A tale of two Telugus: KCR and Chandrababu Naidu are taking their respective states in contrasting directions

By: Sanjaya Baru

Indian politics has a way of taking a curious turn and surprising the wisest of pundits. Who would have imagined that a political party born in ‘anti-Congressism’, revived by the visceral anger of its supporters towards Congress, would consider an alliance with its bête noire? That is what Andhra Pradesh’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo and chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu is now contemplating.

Equally, who would have imagined that the leader of a political party who took his entire family to 10 Janpath – residence of the Congress party president – to express his gratitude for the support he and his constituents received from her, would now call her son and political heir a ‘buffoon’? That is what Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) founder and Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) has now called Rahul Gandhi. The Telugus are playing political musical chairs.

These political twists are the consequence of the inability of Naidu to live up to the enviable reputation he had built up as the CM of undivided Andhra Pradesh (AP) and the surprising success of KCR as Telangana CM after his lackluster performance as a Union minister in the first Manmohan Singh government. What explains this turn in the performance and fortunes of the two Telugu CMs?

Consider first the KCR phenomenon in Telangana. While his political skills have been long recognised and found their due reward in the creation of the state of Telangana, he only confirmed doubts about his administrative acumen by generating avoidable controversies in his first couple of years as CM.

Yet, at the end of his term in office he has emerged as the state’s most popular leader and a highly regarded jury of The Economic Times has named him “Business Reformer of the Year.”

Two things have worked for KCR. First, his deft political management that is best captured by the fact that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) Asaduddin Owaisi have openly praised him for his leadership of the state. The Telangana government has also performed well and the state’s growth and development momentum, disrupted by the separatist agitation, has been restored.

The second thing that has worked for KCR and TRS is the forward-looking leadership of KCR’s son, KT Rama Rao. KTR, the state’s minister for information technology, municipal administration, urban development, textiles and NRI affairs, has acquired an enviable reputation both as a political manager and as a good and modern administrator.

While he inherited his political career, like so many next generation politicians, he proved his political mettle by ensuring that TRS swept the Hyderabad municipal elections. Even at the height of the separatist agitation Hyderabad was not a TRS bastion, dominated as it was by Congress, TDP and AIMIM. KTR established TRS hegemony over Hyderabad and earned his political spurs.

A major concern of some of us who were not sympathetic to the separate Telangana movement was with respect to the future of Hyderabad. Dubbed India’s second capital by Jawaharlal Nehru, Hyderabad had lagged behind Chennai and Bengaluru and began catching up at the turn of the century.

Many feared that the bifurcation of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh would result in a flight of capital and implosion of the city’s development. Many of KCR’s initial political statements contributed to this unease.

KTR, on the other hand, was quick to grasp the importance of sustaining Hyderabad’s development and worked hard to restore business sentiment. Hyderabad has been able to challenge Bengaluru in IT by attracting new investment into Cyberabad. The father-son combination has worked well for the state and the city.

KTR’s political career, compared with that of a Rahul Gandhi, proves that political skills are never inherited. They have to be acquired through experience and demonstrated to the party cadre and the voter through success on the ground.

If in the case of KCR the story is one of a politician more than fulfilling popular expectations, the story of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has been one of under-achievement compared to the expectations based on past performance.

Naidu had acquired an enviable global reputation for good governance as chief minister of undivided AP. However, his handling of the entire new capital city project, dominance of the Kamma caste in TDP and his inability to craft a development strategy based on the resources in hand, rather than a pie-in-the-sky called ‘special status’, have all combined to take the sheen off his excellent reputation.

If KTR has turned out to be an asset for his father, Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh, minister for IT and rural development, has not been able to make his mark politically. TDP is today an internally weaker party than TRS.

This explains the move to ally with Congress, a party that the Andhras decimated for its role in bifurcation of the state. The two new Telugu states offer a contrasting picture of how good and sensible governance is the key to political longevity.

Source: Times of India

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