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In 15 years: how KCR rose from middling leader to regional satrap

A Saye Sekhar | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

This day 15 years ago, a middling politician, frail-looking and clad in his trademark white shirt and trousers, launched a new party. Hardly anybody thought much of this venture for the politician was neither a rabble-rouser nor charismatic. He had been a backroom operative all his political life, not exactly the ideal training for an aspiring mass politician.

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How everybody was proved wrong. Today that politician is the first chief minister of the new state of Telangana. K Chandrashekar Rao - or KCR as he's popularly known - has indeed come a long way.

KCR started out in the Congress, but forayed into electoral politics with the Telugu Desam Party of NT Rama Rao in 1983. He, however, lost the first election in 1983, but never lost any election ever after. He was disillusioned with the party after N Chandrababu Naidu, who had replaced Rama Rao as the leader, denied him a ministerial berth after the TDP returned to power in 1999.

KCR didn't have the wherewithal to compete with the TDP on the prevailing political and social agendas. So, he devised an emotive, single-point agenda for his party: the creation of the state of Telangana. The party was launched on 27 April 2001, and named Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

KCR soon demonstrated his political acumen, not least by the way he used the Congress to turn his party into a formidable political and electoral force. By making the Grand Old Party believe he would merge the TRS with it, he persuaded the UPA regime to announce the creation of Telangana -- and duly took credit for it. Once that led to a groundswell of popular support for him he coolly dumped the Congress.

Making a fresh start

The story of the TRS formation and its growth is quite interesting. Seething over the "humiliation" of being dropped from the TDP ministry, KCR began consultations with various intellectuals on whether the Telangana sentiment, dormant since a violent agitation for statehood was crushed in 1969, could be reignited. He had a survey done and when the results came out encouraging, he resigned from the assembly - he was the deputy speaker - and launched TRS.

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He began carefully building the movement, one step at a time. First, he sought re-election from Siddipet in 2001 and won with a margin of over 56,000 votes. Then, he began extending the party's reach by putting up candidates in local body elections wherever he sensed a chance of winning.

In 2004, KCR entered into what would turn out to be a beneficial alliance with the Congress. That year, the TRS contested 46 assembly seats across Telangana region and won 26.

He joined Manmohan Singh's ministry but his love-hate relationship with the Congress eventually gave out. The Congress in Andhra Pradesh began luring away TRS MLAs after six of the TRS ministers quit YS Rajasekhara Reddy's cabinet "out of suffocation".

Ahead of the 2009 general election, the TDP, to win back power, called for a Grand Alliance against the Congress, and the TRS readily joined, along with the CPI and the CPM. The Congress prevailed, however, and YSR returned as chief minister, although with a significantly reduced majority.

The death of YSR in a helicopter crash on 2 September 2009 proved to be a turning point for both KCR and the statehood movement. Until then, the TRS was restricted to a handful of districts, and had little reach in north and south Telangana or Hyderabad.

Getting the job done

Taking advantage of the leadership vacuum caused by the untimely death of YSR, who was fiercely opposed to dividing Andhra Pradesh, KCR went on an "indefinite hunger strike", eventually forcing UPA II to announce, in the dead of night on 9 December 2009, that it would start the process for the formation of Telangana.

When the state was eventually formed in 2014, KCR was acknowledged as its "creator".

In the state's first election, the TRS won power by winning 63 of the 119 assembly seats. It was a slender majority, and potentially destabilising. Not one to leave anything to chance, KCR started working the opposition MLAs, focusing on the TDP. He eventually lured away 12 of TDP's 15 legislators, virtually finishing off the party in Telangana. He also got five MLAs of the Congress, and two each of the YSR Congress and the BSP.

In the municipal elections that followed, KCR orchestrated a rout of both the Congress and the TDP, with the two parties together managing a humiliating three seats in the 150-seat Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation.

And with the communists reduced to fringe players and the BJP confused and in disarray, KCR now has virtually no opposition.

Still, the chief minister faces his own set of problems. He may have bitten off more than he can chew in terms of promises to the people. The redesigning of irrigation projects and development of a water grid to provide drinking water to all; the rejuvenation and inter-linking of some 46,000 tanks, the huge pay hikes to government employees; and plans for redevelopment of Hyderabad and other cities will cost several lakh crore of rupees. But the revenue is no match to the proposed expenditure.

For all KCR's achievements, his legacy is still in the making. How he deals with the practical problems confronting his state will eventually determine how his legacy shapes up.

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

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First published: 28 April 2016, 2:20 IST