Anti-incumbency a challenge in rural Telangana as BRS eyes return | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Anti-incumbency a challenge in rural Telangana as BRS eyes return

By, Kaleshwaram/chelpur
Nov 28, 2023 06:58 AM IST

An expert said while headwinds against the ruling BRS have only crystallised over the last few weeks of the campaign, the signs of disaffection have been there.

It’s 2pm on a bright Sunday. Thirty-six-year-old B Sai Krishna steps out of the front seat of the Maruti Swift Desire he has rented for the day, and holds the rear door open for his parents, wife, and young daughter to emerge. They step on to the small sidewalk, the wind buffeting them, and look out onto the expanse of the Godavari. The young girl is struck by the river, but Sai Krishna turns her attention to the huge cement blocks that obstruct the river’s path, and the rotors underneath, explaining to her the rudimentary mechanics of the world’s largest lift irrigation project. To the rest of his family, he nods his head and says in admiration: “Kaam to kiya hai KCR ne (KCR has done work).”

Telangana chief minister and BRS president K Chandrashekar Rao in Kamareddy on November 9. (PTI) PREMIUM
Telangana chief minister and BRS president K Chandrashekar Rao in Kamareddy on November 9. (PTI)

It’s 2pm on a bright Sunday. Thirty-six-year-old B Sai Krishna steps out of the front seat of the Maruti Swift Desire he has rented for the day, and holds the rear door open for his parents, wife, and young daughter to emerge. They step on to the small sidewalk, the wind buffeting them, and look out onto the expanse of the Godavari. The young girl is struck by the river, but Sai Krishna turns her attention to the huge cement blocks that obstruct the river’s path, and the rotors underneath, explaining to her the rudimentary mechanics of the world’s largest lift irrigation project. To the rest of his family, he nods his head and says in admiration: “Kaam to kiya hai KCR ne (KCR has done work).”

Also read: ‘KCR was making effort to strike friendship with BJP’: PM Modi in Telangana

About 15km away, at the bustling Mukteshwara Swami Devasthanam temple in the heart of Kaleshwaram village, 52-year-old Koppa Rao dismissively waves away the praise of the irrigation project. “Don’t ask the tourists. Ask the people who live here. How many years will we vote for KCR because of Kaleshwaram? That dam is now a symbol of his inefficiency. It is his family’s ATM,” Rao said.

Between these two assessments -- development on hand and allegations of corruption on the other -- lies the fate of the 119 seats in Telangana that go to vote on November 30.

Inaugurated in 2019, the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIP) is one of India’s most ambitious irrigation projects, aimed at utlilising 200,000 million cubic feet of water from the Godavari to irrigate 4.5 million acres in northern Telangana across 13 districts. Built at an estimated cost of around 80,000 crore, all borne by the state government, it was KCR’s jewel in the crown, the embodiment of his government’s development identity.

Unsurprisingly, it came under attack. Some alleged bad design, others said that the results did not justify the project cost. But on October 21, the Opposition found even reason to attack the project with renewed gusto when six pillars of the Medigadda barrage sank, prompting an investigation. On November 3, a technical expert committee by the National Dam Safety Authority said that the barrage needed to be fully rehabilitated, and questioned its design and quality control. Within days, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and state chief Revanth Reddy visited the spot, and called KLIP a symbol of KCR’s corruption. Minister KT Rama Rao, KCR’s son, dismissed the allegations, said that Kaleshwaram was a blessing to the people of Telangana, and that the Congress was the “A to Z” of corruption in India.

At Kaleshwaram village, just outside the temple, Koppa Rao is tired of the political slugfest. “I only know one thing. It is only five years old. If it was built well, and there was no irregularity, would there be a problem? Let a new government come and investigate,” he said.

In front of him, his 28-year-old son Hanumant helps a car squeeze into a parking spot, wheeling his arms around. The younger Rao cares little for KLIP, but his anger is based on the four years he spent in Hyderabad, struggling to make it, and then giving up. “For four years, I sat for two entrance exams and there were irregularities. I tried to find work, but the only jobs are in the glitzy IT sector. This government has done nothing for poor young men like me. I worked as a delivery agent for two years, but what after that? I had to come home,” Hanumant said.

The Rao family are beneficiaries of the host of schemes that the KCR government has launched over the past five years -- they get money under the farmer’s Rhythu Bandhu scheme and the government medical insurance -- but their anger is symptomatic of a larger sense of anti-incumbency rumbling through rural Telangana, threatening the BRS in a state that it has ruled for a decade.

Professor K Nageshwar, a seasoned political analyst, said that while headwinds against the ruling BRS have only crystallised over the last few weeks of the campaign, the signs of disaffection have been there. “The anti-incumbency is not sudden, and its rise has been gradual and clear. When the BJP did well in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Council elections and won the Dubbak seat, it was an expression of anger against KCR. The BJP took advantage of that. Now that the Congress has galvanised itself into the primary anti BRS party, it is gaining because of the anti-incumbency,” Nageshwar said.

Also read: 23% of candidates in Telangana elections have criminal cases against them: ADR

With the Kakatiya Thermal Power Plant looming out behind his village of Chelpur, 46-year-old farmer K Laxman says that his ire against the government isn’t because of a lack of performance. “We have been blessed by good Chief Ministers in this state? Tell me, who was bad? Chandrababu (Naidu) did work, YSR (YS Rajashekhara Reddy) did work, and now KCR has done work. But the people from the BRS have grown arrogant, and rich. Look at their party offices. Almost every single one of them is massive, like a bungalow. They need to be brought down to earth,” Laxman said.

Professor Nageshwar says that this odd “constituency-level” anti-incumbency against the perceived ostentatious display of wealth by local leaders is driving much of the anger against the BRS. “Remember, Telangana came out of a people’s movement. Such a perception of inaccessibility of the local leadership, and localised corruption has not gone down well with the people,” Nageshwar said.

But a decade in power, a slew of welfare schemes, and legislators that have established themselves over that time, also means that there are those that believe that the BRS is the only political party that carries credibility. “Everyone, across the country is making promises. We have been given benefits by the BRS that have reached us. Why pick someone else who may not live upto them? I don’t want to make that mistake,” said Laxman Rao, the owner of a restaurant in Bhupalpally town.

One Telangana-based senior leader of the BRS, who did not want to be named because he was deviating from the public party line, admitted that he was worried by the momentum shift but thought the party would eventually come through.

“I think it is true it has become a fight between us and the Congress. What is worrying is that it is not as if they are doing something special; the anger on the ground is against us. Over the last few days, we have tried to bring the focus back just to the welfare schemes. That, combined with our lead, should take us through, even if it is close. Remember, the Congress has to cover a 18% vote share gap,” he said.

In 2018, the BRS won 88 seats of the 119, with a vote share of 46.9%, as opposed to the Congress that finished second with 19 and 28.4% of the vote. These elections are likely to be closer by all accounts.

Back at Kaleshwaram, it is now early evening. Hanumant Rao is now shepherding people into vans as they set off home. The temple, revered because it has two deities, Lord Shiva and Lord Yama, draws people in from far and wide. Some of the vans that leave will travel as far as Hyderabad, 262km away, or like the one carrying B Sai Krishna to Warangal, 120km away. As they do, they will trundle past the Godavari, KLIP, and the web of canals that emanate from the project. “There is barely any water in them,” Rao said. “KCR has done work in building KLIP. Maybe soon, more water will course through the canals.”

Unveiling 'Elections 2024: The Big Picture', a fresh segment in HT's talk show 'The Interview with Kumkum Chadha', where leaders across the political spectrum discuss the upcoming general elections. Watch Now!

Get Current Updates on India News, Himachal Pradesh News Live, Sheikh Shahjahan along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Thursday, February 29, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On