Policy by Numbers

The limitations of KCR’s approach to social welfare

KCR at the inauguration of the Viprahitha Telangana Brahmana Samkshema Sadan in Hyderabad, on 31 May. Much like the BJP, KCR’s politics involves a kind of caste-based social engineering—winning over smaller backward-caste groups through various schemes but making sure not to alienate upper-caste voters. ANI
Elections 2024
31 July, 2023

“The priestly community yearns for the well-being of every living being,” K Chandrashekar Rao, the chief minister of Telangana, said from the dais while inaugurating the Viprahitha Telangana Brahmana Samkshema Sadan—a government-built centre for Brahmins. The event, which took place on 31 May, included a puja and was attended by several priests and representatives of Brahmin organisations, such as the All India Brahmin Federation. Amid intermittent chants of “Jai KCR,” the chief minister announced a list of benefits for the community, including doubling the monthly honorarium for Vedic priests and fee reimbursement for Brahmin students enrolled in the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management.

“KCR has been appeasing the Brahmins right from the beginning,” Ajay Gudavarthy, an associate professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, pointed out. For instance, within two years of coming to power, in 2016, his government set up a Brahmin welfare corporation and sanctioned Rs 100 crore for a Brahmin welfare fund.

In Telangana, Brahmins have a marginal population and do not enjoy quite the same political influence they do in other parts of India. But Rao’s overtures to them is telling of his political strategy, betraying similarities with the Bharatiya Janata Party. This involves a kind of caste-based social engineering—winning over smaller backward-caste groups through various schemes but making sure not to alienate upper-caste voters. While welfare schemes are essential to uplift marginalised communities, many of those sanctioned by Rao appear to have failed to reach the constituents so far. Instead, over the years, his government’s promises to different communities exhibit a flawed understanding of social justice, reducing caste to questions of voter arithmetic alone.

According to Avishek Jha, an independent researcher, the BJP has been able to ensure the “perks of political representation to castes other than the politically dominant ones and the targeted distribution of the government’s welfare schemes.” With this, it has managed to appeal to segments beyond its “core voter base among the upper castes.” Rao has also attempted to branch out of the traditional support base of his own caste group, the Velamas—a historically land-owning Shudra community, who, according to most estimates, form about one or two percent of Telangana’s population.