KCR’s decline and fall: Why the face of Telangana lost the assembly polls

His larger than life persona proved to be the Achilles’ heel for his party.

WrittenBy:Pooja Prasanna
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“We have voted for him twice. Why should we vote a third time?” asked a woman voter from Gajwel, K Chandrashekhar Rao’s constituency. 

What have we got since the formation of Telangana, asked another from a constituency in north Telangana. 

Stories of disillusionment and anger against KCR, former chief minister and the face of Telangana, form the core of the Bharat Rashtra Samiti’s resounding defeat in the recently concluded assembly polls. His larger-than-life personality proved to be the Achilles’ heel for the BRS. 

The plethora of welfare schemes, which the BRS banked upon heavily in their outreach to voters, did not deliver them the desired electoral results. Padmaja Shaw, a member of the Jago Telangana Team and a retired professor of journalism, Osmania University, said voters across the state found the schemes partially implemented, at best. Along with a group of people, she had travelled to around 60 constituencies in Telangana and spoken to voters.

“We spoke to people on the streets across districts but none of them were actual beneficiaries of the host of schemes implemented by BRS,” she said. “Schemes like Dalit Bandhu were implemented only partially on the ground. And in many places, people told us that BRS party leaders were asking for a bribe of Rs 3 lakh in advance to grant the government schemes.”

Padmaja and her team found that many voters felt that the schemes were mostly in name and it was hard to find the beneficiaries. “The claim of 70 lakh beneficiaries of the schemes that the BRS leaders make has to be investigated,” she said. 

People expressed similar sentiments when C Vanaja, a senior journalist and documentary filmmaker, travelled through the districts. 

“When we visited the constituencies, voters alleged that Rytha Bandhu gave money to the rich and the poor were again neglected. In 2018, people voted based on the schemes because they were all newly announced, and people did not know how it would be implemented in reality,” Vanaja told The News Minute. “Voters in many constituencies said they did not know anyone who had benefited from the housing scheme either. So the anger against KCR stemmed from this.”

In 2014, the KCR government launched a 2BHK housing scheme amid much fanfare, calling it Asia’s biggest social housing project.

But the implementation of the project left much to be desired. In addition to complaints of nepotism and favouritism by BRS leaders in the distribution of the houses, questions of discontinuation of the previous government’s housing schemes too have been heard. 

"While many have Indiramma housing given by the previous governments, the patta lands have been taken away after BRS came to power. And they did not receive any benefits from the schemes either,” Padmaja said. Voters complained that patta land and Indiramma housing allotted during the Congress’s tenure also was stopped after BRS came to power. They did not receive any benefits from the schemes either, she added.

But according to the BRS, 66 percent of voters in Telangana are beneficiaries of their schemes. Padmaja said these claims need to be investigated and verified. 

KCR, a feudal lord

The Congress’s campaign till December focused on punching holes in the BRS campaign and its flagship projects. The image of KCR as being invincible, despite facing anger, was shattered. 

KCR, who rose to power through the route of agitation and protests, steadily withdrew from public spaces. His inaccessibility has been a major factor in people perceiving him as a feudal lord – a dora.  

Not just to his constituents and the people of Telangana, KCR had been unreachable to party leaders, MLAs and even ministers. A former BRS leader who joined Congress recently said any communication with KCR had to be done through either his son KT Rama Rao or KCR’s nephew Harish Rao. 

“During the ticket distribution, no consultations or deliberations were held with senior leaders. The list was just announced. Many of us who were ticket aspirants learnt from the media that we missed the chance to contest. And after that also, if we wanted to express our displeasure, we could at best talk to Harish Anna and hope that he passes on the message,” the former BRS leader said. 

Many BRS legislators were accused of being arrogant and feudal with their constituents. Padmaja said that during her conversation with voters, many accused BRS leaders of land-grabbing. A source said that an internal survey of the BRS showed that anti-incumbency weighed heavily against nearly 40 sitting legislators, but KCR chose to ignore it and give tickets to all of them once again. 

The concentration of power within KCR’s family has been a major point of affliction. A senior journalist said that in the last nine years, apart from members of KCR’s family, like his son and nephew, most people do not even know the names of other cabinet ministers. With KCR being the sole face of the party, the dissatisfaction against the MLAs quickly turned into voters being angry at KCR. 

Many started believing that only the family benefitted from the formation of Telangana. 

Handling the pandemic

“The way KCR’s government behaved during the pandemic changed how people viewed him,” Vanaja told TNM. “During the first wave, the only time KCR came out of his farmhouse was to visit the secretariat to finalise the design for the new building. During the second wave, Eatala Rajender, the health minister, was suddenly removed after a personal feud with KCR. In the middle of the pandemic, the state had no health minister.”

While chief ministers of other states were seen visiting hospitals and assuring the public during the pandemic, KCR was conspicuous by his absence. 

Unemployment

A political strategist who conducted surveys for the BRS ahead of the elections said voters between the age group of 18-35 felt that only the IT sector has benefitted from job creation by the BRS government. 

“We found angry youth in districts like Khammam, Nalgonda and Nizamabad who said they were struggling to find jobs in their hometowns. Despite being educated, they were forced to do menial jobs and earn paltry salaries,” the strategist said.

Padmaja said she met many youngsters and their mothers who were very upset with the unemployment situation. 

“A young man we met who had studied MBA was forced to open a laundry shop. Another Lambada woman told us that her son had completed engineering but had to return to the village to find a job. He now does manual labour in the fields for a wage of Rs 400 per day. We heard many such stories from many people,” she said. 

Public sector recruitments were hit by issues like the cancellation of Group-1 preliminary exams and paper leaks of exams conducted by the Telangana State Public Service Commission. Even the job notifications issued by TSPSC in 2022 did not fructify, making the situation even more precarious for the youth. 

Sirisha, an independent candidate, contested elections from the Kollapur constituency only to highlight the issue of unemployment. Social media was regularly flooded with stories of unemployment, which set the mood against KCR and BRS. 

This report was republished from The News Minute as part of The News Minute-Newslaundry alliance. It has been lightly edited for style and clarity. Read about our partnership here and become a TNM Member here.

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