AT FIRST SIGHT, Pragathi Bhavan, the official address of the Telangana chief minister in Hyderabad, radiates allure and authority in equal parts. One has to drive up a slope and pass a security barrier to reach the place. All the action, however, is in the building to the left. This is the office of K.T. Rama Rao, the state information technology minister and K. Chandrashekar Rao’s son, and is the gathering place of media and party workers as the state inches closer to elections.
KCR does not grant exclusive interviews, but KTR steps into those shoes with ease. He shifts easily between answering probing questions under the glare of lights and warmly welcoming new party members and posing for cameras.
In the past nine years in power, KTR has cultivated the image of a modern leader with an engaging and unfiltered tone.
Speaking candidly, he talks about how negativity thrives in today’s politics and how that affects the health of individuals. He then pitches for some unconventional and fun interviews, clearly bored of the mundane serious stuff. At lunch time, a sandwich from a nearby eatery is handed over to him. One glance and he starts chomping, breaking any notion of him following strict and fad diets.
KTR wears many hats―corporate maven, marketing hard-seller, witty comrade, regional political leader, and even a class monitor. When a video journalist’s voice grows too loud, he steps in to restore order. In a room filled with both Telugu- and English-speaking journalists, he switches between the two languages, using words that convey his intentions with clarity.
KTR’s oratory skill, infused with rebuttals, humour and catchphrases, has earned him admirers all over. His journey began 18 years ago when he arrived in Hyderabad with an MBA degree and a taste of American life. Immersing himself in the Telangana movement, he aced the life of politics and protest. He has since been a four-time MLA and held key portfolios such as IT and municipal administration. As the assembly elections approach, KTR opens up exclusively to THE WEEK, confident about his party’s triumph, responding to the opposition’s claims, and offering insights into the elections.
Q/ In the past four decades, no party has won three consecutive terms in the Telugu states. Can you break this norm?
A/ KCR has already broken so many stereotypes; he will break this one, too. He achieved the creation of Telangana, which everyone thought was impossible, and he will rewrite history by winning again and becoming chief minister for the third time.
Q/ Does it bother you to see your flagship irrigation project, Kaleshwaram, being criticised after there were two separate incidents of seepage and piers sinking?
A/ Kaleshwaram is the world’s largest lift irrigation project. It has received all the approvals, including that of the Central Water Commission. Most importantly, it has changed the fortunes of Telangana. In 2014, during the formation of Telangana state, the total paddy procurement was 68 lakh metric tonnes. Now, it stands at 3.5 crore metric tonnes, largely thanks to Kaleshwaram. Not only has it generated new activity, but it has also significantly stabilised older command areas. So, Kaleshwaram is definitely an engineering marvel, and I am not just saying this; it is what the Central Water Commission stated in 2018.
What was once hailed as an engineering marvel is now being portrayed as an engineering disaster by the commission, since it is election time. This seems like a political conspiracy aimed at defaming the project, Telangana state, and the government. There is no doubt about it. We have seen how various institutions across the country are being controlled, and this body is no exception.
They visited the site, conducted an inspection, and gave a hurried report within three days. The political expediency they have displayed is evident to everyone, especially considering the timing. I believe it is (the issues) something we will take up with our engineers. They will thoroughly analyse the situation and provide a proper rebuttal. However, on the surface of it, it appears to be a politically motivated conspiracy.
The Congress has consistently been against progress. They obstruct any form of work. Rahul Gandhi claims there has been a scam of Rs1 lakh crore in the Kaleshwaram project, but how is that possible when the total project cost is Rs80,000 crore?
Q/ Personally and politically, how do you find the upcoming elections different compared with the 2018 one?
A/ An election is always an election. Last time, too, the Congress tried to create confusion and convey that it was coming to power. Same nonsense and the same fake surveys. For instance, one agency, CVoter survey, claimed they would get 63 seats last time. You saw what happened in the end (Congress got 19). These things are not new to us. It is the usual nonsense that occurs in every election. Ultimately, people know one thing: they should not take a risk; voting for KCR is the right thing to do.
Q/ From KCR’s speeches, it looks like the focus is more on the positive work the party has done rather than displaying aggression towards the opposition.
A/ Isn’t that a great trait for a leader? In India, it is rare to have a leader who is actually talking about his work rather than other nonsense. Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot talk about his track record or achievements even after 9.5 years. [It is] truly unfortunate and regrettable [that we] have someone who cannot speak about their achievements while we have a chief minister who only talks about work and once in a while gives it back to the opposition as well.
Q/ As a senior BRS leader, how do you see the sudden rise of the Congress and fall of the BJP?
A/ In a multi-party system, what typically occurs is that some votes remain with parties based on performance and ideologies. But, what happened in Telangana in the past six months is that the BJP got decimated. Its voting percentage has dropped to single digits. Now, it is a two-party contest. If the Congress is giving the impression that it will bounce back, it may be because the anti-incumbency votes [that would have gone to] the BJP seem to have shifted towards the Congress. Additionally, some leaders have moved from the BJP to the Congress, which may result in a shift in votes along with them. Although the Congress may seem to have gained some strength, its base is relatively weak. The 51 per cent vote share required in a democracy will ultimately be with the BRS.
Q/ You are pacifying rebel leaders and those denied tickets by giving them official posts. You are also welcoming disgruntled leaders from other parties. Why do this if you are confident of victory?
A/ There are two principles in war―strengthen ourselves and weaken the opponents. We have to implement both equally. Otherwise, the media will only report that everyone is joining the Congress and nobody is joining us. These elections are a phase. People watch and enjoy the charade, but they likely have already made up their minds. It provides entertainment and also fills newspapers. But as far as voters are concerned, they tend to be clearer in their minds than politicians and political parties. These elections are all about who you are entrusting the state’s administration to. There is no leader to match KCR’s personality in the Congress or the BJP in the state. Ultimately, I believe that will determine the outcome of these elections.
Q/ There is a crack in the INDIA alliance in Telangana. Do you feel it would be easier for your party to win elections now that the Congress and the CPI(M) are not together?
A/ Where is the INDIA alliance? Elections are taking place in five states, but where is this alliance present? It is not there in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan. We have been saying that the two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, are very arrogant. They will not treat anybody as an equal. And if there is no equality, then no alliance can work. It is an alliance in name only. We have fought the last two elections without forming any tie-ups. It is not about arithmetic, but about your confidence in entering an election and steering it in your direction. We have won both elections decisively by going alone, and this time, too, we are placing our trust in the people and hoping they reciprocate.
Q/ The Election Commission has seized a lot of money and jewellery in the recent past. Has the extent of poll inducements increased?
A/ I will not be able to comment on it because I believe it is for the Election Commission to investigate, not us. But one thing is for sure, there are a lot of gaping holes in the way elections are conducted in this country. It is for the lawmakers to address.
Q/ Unemployment has been a burning concern in the state. Do you believe your government has lived up to people’s expectations in providing employment in the past nine years?
A/ We tried our best. I know there were a lot of expectations from us. I will tell you one thing honestly. Every party, whether we like it or not, has its own share of mistakes, weaknesses and letdowns. But it also has its own strengths. If you want me to do a SWOT analysis, I will tell you that our strengths outweigh our weaknesses. Even when it comes to employment, we have performed better than other states, whether it is in government employment or the private sector.
Q/ What impact will the Telangana elections have on the Lok Sabha polls?
A/ There is a difference between state and parliamentary elections. But this time it will be different for us because our leader is trying to go national. Our party is also trying to make inroads into Maharashtra, but it will all depend on Telangana. First, we have to win Telangana to be able to give confidence to the rest of the country that we are a serious player.
Q/ Can you describe Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi in a few words?
A/ Rahul is perennially a work in progress, a leader who has been relaunched a hundred times. The prime minister is a man who has hoodwinked the nation twice in a row.
Q/ Last time around, former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu was your opponent. This time, some of your party leaders have expressed sympathy for him going to jail. Why this change in stance?
A/ Chandrababu Naidu, as a leader of a political party, is not contesting in Telangana. Putting politics aside, on a personal note, he is going through a traumatic phase at the age of 73, being arrested when the matter is in court. We are certainly sympathetic to his plight.
Q/ How difficult was the switch from the corporate world to the political arena?
A/ They say “When in Rome, be a Roman.” I have chosen this life and this career. You have to get yourself ingrained whether you like it or not. There are a lot of things that I do not like, a lot of things I am not comfortable with. This is the case for all of us in the choices of careers we have made. I have to put up with it and live with it.