Scale of KCR's planned rally hints at Telangana CM's Delhi ambitions, aims to dwarf Congress in state

At this TRS rally in Hyderabad, Chief Minister KCR is expected to announce the dissolution of the Telangana Assembly to hold the state elections in November-December.

TS Sudhir September 02, 2018 08:00:55 IST
Scale of KCR's planned rally hints at Telangana CM's Delhi ambitions, aims to dwarf Congress in state

"The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) has as many as 46 lakh members. If even half of them turn up at party president and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's rally in Hyderabad today, it will be the largest crowd at a public meeting organised by a political party."

KT Rama Rao — the chief minister's son and Telangana cabinet minister — has been furnishing numbers to rubbish the Opposition's charge that nearly Rs 300 crore has been spent on organising what the TRS has been billing as "the mother of all political rallies in India". The state IT minister has also held that it was not right to cheapen the sentiment of the TRS cadre by alleging that they were being paid attend the "Pragathi Nivedana Sabha", which has been organised at a venue 25 kilometres from Hyderabad.

Scale of KCRs planned rally hints at Telangana CMs Delhi ambitions aims to dwarf Congress in state

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. AFP

The self-righteousness apart, the logistics give away the scale of the big, fat political event. For Sunday's event, the ruling party in Telangana has hired 7,300 of the state's 12,000 public buses to ferry its cadre from districts. For two days now, party workers have been travelling from villages on 10,000 tractors to reach the venue by Saturday night. Four cell towers have been erected and 16 new roads have been laid out to facilitate cadre movement. Although the TRS claims that the gathering will primarily see party workers in attendance, members of women's self-help groups in different towns of Telangana have been asked to participate in the rally to be eligible for sops in the future.

"We are like this only," the TRS says when asked whether it was necessary to indulge in such an over-the-top show of strength. The amount being spent to organise the mega event remains a secret. TRS has been referring to its public meetings during the Telangana movement, which saw attendance in several lakhs, but the scale of the Pragathi Nivedana Sabha does not fit with the party's confidence of winning the Telangana Assembly elections for sure.

On numerous occasions, KCR — as the chief minister is better known — has pointed to surveys he commissioned that predict a tally of 100 of the 119 seats in the Telangana Assembly for the TRS. If the Opposition really is in such bad shape in the state, then is there a need to organise such a show of political muscle?

From KCR's point of view, the answer is yes. And this is because KCR is looking as much at Hyderabad as he is at New Delhi. With this massive rally, the TRS intends to make the Opposition Congress feel dwarfed in comparison to the "Baahubalisque" KCR. The party also aims to make people 1,500 kilometres away in North India sit up and take note of the optics of the mass mobilisation.

When KCR had attempted to float a non-BJP, non-Congress "Federal Front", other parties did not quite warm up to the idea of the TRS chief pitching himself as the leader of such a group. This rally is KCR's way of showing his support base in his backyard.

Moreover, the grand meeting could also coincide with an announcement of the dissolution of the Telangana Assembly, paving the way for early polls in the state. KCR's intention with the splurge and glitzy television productions is to show that he is already off the blocks.

The TRS believes that if it tackles the Assembly and parliamentary elections separately, the party will be in a better position politically. This is because KCR will be able to convert the Assembly elections into a presidential contest where the attention is focused entirely on him. Also, if he wins the Assembly polls, the Telangana chief minister can use that momentum to position himself as one of the leaders in the reckoning for the top job at the head of a "Third Front", if both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are not in a position to form the government at the Centre.

KCR's plan then could be to pull a Jayalalithaa. In 2014, the AIADMK supremo had cast herself as a prime ministerial candidate, with her party posters then showing her against the backdrop of the parliament. The tactic worked for her, with the AIADMK winning 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu. Politicians friendly with the TRS have already advised him to stitch together a "KCR for prime minister" narrative, underline his "agitator to administrator" journey and position himself as a regional satrap with a good command over Hindi and English, aiming for New Delhi.

This is important also because it will fit with the succession plan he has to implement in Hyderabad. Moving to New Delhi will allow KCR to make his son "KTR" succeed him as chief minister. And if he does so amid political euphoria, it will also ensure that other claimants don't resist the move.

For all this to happen, the Election Commission of India has to be on the same page as KCR. Elections to three North Indian states are due in November-December, and the issue with Telangana is that the revision of the electoral rolls in the state will be completed only by January. Would it make sense for the Assembly elections to then be held in January, followed by the Lok Sabha polls three months later, resulting in wasteful expenditure of public money?

Interestingly, the Telangana BJP is against advancing of the Assembly polls. But if Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah see the possibility of post-poll business with KCR, they may be willing to play ball, given that their state unit in Telangana is nothing to crow about.

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