Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, the first chief minister of Telangana, dissolved the state assembly in early September, eight months before the end of its term, and announced polls in December. He pitched this as a reaction to Telangana’s “political fragility”—caused, he said, by the opposition’s attacks on his government—but even with his silver tongue he could not make the excuse sound convincing. Telangana’s next state election was due to coincide with the 2019 general election. Rao—better known by his initials, KCR—acted to avoid that situation, in which his rhetoric of state pride risked being drowned out by the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaigns for national power.
KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi can also now focus all its resources on one battle at a time, rather than split its strength across two battles simultaneously. First the TRS must take on the Congress, its biggest rival in the state, which still draws some goodwill from the fact that it was a Congress-led national government that bifurcated Andhra Pradesh to create Telangana in 2014. Next it will challenge the Congress and the BJP in the Lok Sabha races, knowing that a healthy number of seats can earn it a say in who takes control at the centre.
In the first battle, “nobody is even close according to my surveys,” KCR said at a press conference to announce the early state election. When somebody asked if he was making a defensive move, he said, “I am KCR. Do I get scared?” The chief minister has reason to be brash—surveys have, in fact, predicted a comfortable TRS victory. But the state he will likely continue to rule has less cause for optimism.
A week after KCR dissolved the assembly, in a small Telangana town called Miryalaguda, Perumalla Pranay was hacked to death as he left a hospital with his wife, Amrutha Varshini. Varshini was pregnant, and the young couple had come to the hospital for a pre-natal check-up. Pranay, a Dalit Christian, and Varshini, of the Vysya caste, had married despite opposition from the bride’s father, an influential real-estate businessman named T Maruthi Rao. Pranay’s father-in-law had paid a man Rs 1 crore to murder him.
The murder was caught on CCTV, and Telangana and Andhra Pradesh debated it for days. Many condoned the father’s act, and blamed the daughter for her supposed transgression. More than five hundred Vysyas took out a rally in support of Maruthi Rao, and went to meet him in prison. KCR remained silent, and was accused of being casteist and anti-Dalit. His apparent indifference was especially shocking to those who had supported the movement for Telangana statehood that brought KCR to power—a movement once founded on the hope of transforming a separate Telangana into a model of social progress.