Telangana, India’s youngest state, goes to the polls as part of the first phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, on 11 April. This will be the first time the state votes in a general election—it had formally been granted separate statehood before the 2014 election, but its official separation from Andhra Pradesh had to wait until just after that election ended. For the five intervening years, it has been ruled by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi—which rose to prominence on the back of calls for separate statehood—and under the chief ministership of the TRS’s leader, Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, better known as KCR.
This excerpt from Praveen Donthi’s detailed profile of KCR for The Caravan on the cusp of the 2014 election, looks at the TRS’s founding and gradual success, and the growing currency of the Telangana movement alongside it. It also examines how KCR, having established himself firmly as the head of the party, went on to become the main face of the movement despite the rise of the Telangana Joint Action Committee, a massive coalition of three political parties and over two dozen other organisations that formed the vanguard of the movement, and M Kodandaram, the convener of the TJAC and a leading ideologue of the Telangana movement.
KCR won, and cemented his hold over, first, the movement and then, the new state. But many of those who supported him then have since grown disillusioned with what they consider a betrayal of the spirit that fuelled the long struggle for statehood. Last October, as Telangana prepared for a state election that delivered a rampant victory for the TRS and a second term as chief minister for KCR, Donthi reported on the state again. He found that KCR, where earlier he had promised social change, now stifled dissent and civil-society activism, and felt no need to intervene amid a spate of caste violence.
With the TRS widely tipped to continue its dominance over Telangana in the 2019 election, the contrast between its past and present is especially relevant.
When he gave up a career in the Telugu Desam Party and started the TRS, KCR was 47 years old. The TDP was the second-largest party in the National Democratic Alliance at the centre; the TRS was founded to fight for a regional goal that seemed almost unachievable at the time. But by November 2000, the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh had given the Telangana movement a certain urgency. By the end of the year, KCR had a party name, a flag and a strategy in place, but decided to wait for the dates of the local body elections to be announced before launching the party. The Supreme Court announced local elections and the inauguration of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi went off without a hitch on 27 April 2001.