'Winning 14 of 17 seats is my target': Telangana CM Revanth Reddy

He says the BRS is outrightly supporting the BJP in at least five seats


Interview/ A. Revanth Reddy, chief minister, Telangana

Anumula Revanth Reddy is on a mission to demonstrate a democratic and egalitarian facet of power and leadership. The new chief minister of Telangana started by pulling down the iron barricades outside Pragathi Bhavan, which served as the official residence of former chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao in the heart of Hyderabad, and turning it into a place for public grievance redressal. Reddy has refused official accommodation, has cut down the number of vehicles in his convoy, has trimmed the security detail and has asked officials not to stop traffic during his movement in peak hours.

The BRS does not want the Congress to win, so they are in an undisclosed alliance with the BJP. I can name five [seats] where the BRS is outrightly supporting the BJP by not even campaigning.

While Reddy says his priority is to establish an efficient administration, his focus is now on the Lok Sabha elections. Telangana votes on May 13 for its 17 seats and Reddy has set himself an ambitious target of winning at least 14 seats. THE WEEK had an exclusive interaction with him at his plush Jubilee Hills residence in Hyderabad. A bylane, which goes steep up and is barricaded by the police, takes one to the chief minister's house. Upon entering the compound, leaders and important visitors are sent to the basement-turned office. The walls of Reddy's office are adorned with eye-catching photos from his public meetings over the years. A series of steps leads to a lawn and a meeting room where the chief minister usually has his informal meetings and press interactions. We were asked to wait for a few minutes after which the chief minister appeared, clad in a casual attire. Sipping tea, he spoke about the administrative challenges, allegations of the opposition, Prime Minister Modi’s march in the Deccan region and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s impact on politics. Excerpts:

How do you feel after completing more than 100 days as chief minister?

It has been a wonderful experience, but also a challenging one as the state administration had collapsed. I am working to restore it. All these years, [KCR] never applied his mind. Of the 29 departments, he never reviewed 22. I am encountering files that have been pending for years. There were no secretariat business rules and no governance. He was only interested in select departments and files.

It seems that working even 18 hours a day will not be sufficient to streamline the system. We are working to post officers with integrity. In the last 10 years, pressure from the KCR government made officers lose their identity. Now, the challenge is to select at least one honest officer per department. The first 100 days were spent in bringing some order and then the model code of conduct came into effect.

Given the financial situation of the state, how tough is it to fulfill your poll promises?

It is tough, but not impossible. The financial aspects must be addressed properly. We noticed that in the previous government, money was not collected from where it should have been, and it was not spent where it needed to be. On VAT and GST, there was a pick-and-choose policy, as some were let off without paying taxes. Due to this, the state’s income declined. Not taking Central government schemes with matching grants has overburdened our finances. We have to strike a balance. I have clearly instructed my team to factor in government schemes with matching grants while designing the budget. This way, some amount will be spared because of the partial share from the Centre. There are many schemes with a 40:60 ratio, meaning if we spend 40 per cent, the Central government will contribute 60 per cent. That 60 per cent becomes our savings. With this saved money, I can allocate funds elsewhere, especially in areas where I am not receiving adequate support from the Central government, such as irrigation. We are adopting a newer approach to change the present financial situation of the state.

As alleged by some non-BJP state governments, have you experienced discrimination by the Central government?

In some sanctioned schemes, there is no scope for discrimination. Once a rule is framed, it has to be automatically complied with. In some special projects awarded with the discretionary powers of the prime minister, there is a chance of certain states receiving more projects. There is some discrimination there, but we can negotiate and resolve it. That is what I have been trying to do by meeting Prime Minister Modi. We have been in power for a short period and, as of now, we have not encountered any such discrimination. We cannot predict what will happen in future.

The Congress is in power in very few states. Is there pressure on you to win more seats in the Lok Sabha polls?

There is no pressure from the party, but it is my responsibility and I have to deliver. After the popular mandate in the assembly elections, there is definitely hope that we will win more seats. Winning 14 of 17 Lok Sabha seats is my target.

PTI01_30_2024_000287B Plan of action: Revanth Reddy chairs an election meeting in Hyderabad | PTI

In the Lok Sabha elections, how significant would be your work as chief minister?

I am advocating that people should vote based on my work as it will help me work better. A good number of seats will make it easier to accomplish tasks at the Centre. I am 100 per cent certain that the INDIA bloc will form the government. If there are more MPs from our state, then there is a chance to send more Central ministers from here, which will help in the development of the state. From 2004 to 2014, our MPs held important portfolios that were instrumental in Hyderabad getting the metro rail and other big projects. The focus is on winning a greater number of seats.

The Congress is notorious for infighting.

When we go for a long drive, we experience ups, downs and speed breakers because the road is not always smooth. Running a government is a similar experience. The driver must understand the issues and move forward carefully. Not all passengers can drive a car, right? Whoever is in the driver's seat has to take care of everything. As both chief minister and state Congress president, that is my duty. The atmosphere right now is peaceful as I believe in a live-and-let-live policy. Senior leaders have been made ministers with key portfolios, and they make decisions independently without any outside interference. On my part, I am available 24/7 to party workers and leaders to resolve any issues or hear suggestions.

The BRS accuses you of attempting to dismantle the party by foisting cases and poaching MLAs.

I want to know what they are scared of. Till now, not a single FIR has been registered against any BRS politician. We have constituted judicial inquiries into certain irregularities in some departments. Some hardware and equipment were missing, which prompted newly transferred officers to file complaints leading to investigations. It was found that some officers who served during the previous term resorted to illegal tapping and hacking, and destroyed equipment after the assembly election results were out. The probe is progressing at a normal pace, so why are they (BRS) worried? It only goes to prove that they feel they have committed mistakes.

Even in cases related to the irrigation department, action has been taken against officials, not politicians. Departmental inquiries are ongoing, so why are they making these allegations? Even I cannot make certain statements casually since the inquiry is ongoing. So where is vendetta politics in all of these? We have not obstructed any of KCR's programmes. In fact, his arrangements as opposition leader have been on par with those of the chief minister's when it comes to security. I am trying to revive all institutions, including the opposition. We resolved the state government versus governor crisis and improved relations between the state and the Centre. We are addressing the issues of opposition parties. I am not trying to poach any MLAs. Had I done that, do you really think the BRS would be in its present form? I will not ask any of their MLAs to switch over. Our thought process is that we have obtained an absolute majority, and we want to run the government efficiently. I don’t want to become an example of cheap politics like KCR did.

BJP and BRS leaders say that you will shift to the BJP after the elections.

That is nonsense. When I was in opposition, I did not join the BJP. So why would I do that now? I don’t even want to waste my time reacting to such statements. Both the BJP and the BRS do not have much to talk about regarding their body of work during their ten years of rule in the state and the Centre, so they want to circulate spicy news just to stay in the limelight.

Are the elections going to be primarily between the BJP and the Congress?

The elections will revolve around the national agenda and the PM’s chair. Since the debate is centred on Narendra Modi as prime minister, it will be him versus other parties. The BRS does not want the Congress to win, so they are in an undisclosed strategic alliance with the BJP. I can name five [seats] where the BRS is outrightly supporting the BJP by not even campaigning. It is crystal clear that Congress is winning in all these five seats. The BRS gave tickets to those who do not have stature or are politically irrelevant. Anyway, they know they cannot win, so their idea is to at least try and defeat the Congress keeping future politics in mind as they feel they can join the NDA if the alliance comes to power.

In case the BJP wins a good number of seats in Telangana, do you think it will attempt to destabilise your government?

Whether the BJP will win the desired number of seats or not, it may attempt to destabilise the government. As of now, no such conditions exist, and these are only conspiracy theories. However, K. Laxman (MP and BJP leader) and K.T. Rama Rao (BRS working president) are speaking in the same tone, indicating that they will pull down the government after the elections. If you connect the dots, it raises some doubts. We are closely monitoring the developments, and we are prepared for any situation.

Do you think the Ram Temple issue will have an impact on these elections?

It is a settled issue. It received maximum hype, and the BJP tried to take advantage of it as much as possible. The Supreme Court has given a favourable verdict, and nobody has any objections. People are intelligent, and the common man will think about inflation, the price of essential commodities, fuel, unemployment and where we stand on the hunger index. In the 10 years of the Modi government, how many jobs were created? This will also come up for discussion before the polls. He promised to double farmers' income. Has he done it? What about the promise of bringing back black money or curbing it? Modi’s performance will also depend on these issues.

What is your view on the BJP’s south push to win maximum seats?

At one time, the BJP had seven MPs from united Andhra Pradesh. In the Telangana region alone, they won four seats in 1999. They keep winning or losing seats from time to time. Theirs is not an established party in the south. There are around 129 seats in the south. They may hardly win 20 seats, including in Karnataka and Telangana. The rest of India has 400 seats. So, is the BJP trying to claim that they will win almost 400 out of 400 when they are contesting in only 300, as the rest have been given to allies? Winning 400 seats is a BJP lie that nobody should believe.

Do you think the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra helped the Congress?

Rahul Gandhi participated in the yatra in Karnataka, and we won the elections there. He did it in Telangana, and we won the elections here. In Maharashtra, the party got revived. At the national level, the party is playing a strong role as the opposition, addressing the corrupt practices of the Central government and crony capitalism. He initiated debates from Kanniyakumari to Kashmir, from Manipur to Mumbai. National politics now revolves around Rahul.