It was the Cinderella hour on Saturday night. Over one hundred bleary-eyed men and women had huddled into the Mahabubnagar Zilla Parishad office. At the stroke of midnight, when the rest of Andhra Pradesh slept, walked in Kiran Kumar Reddy. Looking rather fresh after an entire day of public functions, much to everyone’s surprise.
The meeting was four and a half hours behind schedule. Not that it seemed to matter to Kiran. In what was clearly a first, for the next three hours, till the last item on the agenda had been discussed, the chief minister, district ministers, MPs, MLAs and MLCs from Mahbubnagar district, all district officials and secretaries of the government burnt the midnight oil. Literally.
Will all work and no play make a Kiran Kumar Reddy a successful chief minister? That clearly seems to be the hope and to give him credit, Kiran is working towards that.
In the last two months, Kiran has been on the road as part of Indiramma Bata, that like all government programmes with lofty targets, is a mass contact programme that aims to take the administration to the people. But the focus is clearly on a makeover for Kiran as he tries to shed his stiff touch-me-not image and mingle with the people. He has realised that he has been sitting, padded up in the pavilion for too long and it is high time he steps out and scores runs.
And Kiran has been attempting to do so literally. A hit with the bat has become a standard operating procedure on his district tours as he Kiran tries to let his bat do the talking. He is trying to do an Obama, interacting with young students, asking them to dream and work towards realising them. He is even spending the night in hostels in district towns. The idea clearly is to appeal to the youth, which incidentally was perhaps the only reason why he was appointed CM in the first place. A young Reddy leader from Rayalaseema, the Congress High command calculated, would be able to take on Jagan. That he has not been able to do that has raised doubts if the 12th man had been wrongly appointed the captain.
But those who have seen Kiran in action in recent days point to a drastic improvement. Most find his meetings business-like, without much political bluster and small talk. His approach is seen as more close to a K Rosaiah than a YSR in the sense that he is stingy when it comes to making promises. “I will get it examined” is his stock reply when pushed to make an announcement. A sharp departure from the YSR style which saw him announcing first and then working on how to get it done.
Take the meeting in Mahabubnagar district for instance. Most MLAs in the district are non-Congress. Add to that the Telangana sentiment. Yet despite the anti-Congressism in the air, Kiran was able to focus strictly on a developmental agenda for three hours, without any of the political rhetoric that usually takes over.
The disadvantage that Kiran faces is that he is constantly compared with a YSR. He inherited a baggage of anti-government sentiment and the NPAs in the form of non-performing Congress MLAs in their second term did not help matters. This was coupled with shrill demands for bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, which meant the state was constantly on the boil. Populist policies have seen the government scraping the bottom of the exchequer, making it difficult to launch any new schemes. And finally, Kiran’s nil experience in government meant senior ministers found it an insult to take orders from a ‘junior’.
In his nearly two years in office, Kiran has been unable to create a brand of his own. He suffers from the disadvantage of being a nominated leader from Delhi, like all Congress chief ministers barring YSR have been. What makes his job difficult is that Congress leaders are constantly accumulating frequent flyer points on the Hyderabad-Delhi air route to complain against his style of functioning to whoever lends an ear in Delhi, his ministers are constantly at loggerheads with each other and the corruption charges many of them face. To make it worse, Delhi does not give him a free hand to effect changes in the administration. Just about everyone in the party fancies himself or herself as a CM-in-waiting.
With his political rival YS Jaganmohan Reddy behind bars and Chandrababu Naidu struggling to reinvent himself, this is the best and most opportune time for Kiran to make a mark. He has little time, with elections less than two years away and the Telangana agitation threatening to revive.
Being among the people has helped Kiran fight charges that his government is on auto pilot and does not work. Since building an image independent of his party will not be allowed, Kiran’s best bet is to build his equity to emerge as the first among equals.