Kavitha Kalvakuntla dreads the day when a finger would be pointed at her for doing wrong. This is not to suggest that life is only about being right but she has an image to live up to—her father’s. And for his sake she would never want to do any wrong. She can ill afford to hear—KCR’s daughter has done wrong.
Kavita is the daughter of Telangana Chief Minister K.Chandrasekhar Rao, better known as KCR. His chief ministership did not come easy; nor did the birth of a separate state of Telangana. It took years of struggle of which Kavitha was also part of. Formed in 2014, it was a battle of sweat and blood for Rao and his followers. Therefore, Kavitha treads carefully; she wants no blot on her father.
Even as an MP, she measures her words and treads carefully. “It is a tight rope walk. If I err I would set a bad example. If I cannot add value to my father’s legacy, I definitely do not want to damage anything”. It is, she agrees, a huge responsibility and a burden, but one she is happy carting on her fragile shoulders: “My father is one in a million,” she asserts saying that it is a honour to be known as KCR’s daughter and to “belong to him”.
By normal standards, this kind of a self-regulation is rather limiting because it takes the spark out of her role of being an MP. But then Kavitha is in no hurry as she wants to charter the course of her political career at her own pace: “I am cautious and want things to unfold at their own pace”.
Yet controversy has dogged both the father and daughter. As chief minister, KCR was in the eye of a storm when he conducted a puja. The state was then reeling under drought and KCR spent some seven crore rupees on the ritual— roping in 1,100 priests from seven states. His daughter Kavitha is not in denial on grounds that her father is a “religious man and spent his own money on conducting a puja”.
Unlike her father, Kavitha took to religion rather late: after the birth of her son to be precise. The first time she held her new born in both her hands, she sensed how fragile life was and what it meant to be protected by God: “The birth of my son changed everything. Then I prayed to God to protect him. I felt so helpless.”
Being a mother takes precedence about everything else. She has, on one occasion, left a Parliament session and air-dashed home because her son’s teacher called to say that he was missing her terribly.
Till she became a mother, Kavitha was kind of a rebel. Marriage and motherhood changed her a great deal. She mellowed and from being a fiery youngster, matured to a steady young woman.
When she met Devanapalli Anil Kumar, whom she later married, she told him plainly that she was greying and her jet-black hair was actually dyed. Marriage, she says, is too sacred to be pegged on lies.
It was in college that she decided to have her long and thick tresses chopped off: “When I joined college I thought I should cut my hair short. I was unsure”. When she went to the beauty parlour, a thought struck her: “Why don’t I start one of my own?” She did, after her return from the US: “I always wanted to manage a big business. Politics was the last thing on my mind”.
Kavitha grew up in a house that was always full of people. Apart from being part of a “cricket team-like” joint family, people were always in and out thanks to her politician father.
For someone who was often forced into the garden to finish her homework, Kavitha has done rather well academically: graduated as an engineer and is a semester short of getting her Masters. An accident did her in and she flew back only to return to the US: this time as Anil’s wife. Till Anil worked as a quality controller in a perfumery, the obvious gifts were perfumes. His love, she says, led to her gaining weight: “From 55, it shot up to 61 kilogrammes.”
She took her “sweet revenge” when, on Valentine’s day, she asked him to write her a letter in Telugu. His jaw dropped. He didn’t, he told her, know the language: “Then go learn it,” she commanded. He did and finally wrote to her in their native language. “It was full of mistakes,” Kavitha told me. She has laminated the letter, often pulling it out to make him see red.
Had the movement for Telangana not stirred her conscience, Kavitha would perhaps have remained a homemaker: “Everyone was involved, women had switched from serials to news, young people were out on the streets. I felt I could not sit back. I had to contribute.” She started by floating an NGO Telangana Jagruthi but realised that for any social platform to work, political power is a must.
Equally, when she sought a loan to help women buy goats and applied for it on her NGO’s letterhead, the bank manager refused it. The papers were in order so Kavitha demanded the reasons for refusal. “You know why I will never give them a loan? Because of this,” he said circling in red the word Telangana. That was when she realised that one had to be politically empowered to make headway: “Agar logo ka kaam karana hai to MLA ya MP bano [be an MLA and MP to help people]”
That is also the time when her fairy-tale like life had a brush with reality. It was when a young woman walked up to her and asked her to arrange 1,000 rupees for her son: “I was shocked. A 1,000 rupees? What was a necessity for her, was pizza money for me”. The thought haunted her for many years. Even now whenever she splurges, the poor woman’s face resurfaces.
Women power is Kavitha’s passion. For her Bathukamma is not merely a festival but a tool to help women bond. She has used the ritual to get women together. Bathukamma, Telangana’s ancient festival, has several stories weaved around it. Kavitha’s favourite is about Bathukamma, the woman, who sacrificed her life to stop a flood.
A nine-day celebration, a particular species of flowers goes into making Bathukamma. As a child, Kavitha often played one herself. As an MP, she steers others.
Even while being low-key, Kavitha is enjoying her tenure as an MP. It may have come easy because of her father but it is not something that is to be trifled with. “How many become MPs? For someone who has never been a panchayat member, to get into Parliament is a big thing. It is a huge opportunity and I intend to make the most of it”. Politics may have taken away a lot of quality time with the family but it has given her “lots of blessings and good will”. The movement was like a war but representing a constituency is something else. It is about making a difference—“During the movement you are like a hungry child who is always crying for more but as an MP you are like a mother who is a provider to one’s kid and family,” Kavitha said.