party system. I think it’s a problem if you understand only Gujarat and not the rest of the country.