Six months after he swept the assembly election, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) is slowly making the opposition Congress bleed, having lured a dozen party MLAs into his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). The total strength of the TRS in the assembly has risen from 88 to 103 MLAs since the elections last December.
KCR’s move might seem puzzling because the TRS secured a landslide 88-seat majority in the 119-seat Telangana assembly. The answer perhaps lies in the emphatic verdict itself. KCR hopes for a total wipeout of rival political parties. The TRS has orchestrated the decimation of the opposition in the assembly by gradually whittling away two-thirds of the 18-member Congress Legislature Party.
Not only has the Congress been deprived of status as the recognised Opposition, it has just six MLAs-one less than the second largest party and TRS ally, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM). The total number of opposition MLAs in the assembly is now in single digits-six of the Congress, one each from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the BJP, with one vacant.
The politically astute KCR served as transport minister in N Chandrababu Naidu’s cabinet in 1996 and was deputy speaker in 2001 before quitting the TDP to set up the TRS. The party was built on the grievance that Andhra Pradesh was discriminating against its Telangana region. KCR won the 2014 election soon after the formation and now plans to tighten his grip on the state.
Earlier this year, he is thought to have nursed dreams of becoming prime minister or at least a deputy PM in the event of a hung Parliament, hence KCR’s efforts to form of a federal front without the BJP or the Congress. Within Telangana, KCR welcomed defecting Congress MLAs to dampen the Grand Old Party’s morale and boost his clout and hold a bargaining chip in case of a hung Parliament.
KCR had hoped to repeat his assembly poll sweep in the Lok Sabha election, but was shocked when the BJP won four parliamentary seats, the Congress three, his party only nine and the AIMM one seat. With an emphatic NDA victory shattering his Delhi dreams, KCR’s plan for regional domination continues. He hopes bleeding the Congress will help him in cabinet expansion as well as in leadership succession plans. He wants to ready the pitch for his son and TRS working president KT Rama Rao (KTR) to step into his shoes in government, against the backdrop of a perceived threat from KCR’s nephew and former irrigation minister T Harish Rao.
KCR perceives the Congress, which has a strong cadre base across the state, as a potential threat and wants to crush the prospects of its resurgence. Soon after sweeping the assembly poll in December, the TRS managed to lure four Congress members from the legislative council. The Congress now has only one MLC to the TRS’s 32 in the 40-member legislative council. KCR is eyeing three more seats in the byelections to be held soon.
Dominance in the assembly will help KCR implement whatever he wishes without much protest, given the strength of the opposition. The increased strength in the assembly also helps get TRS activists elected to all seats falling vacant in the biennial elections from the state to the Rajya Sabha until such time the BJP is able improve its strength.
Finally, albeit indirectly, marginalising the Congress can possibly accrue to the advantage of the BJP in emerging as the principal opposition party in the state. In turn, it can lead to better bonding between the TRS and the BJP, helping get what the state reckons as its rightful share of central government-administered resources.
Both the Congress and the BJP are understandably furious. “KCR has a penchant to stifle dissent and the opposition because he cannot tolerate any criticism,” alleges Uttam Reddy, president, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee. “He did this earlier too, after the 2014 assembly election, when the TRS won just 63 of the 119 seats. He managed to get 25 other MLAs to align with his party for purposes of patronage.”
Reddy also alleges abuse of power by KCR. “He does not transact official business at the state secretariat. Perhaps he does not want to go the assembly too and wants to govern the state with brute majority from his farmhouse,” he says. “The man who promised to make a Dalit the state chief minister before the 2014 election is not even prepared to see a Dalit leader of the opposition in the assembly, having already deprived a Muslim from being the leader of the opposition in the legislative council.”
The BJP won four Lok Sabha seats as against three by the Congress. G Kishen Reddy, the BJP’s Secunderabad MP, was appointed minister of state for home affairs. “The BJP will liberate the state from the clutches of the Kalvakuntla (KCR) family. The brutal attack and killing one of our workers in Mahabubnagar district exposes the intolerance of KCR. It is the beginning of his downfall,” says state BJP president K Laxman.