As is to be expected in election season, Bharat Rashtra Samithi supremo K Chandrashekar Reddy’s official residence in Hyderabad, Pragati Bhavan, is abuzz with activity. It’s a fairly big, airy building with a lot of people by the stairways, reception area, the verandah, moving about looking very important. While we wait in the 20-seater conference room, we can hear a commotion outside, announcing the arrival of K T Rama Rao, KCR’s son, working president of BRS and IT and Urban Development minister in Telangana. He extricates himself from his supporters and wades into the conference room, apologising to a group of journalists for being a few minutes late. KTR is fit, energetic and very articulate as he settles down to answer our questions.
The Congress looked like a distant second in these elections just about six months ago but over the last two months or so, there has been a revival, a momentum which might be just enough for the party to go over the line in Telangana. Has BRS altered its strategy to address this, we ask him. “Six months ago, they were abysmal, they were gone. Because the BJP, which was flying high till six-eight months ago, suddenly started dipping. They are nowhere now. So whatever momentum the BJP had slowly shifted because they started attacking BRS and KCR. As a result, the Congress expectation is so low, when the base is low, whatever little upsurge you had looks like you have done something truly outstanding,” reasons KTR.
He says five years ago, in the 2018 elections, the Congress buzz was more than this. “The Congress leaders have this unusual habit of painting their houses, stitching up new clothes, announcing swearing-in days. The Congress president last time said he won’t shave his beard, he still has one. So, we’ve seen this hype before. I can tell you with a lot of confidence that on December 3, we will actually be almost at the same number as last time (88 seats),” he says.
When we travel to Parigi, to Nalgonda, to KCR’s constituency Kamareddy, all around a 100-km radius of Hyderabad, many people in the villages and small towns say KCR’s various welfare schemes have reached them. But many still want change.
Elderly Irfan has been running an auto in Nalgonda for over twenty years. He says he thought the formation of a new state, their own government, will change things. “But our lot has been more or less the same. I make Rs 300 on a good day, it’s barely enough to run the house,” he says. He lives with his younger son, who is in college and two daughters, who are in school. He had voted BRS last time and will vote for Congress this time.
KTR is aware of the perils of anti-incumbency after ruling for two terms. “Yes, it is an issue. If you know that 10 people who voted for you last time will not vote for you this time, what a smart politician or a smart political party would do is go to the 15 people who haven’t voted for you last time. That’s what the game is all about. So I think yes, anti-incumbency is an issue, ten years is an issue, two terms in government is an issue. But good governance is also an issue,” he says and rattles off a series of numbers that the young state has achieved. The topmost is that at Rs 3 lakhs, it has the highest per capita income in the country, and its GDP is one of the fastest growing.
The Congress party alleges that BRS is the B-team of the BJP, that all the rhetoric against each other is only for show. They allege all the major parties in the state, BRS, the AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen), and the BJP have ganged up against them. They argue that’s the reason KCR’s daughter K Kavitha, who has been questioned by ED, is not yet arrested.
The reason the BRS did not join the Opposition bloc INDIA, which has the ambition to take on the might of the BJP in 2024. KTR dismisses the allegations. He argues there are ED cases against Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi also but they have not been arrested, by that logic, won’t it make the Congress also BJP’s B-team?
He says the BRS didn’t join the INDIA bloc because the sole agenda of a coalition cannot be to overthrow another government. “It should never be about ‘isko hatao baad me hum dekhte hain’. It should be for the betterment of India. If we say that we agreed on these four or five issues, and that’s why we have come together, then it’s different. But if you are only saying ek aadmi ko hatao, you are unnecessarily making him stronger. So we decided we are better of fighting on our own,” says KTR.
Whether that was a prudent move or not will be known after May 2024. For now, his focus will be on December 3.