(PTI)
(PTI)

On the southern trail: When it rains, it pours

  • KCR is also probably one of the most luckiest politicians alive in India, an otherwise subdued aspect of his success story
  • BJP president Amit Shah is seen keen to have a post-poll tie-up with KCR, but he has yet to state his demands

Outside Hyderabad airport, I became aware of cool raindrops splashing on my face. I reached out my hand. The summer rains had come. Before I could reach a cab in the parking lot, my side of the road was fully wet.

The airport was dressed up with flowers to mark Ugadi, the Kannada or Telugu New Year falling this month when.

"Every year, it is bound to rain in the days before and after Ugadi," said Chintaiah, 32, the cab driver.

Pictures from Hyderabad airport, decorated with flowers marking local new year day, Ugadi.
Pictures from Hyderabad airport, decorated with flowers marking local new year day, Ugadi.

I asked him if he would bet the same on who wins the election in his state. "It's easier than predicting the rains," he said: "KCR", the way people address their ruling chief minister and head of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), K Chandrashekhar Rao.

Chintaiah was one among the many echoing a popular sentiment. Across Telangana, people seems to have hedged their bet in favour of the incumbent chief minister to sweep the polls, found a Mint report on Wednesday. Almost every major opinion poll so far has predicted him more than a comfortable victory in the total 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana.

If those predictions hold true, that would be a real accomplishment for KCR. He practically founded the state, and faces hardly any real opposition in successive elections.

In fact, he was so confident of himself that he dissolved his own government last September, seven months before term, and went in for re-election. All of the four parties in the opposition benches united under the Congress, calling themselves 'Mahakutami' (grand alliance). Yet, KCR swept the polls again, winning 88 out of the total 119 assembly seats.

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As we drove out of the airport, roads and flyovers and tidy streets resonated with the premium placed on infrastructure development in the state. The roads are well connected. A long-awaited metro line opened in 2017. Power cuts, a major worry of city dwellers earlier, locals said, has become a thing of the past. Irrigation projects have picked up pace. Chintaiah explained why he thinks KCR keeps winning elections.

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"He runs the state like he is the king. His beta (son, Telangana IT minister KT Rama Rao) behaves like a yuva raaj (prince). Beti (daughter and MP K. Kavitha) is like a maharani. But when you compared them with opposition, these guys are better. So KCR just has to say mane Telangana (our Telangana) and people will give him votes."

'KCR runs the state like a king,' says can driver Chintaiah
'KCR runs the state like a king,' says can driver Chintaiah

KCR is also probably one of the luckiest politicians alive in India, an otherwise subdued aspect of his success story. Telangana was already a revenue surplus state, a rarity among Indian states. The technology businesses in its capital Hyderabad made sure it stayed it that way.

Below Hyderabad's rippling blue skies sprawl the headquarters of some of the best known technology companies home and abroad, including Google and Microsoft. The services sector, with an ever increasing growth rate and a share of 65%, powered the state from 6.8% growth in 2013-14 to 10.4% in 2017-18, according to legislative research firm PRS.

The excess money helped KCR float some of the biggest welfare projects in the country. His last administration started the Rythu Bandhu scheme giving 8,000 per acre to 5.8 million land-owning farmers, which paved the way for larger debates on universal basic income that echoes in the poll promises of several national parties now.

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Rao started his career as a lowly supporter of Emergency-era Congress under Indira Gandhi, only to become one of its strongest critics after moving to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). In the first election after the defection, he stood against his previous political mentor Madan Mohan from the Congress.

Soon, the TDP was in for a new set of changes. It was the brainchild of then top actor and mass icon Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, better known as NTR, who was thrown out of power by his son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu in an organisational coup. KCR helped Naidu. But the duo parted ways soon, apparently in an angry dispute over the denial of a cabinet post for KCR.

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Rao then vowed to become CM one day, a path that eventually coincided with his leadership over street agitations for a separate Telangana state, one that raged for about 15 years. The two politicians are still known for not talking to each other.

The Deccan is a strange place. The story goes that the north of Vindhyas was in awe of Qutub Shah, the Deccan sultan who built Hyderabad in such an impressive manner ("no less than a replica of paradise" as historian Manu S Pillai recounted in a recent book). But Shah did not fall into Delhi's hands easily.

Centuries later, KCR's appeal in Delhi is no less. Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah is seen keen to have a post-poll tie-up with KCR, but he has yet to state his demands.

“Everybody here knows that a vote for KCR goes directly to the BJP. How else is he going to tap open his funds? I don't mind any of these, I'm not a fan of the BJP, but I like Prime Minister Narendra Modi," said Chintaiah.

Nidheesh M.K.'s dispatches will be published in Mint and on livemint.com. He is on a whirlwind tour across southern states mapping the 2019 election.

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