The road to Telangana has been long and twisting. And the life of Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR), the chief minister of India's 29th state, is similarly full of contradictions and about-turns.
The slightly built 60-year-old with an often caustic tongue took up the Telangana cause in 2001 by forming the Telangana Rashtra Samithi; foes say that his ancestors are actually from Vizianagaram, a district that falls on the “wrong” side of the Telangana-Seemandhra divide.
A fine orator with a keen sense of the public’s pulse, KCR has a Masters in Telugu and can write high-flown verse in his native tongue. But this hasn’t stopped him mouthing profanities about Seemandhra: he once referred to Andhra biryani as “cow dung”.
His taunt “Andhra wale bhaago” led to violent scenes in government offices across Hyderabad. But close aides say he is peace-loving at heart. “He is aggressive in posture but inside KCR is kind of timid, actually,” says a leader from his party.
In the late 1990s KCR had opposed the award of government jobs on the basis of zonal restrictions; in 2009, he went on a fast to get Hyderabad made into a zone where only Telangana natives would get jobs. This agitation spiralled into public demand for a state, something the UPA first acceded to in December of that year.
Until a couple of months ago, KCR had held that TRS had been formed only for getting Telangana statehood, and was offering to merge it with Congress. But after the passage of the bill to create the state in February, he switched track to fight Congress.
He is also ditching his long-standing commitment of making a Dalit the first CM of the state; he is said to be intent on keeping the job for himself.
“KCR always works with two agendas – an open one for the public consumption and a hidden one to push his own ambition,” an aide of over a decade who parted ways recently told HT.
Other than himself, no fewer than three family members are standing for Lok Sabha and assembly elections, leading to accusations that the movement has become a family enterprise.
But here’s one final contradiction: For a man seen as extremely ambitious, says a senior leader who knows him, he has the ability to turn philosophical and walk away.
“Popularity corrupted him, but he is not power hungry. All of a sudden, he might say he wants to leave everything,” says the leader.