At 64, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has expressed his desire to shift to national politics. His wish has sparked a heated debate over his probable successor if he vacates his post. The successor debate is as heated as his pitch for the third front.
Alongside, it also raises concerns about KCR’s health. “If the god wishes and my health permits, I am keen to play a greater role in national politics,” KCR was quoted as saying in the media soon after the announcement about the third front.
Political observers say that KCR is trying to make a respectable exit to make way for his 41-year-old US educated son KT Rama Rao, aka KTR. He apparently thought it a right time to do so in the wake of reports of his fragile health much before the next election. In the Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) founded by him in 2001, KCR is an unquestionable leader where his word is command. He managed to keep leaders like Prof Kodandaram, viewed as a potential threat to his authority, at bay.
All in the family
It’s obvious that the tussle for success comes only from within his family. KCR groomed his nephew T Harish Rao, currently minister for Irrigation and Legislative Affairs, as a key figure in the state politics right from the Telangana movement. With his blessings, Harish became legislator at 32 from Siddipet. He emerged as a strategist in consolidating the TRS and the separate statehood movement when KCR was leading it from the front.
When the Telangana movement led by the TRS was at its peak, KCR allowed his son Rama Rao to resign from a cosy position in a US-based multinational company to follow in his footsteps. KTR obviously rose to the No 2 position in the KCR government with key port portfolios in his kitty —Information Technology, and Municipal Administration and Urban Development after the TRS came to power in the newly carved state in 2014. Simultaneously, KCR’s daughter Kavitha, who was heading a non-profit organisation called Telangana Jagruthi, went to Parliament from Nizamabad on the TRS ticket. KCR was targeted by his critics for promoting family rule in his party by allowing a bunch of his relatives to take away a major slice of power.
Harish Rao understandably got relegated to the backseat after the entry of KTR. Yet, he suffers in silence, dismissing media reports about the power tussle within their family as baseless. However, Telangana BJP leaders began adding spice to the succession story, saying big heads in the TRS have been in touch with them. The insinuations refer to the possibility of Harish switching sides to win the power tussle with the support of the BJP.
The TRS chief cannot afford to make light of the BJP’s spin doctors when the bitter experience of the Congress in Assam is still fresh in the minds of the public. The top brass in the BJP got Himanta Biswa Sarma to defect from the Congress to be the man behind the saffron wave in the north east in the latest elections. Sarbananda Sonowal, another key figure from the Congress, was also enticed to cross the fence to the BJP’s side to become the Chief Minister of Assam. The backroom politics of promoting Rajinikanth with BJP behind the screens should not go unnoticed too.
KCR was a mute witness to the August coup (1995) in the TDP within the NTR family that saw the matinee idol thrown out of power. KCR, of course, does not want to let it happen in his own family.
After all, power is not bitter for anyone. Kavitha too may not be averse to taking over the mantle from her father, given a chance. In recent media interactions, she neither endorsed the reports suggesting her father was preparing the ground in favour of her brother KTR nor did she rule out such a possibility.
“When KCR garu is holding the reins, where is the question of succession?” she shot back.
But most times Indian politics shows a tendency to tilt in favour of the son. The case of Rahul Gandhi, who was projected as the heir apparent of his father Rajiv Gandhi after the latter’s assassination, is evidence of this gender bias. His elder sister Priyanka conveniently opted out.
KCR is seemingly in a hurry to find a successor before he turns physically and politically fragile, before the 2019 elections. Succession is unlikely to be smooth if either of the two fails to favour him.
His AP counterpart N Chandrababu Naidu appears a bit more comfortable as far as the succession issue is concerned. Wary of all such issues, Naidu has propped up his son Nara Lokesh (35) as a CM in the making by hand-holding him into his cabinet.
To Naidu’s relief, there is no hangover from NTR’s legacy and no one in the NTR family is able to claim power right now. Naidu with all his shrewdness allowed the Nandamuri-Nara legacy row to be watered down. Of course, Naidu invokes NTR on occasions such as his birth and death anniversaries and events warranting garlanding of his bust-size statues only to appeal to loyal NTR fans for electoral gains. He consciously built his image by inventing populist schemes with his own tag like Chandranna Baata and Chandranna Kanuka.
An analyst, who requested anonymity, said regional parties will never face the tussle for succession from outside the families of the leaders at the helm – be it the KCR’s TRS or Naidu’s TDP.