On Saturday night, a curious press release emerged from the press relations office of the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
It detailed a five-hour meeting that the CM, popularly known as KCR, had had with writers and filmmakers. It included a very long quote of KCR detailing the various efforts the State government had undertaken for the benefit of farmers.
In short, the Chief Minister wanted his guests to write songs and make movies that showcased the government’s efforts. Read by itself, the statement and the meeting sound fairly boilerplate.
So here’s the context: On April 28, red chilli farmers in the State, after weeks of protesting for remunerative prices for their produce, arrived at the Khammam market yard with lakhs of bags of produce.
Traders took advantage of the situation and fixed prices at as little as Rs 2,000 per quintal, against the high of Rs 14,000 per quintal from the previous year.
Angered farmers allegedly ransacked the market yard’s office. Ten were arrested. The CM’s response to this incident was to blame the opposition parties and mysterious “outsiders” for the vandalism.
Shortly thereafter, the BJP government at the Centre announced procurement of red chilli at a market intervention price of Rs 5,000 along with a reimbursement of expenses up to Rs 1,250.
Again, the ruling TRS’ response was to blame the Centre for doing too little. As an aside, it must be noted that the BJP and the TRS have an unusual relationship.
The latter pulls its punches on the former during otherwise sweeping comments against the Opposition. The possibility of an alliance is frequently whispered.
However, the BJP too senses an opening in the State, especially after the State announced a hike in quota to certain backward class Muslim communities. So the sustained verbal battle between the two parties on the issue of red chilli added a new dimension to their relationship.
Then on Thursday, the 10 farmers, accused of ransacking the market yard office, were produced before a district court, for some reason, handcuffed and chained.
As news spread, farmers associations and opposition parties started protesting.
The government ordered an inquiry and suspended two Armed Reserve Force sub-inspectors.
In the days that followed, ministers from the government admitted that a mistake had been made. And yet, from the CM’s office, the silence continued on the matter till Saturday.
Saturday’s press note, then, arguably comes from a school of politics in which the terms of reality are apparently set by the ruler.
In this reading of the situation, opposition parties that supported the demands of the farmers are the culprits, the Centre didn’t do enough, two SIs goofed up and farmers would be much less distressed if only they were made aware of what the State government had done for them.
This school of politics, like fiction, calls for a “willing suspension of disbelief” or perhaps, more accurately a willing suspension of critical thought. Whether that is the case in Telangana is open to question or if so how widespread that may be is again debatable.
As part of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, the region has a long history of engagement with civil rights, and between the Maoist presence in the region and movement for separate Telangana, a strong anti-establishment outlook.
The same students and activists who fought for a separate Telangana, have also protested the government’s actions.
There is dissent in the air but the question, for voters in the State, is what to do with the said dissent given the apparent lack of alternative to the TRS at this point in time. The Congress, Telugu Desam Party and the BJP, who frequently launch protests against the government, don’t have a charismatic mass leader to choose from.
This has led to speculation that each of the opposition parties, considering the possibility of early elections, is looking to poach leaders from the others.
Meanwhile, they have tried to rally around former Osmania University professor M Kodandaram, KCR’s former ally in the Telangana movement.
Kodandaram, however, as popular as he may be is also — at this time at least — a non-political figure. In addition, arguably his distance from political parties adds to his credibility. Leaving the political opposition effectively leaderless and ineffectual.
It is perhaps this situation that has left the ruling party so comfortable that its behaviour verges on complacency if not outright arrogance.
Assistant Resident Editor, Telangana