On December 7, 2018, KCR won a landslide in the Telangana Assembly elections that he preponed. The TRS won a massive 88 out of the total 119 seats in the Assembly. Ever since KCR has faced more setbacks than victories. This paradox didn’t happen because of any one event but is a culmination of many missteps.
The immediate poaching of MLAs from the Congress
Despite winning a landslide, the TRS displayed an unusual urgency in poaching MLAs from the Congress party. The Congress won 19 seats in the 2018 elections, thereby being eligible for the Leader of the Opposition post. One by one, a total of 12 Congress MLAs was poached by the TRS within just a couple of months of winning this landslide. With 2/3rd of the CLP joining the TRS, there was no need to disqualify the legislators!
KCR did NOT need these 12 MLAs for any support in the Assembly. This move, primarily orchestrated to show the supremacy of KTR, the newly anointed working President of the party, also ensured that there will officially be no leader of opposition in the Telangana Assembly. The torchbearers of democracy weren’t bothered by this blatant suppression of the people’s mandate though.
The delayed cabinet expansion and the exclusion of Harish Rao
On the day of swearing-in, only KCR and Mahmood Ali were sworn in. Despite mounting criticism of a “one-man show”, KCR took nearly 8 weeks to expand the cabinet and that’s when KCR administered the second shock to his cadre.
By his side ever since he established the party in 2001, was his nephew T Harish Rao. Even KCR’s children entered the fray between the years of 2005 and 2007. After winning the 2014 elections, KCR gave the all-important Irrigation portfolio to Harish Rao. KCR’s pet projects revolved around water – and the promise of a Bangaru Telangana was only possible through minor and major irrigation projects that will solve the water problem of Telangana. One of the key reasons for the landslide in 2018 was the success of many of these irrigation projects.
Now, it is this Harish Rao that KCR decided to keep out of his expanded cabinet, in February 2019. This simply sent shock waves amongst the cadre. Even non-partisan folks also were dismayed at this blatant sidelining of Harish Rao.
In the run-up to the 2019 LS elections, Harish Rao’s name was not even included in the star campaigners list. This infuriated the cadre so much that changes were made to the list merely hours after it was released. Harish Rao was finally made the Finance minister after the bad performance of the TRS in the 2019 LS elections. But the damage was already done – this sidelining of one of the real stars of the TRS party by KCR in favour of his immediate family hasn’t been forgotten till date by the people.
The electoral setbacks and victories ever since
The first electoral setback came in the MLC elections held in March 2019. 3 candidates backed by the TRS (Teachers and Graduate constituencies) lost in these elections. This was the first hint by the people that they aren’t liking this arrogant and poaching behaviour of the TRS leadership.
The bigger setback was in the 2019 LS elections where the TRS won 9 out of the 17 LS seats. More than the numbers, what shocked KCR was the personal loss inflicted by the people. His daughter lost her Nizamabad seat to BJP. KCR’s son was in charge of the Karimnagar seat – that seat was won by the BJP too! KTR even (jokingly) challenged his cousin Harish Rao (in charge of Medak) that Karimnagar will give a larger majority to TRS than Medak will. TRS won Medak by more than 2 lakh vote margin! This was the second hint by the people that they aren’t liking the family enterprise that the TRS has increasingly starting to become.
The first victory for TRS came from an unusual place. State Congress president Uttam Kumar Reddy, who was already an MLA, contested and won the MP elections. As is the practice in the Congress party, his wife was given the ticket for the MLA by-poll from Huzurnagar. TRS put up a strong fight in the Congress party bastion and won the election with a very handsome majority. This further bolstered the party into thinking that the people are with the TRS and the MLC and LS elections are just an aberration.
The second victory and this was a big one, came during the Municipal corporation elections in Jan 2020. The TRS swept these elections. In addition to the strong cadre across the state, the TRS was still seen as the party for governance when it came to local issues. TRS won 9 out of the 10 corporations and a whopping 110/120 municipalities in these elections. These results came as a breath of fresh air to the beleaguered TRS and once again established the fact the road to unseat the TRS is an arduous one.
The Dubbaka by-poll turned the tables yet again on the TRS. BJP’s stunning victory in the backyard of the KCR family bastions delivered a shock to KCR. In a tough election, the BJP won the seat by a thin majority of about 1200 votes, but more importantly delivered a strong punch to the TRS that the opposition in Telangana is not dead.
The GHMC results are too recent to delve into details again, but the defeat of the TRS in this all-important election has changed the political discourse in the state for good! BJP’s rise as the principal opposition party in the state is now complete.
The confusing response to the COVID crisis
On March 7, 2020, KCR spoke in the Assembly on COVID. “Why do we need a mask? A scientist told me Corona won’t survive in temperatures greater than 22C”
The same KCR on March 14, 2020 tells us that: “We should not remain mute spectators to Corona. It is a crime if we remain mute. Masks will be needed.
It took him just 7 days to go from “Why do we need a mask” to “It is a crime not to wear a mask”. KCR announced full support to the Janata curfew and then announced a 10-day lockdown immediately the Janata curfew (even before PM Modi announced a nationwide lockdown).
KCR’s subsequent five press conferences on were all broadly hailed by the people of the state for being informative, suggestive of what needs to be done, and some dose of humour. The period from April 6th to the next two press conferences on April 19th and May 18th is when it started going downhill for KCR. His jibes at many reporters for asking “silly questions” slowly started to get boring. He somehow thought offence is the best defence, so much so that he wished that reporters writing negative news should be infected with Corona! In one of the press conferences, KCR asked the DGP to arrest all those making jokes in the social media on the Prime Minister of India. You would, of course, not see the alleged liberals take up this crass statement by an elected CM.
What changed the story for Telangana was the continuous low testing despite an overall increase of the same across the entire country. For many weeks, the government just wouldn’t even release the testing data. The overall positive numbers would also stay around a certain ballpark for a few days before moving to a new ballpark.
Anyone questioning the frequent change in strategy was admonished by everyone starting from the CM himself. The continuous ignoring of many valid questions regarding the crisis did not go well with the people, yet again evident from the recently concluded GHMC elections.
The special Assembly sessions for the new Municipal and Revenue acts
KCR has so far called for two special sessions of the state Assembly (each time for two days) to pass two significant legislations. The new Municipal act passed in 2019 establishes new municipal corporations and municipalities in the state. Provisions were made for reducing permissions needed by the citizens for constructions on smaller plots; duties of the councillors, commissioners etc were written in greater detail. But more importantly, it also gave unbridled powers to the state government to in fact cancel resolutions passed by any of these civic bodies; gave the (unelected) collector more power than the (elected) councillors and was therefore seen as an attempt to consolidate the power of the state government rather than empower the local bodies.
The second major act that KCR bought in was the new Revenue Act. This has been in the making since the year 2017. Significant changes were made to the process of registering lands in the state. The powers of the sub-registrar were reduced and those of the Tahsildar was increased. While the intent and the motive seem very good, this move also had a typical KCR touch. Until the act is notified, he has suspended all registration activity in the state since September of this year!
In yet another ridiculous ask, he asked all property owners to upload the details of the property onto a website but also asked the caste details of the said owner! A High Court case is still pending on the same. The end result is that despite the act being notified in late October, no registrations of non-agricultural lands are still happening in the state! Imagine not being able to register your property for a whopping three months and imagine the noise the English media would have made if a BJP government stopped registrations for a day, leave alone months!
Many new acts have been passed seamlessly without such big hindrances. No one understands these impulsive tendencies of KCR that inflict untold hardship onto people.
The frequent references to a “larger national role”
He first made a reference to a larger national role in the runup to the 2019 LS elections. He advocated a non-Congress, non-BJP Federal Front that will give more powers to the state and curb the powers of the centre. This idea obviously didn’t click for the 2019 elections. But he kept referring to this idea, saying that when he first formulated the idea of separate Telangana in 2001, the reaction was similar. He again made this reference in the runup to the GHMC elections. Every time these references have come up, rumours have also come up that this is KCR’s plan to anoint his son as the CM and move on to play a larger national role. And every time these rumours came up, the TRS has faced some electoral setback or the other!
The aloofness and frequent trips to his farmhouse
One of the long-standing criticisms of KCR was that it is very difficult for even the MLAs and MPs to meet him. His frequent visits to the farmhouse were the butt of many jokes since 2015. However, with the resounding 2018 verdict, it looked like the people didn’t care for this criticism. But this aloofness and the visits increased ever since that victory. KCR hasn’t gone to the secretariat in many years citing Vaastu problems.
He ran the administration from his home and made even more frequent trips to his farmhouse. At the peak of the COVID crisis, he was literally incommunicado for 9 full days. This criticism has now garnered more ground than the pre-2018 days. The aloofness is seen as arrogance by many and the many electoral setbacks haven’t helped either!
What people saw in KCR 1.0 is very different from what they are seeing in KCR 2.0. The increased focus on establishing family rule; the aloofness; the arrogance in responding to even genuine queries; the lack of any new significant schemes in the past 2 years; and the confused messaging have begun to show impact. What course correction is needed is obvious. Whether he will do it is not obvious!