On almost every topic between the two states, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu and his Telangana counterpart Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) contradict each other. But as doting fathers, they seem to be racing on the same track.
The two CMs, who also head two powerful regional parties – the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) – appear to be competing with each other in promoting their heirs apparent – Nara Lokesh (32) and K Tarakarama Rao (38).
Ever since the swearing-in of Naidu and Rao in June last year, the career graphs of their sons have witnessed a steady rise. And nowhere is it more evident than in the shared capital of Hyderabad, where Lokesh and KTR (as Rao junior is popularly known) have become parallel power centres in the party and government affairs.
Outside NTR Bhavan, the TDP headquarters in posh Banjara Hills, larger-than-life cutouts of Lokesh can be seen occupying space earlier reserved for Naidu. Inside the building, Lokesh’s photograph gets equal prominence along with his father’s on every banner and poster.
While Naidu busies himself with governance of what is left of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, from which Telangana was carved out, he has delegated his Stanford-educated son to deal with routine party issues. Officially, Lokesh heads the TDP workers wing and is credited with taking its cadre strength to an all-time high of 54 lakh members. And given his standing in the TDP hierarchy, he is often touring the districts to sort out differences among cadres or visiting an ailing leader in hospital on Naidu’s behalf.
Already, in the power corridors of Hyderabad there is talk about Naidu Junior influencing policy decisions, appointments and holding review meetings with cabinet ministers in the party office. TDP insiders rubbish this as a whisper campaign by the opposition YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). Yet, there’s no denying Lokesh’s clout in the chief minister’s office where his long-time — and also US-educated — friend Abheeshta Seethepalli is an officer on special duty. Seethepalli is seen as Lokesh’s henchman and a direct link between him and the government.
Not surprising then that TDP ministers too are willing to toe the Lokesh line. “I have not attended any such cabinet meeting, but what is wrong if one does? We are party workers first, ministers later. And he is helping his father like any son does,” a senior minister told HT. Last September, when Naidu completed 100 days in office, agriculture minister Prathipati Pulla Rao had announced that Lokesh would eventually take over as the next CM. That not only set the stage for Lokesh’s elevation, but also muted any voice of dissent within the party.
Naidu of course is pleased with Lokesh’s performance but is said to be taking a cautious approach on the succession issue. This especially after his attempt to make Lokesh head of the TDP’s Telangana unit backfired with senior leader Talasani Srinivas Yadav quitting the party last December and joining the TRS in protest.
Lokesh is not even an MLA now, but that could well be part of a design to place him on a higher pedestal. “If he is an MLA or even a minister, he would be just one among those leaders but by remaining detached — calling the shots from the TDP office and remaining unapproachable to those he wants to sideline — an aura is created around him,” says a party veteran not wanting to be named. It may still be early days for Lokesh, but he has come a long way from being called an “Amul boy” by the opposition TRS.
In neighbouring Telangana, the other rising son KTR is a senior to Lokesh by six years. But unlike Naidu, Rao gave his son – a two-time MLA – a legitimate position in the government. As the minister for IT and Panchayati Raj, Rao Junior gets to hobnob with corporate honchos and also addressing the largely rural public in Telangana – something desired of a leader in these parts.
While KTR commands respect from party cadres, he is also grooming his coterie of MLAs and ministers. And by virtue of being Rao’s son and a cabinet member, he has a major say in government decisions. Already, speculation is rife that KTR could replace Rao as the party chief during the TRS plenary planned for April 24. However, whether Rao would like to upset the party and family applecart remains to be seen.
After all, there is a challenger from within the family—Harish Rao, KCR’s nephew and irrigation minister, who is considered a better leader with mass connect, mobilisation and manoeuvring abilities than KTR. Then there are some in the party who project K Kavitha, KCR’s daughter and Nizamabad MP, as their candidate. Given the family equations and the rising criticism in Telangana of usurping the statehood benefits for his family interests, Rao so far has been careful not to be seen as promoting his son.
It is still a long way before ‘Chandra’babu Naidu and ‘Chandra’sekhara Rao call it a day, but after the 2019 elections, sooner or later, it would be a son-rise for the two “moons”.