A nondescript town 60 km from Hyderabad, Gajwel can make or mar the chief ministerial dreams of K Chandrasekhara Rao. This is the place the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief has chosen to enter the assembly.
KCR is no stranger to Gajwel. His village Chintamadaka lies within the district and his recently acquired 60-acre farmhouse is here too. Plus, he was an MLA for a long time from neighbouring Siddipet.
But that’s just geography. “We are strangers to him as he never bothered to meet us. And what does he care? He is a very big leader,” said 65-year-old Md Ahmed, a driver in the town. Locals read about him in the newspapers, watch him on TV but few claim to have seen him.
At Narsannapeta, a hamlet close to the farmhouse, villagers groan when he is mentioned. “His fleet of cars passed through our village so many times, but he never rolled down the windows to ask how we were,” said Bal Reddy, an elderly farmer.
Talk of KCR having earned crores from farming of tomatoes and capsicum has further irritated the small and marginal farmers who reap a meagre return from the parched fields.
Even former party colleagues accuse him of a feudal mindset. They include local MP Vijaya Shanti, who is contesting the Medak assembly seat on a Congress ticket.
If KCR has anything to bank on, it is the Telangana sentiment. Though the Congress had got the statehood bill passed, voters appear more inclined to credit KCR and the TRS for leading the separatist agitation for over 10 years.
Seen rationally, Gajwel’s TDP candidate Prathap Reddy appears a better choice, given his work for the people in the area.
“Prathap could have won with a thumping majority had his opponent not been KCR,” said Narsi Reddy, cashier at a fertilisers-pesticides shop. But TDP had flip-flopped on the statehood issue. “And this election is primarily fought on the Telangana sentiment,” he added.
“I think Prathap is good but I might still vote for KCR to show respect for the new state,” said G Narasimhulu, an auto-driver.
But KCR is still hedging his bets.
In case he doesn’t get the state’s top post, he wants a national role and to that end, he is contesting the Medak Lok Sabha seat, under which Gajwel, Siddipet and five other assembly segments lie.
Entrusted with campaigning on his behalf, his lieutenant, nephew and Siddipet MLA Harish Rao is assuring people that he will take care of them even if bigger national issues keep KCR away. That scenario would not be new to Gajwel or Rao.
The plaque at the base of the statue of Mother Telangana on Gajwel’s thoroughfare says it was inaugurated by KCR in 2011.
Locals, however, say it was Rao who unveiled the statue, as KCR was busy elsewhere that day too.