It is election season in Telangana and things are heating up with almost all opposition parties in the state forging an alliance to take on the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) ahead of the Assembly elections.
In an interview to TNM, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) Chief Spokesperson and Convenor of the party's Election Campaign Committee, Dr Sravan Dasoju speaks about the main opposition party's plans, its manifesto and accuses the TRS of 'betraying' the very movement it was a part of.
"The people are looking at Congress as an alternative, having been betrayed by the TRS. The betrayal has happened in the context of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao failing to fulfil his promises. The TRS has also made efforts to stifle freedom of expression and violate democratic rights in the state on multiple occasions," Sravan says.
"In 2014, with great hope, people gave the mandate to KCR, but seeing what he has done, people think that Congress is a better option because the leaders here are accessible, unlike KCR sitting in Pragathi Bhavan," he adds.
When asked about several polls predicting that the TRS would win, Sravan says, "Politics is about an art of perception and the conventional media in the state has been bought and bullied. However, at the grassroots level, there is an overt revolution against KCR. In many places, where TRS leaders are going to campaign, people are raising questions on what they promised and what they delivered. I think the mood of the people is that they want to dethrone KCR."
"Telangana is known for its active agitations and fights for fundamental rights and even armed struggles. So it is not that people are not aware of KCR's dubious politics and dubious governance. They gave him a chance thinking he'll mend his ways, but since that has not happened, people have decided to end his government," he adds.
The Congress has been stating that it will be offering 'accessible, democratic and participative governance', with Sravan reiterating that "Congress leaders will be accessible to the people and policies will be made according to their will and needs."
Farmer suicides are a major issue in the land-locked state. While official government data states that over 2,000 farmers have killed themselves since the formation of the state, the Congress alleges that the real number is closer to 4,500.
"Farmers have been completely betrayed and this government doesn't want to address the issues at hand. To cover up their failures of not being able to assure them, they have now come up with a scheme like 'Rythu Bandhu', which is nothing short of a bribe to farmers to vote for them, instead of actually helping them," Sravan says.
"What farmers want is quality seeds and fertilizers and Minimum Support Price (MSP) for the hardship they endure during cultivation. The state could not provide quality market yards or eradicate the role of middlemen. The farmer has suffered under this callous rule," he adds.
Stating that the Congress promised free electricity to the farmers in 2004 during the tenure of YS Rajasekhara Reddy and delivered on it, Sravan says, "Now we are making a promise to waive their loan in one go and we have promised a very lucrative MSP for 17 crops, which is much better than the recommendation of the Swaminathan Committee report. We are going to truly protect them once we come into power."
Another contentious issue in the state is unemployment.
"If you combine the underemployed and unemployed in the state, the count roughly comes up to 40 lakh people. It is an unmanageable menace today because the TRS government didn't do anything earlier. It is the sacrifice of youth and students that Telangana is a reality today and it is our fundamental responsibility to ensure that they get justice," Sravan claims.
The Congress promises to fight for the Information Technology Investment Region (ITIR), which was an assurance given to Telangana under the AP Reorganisation Act but was rejected by the Centre earlier this year.
"It is not enough to make just cosmetic announcements. There is scope for promoting self-employment. The ITIR itself will provide employment to many Polytechnic students and it will become an alternate economy. The Congress will be seriously taking it up and we will fight with the Centre as well," Sravan says.
"The manufacturing industry would also be promoted along with private sector employment to promote companies to come and invest here. Another important step that we would be focusing on would be skill building," he adds.
The Congress has already said that one of its flagship schemes - if voted to power - would be an 'unemployment allowance' of Rs. 3,000 to 10 lakh jobless youth.
"Besides this, we promise to fill at least 1 lakh jobs in the first year and also issue a regular calendar of employment,” Sravan adds.
When asked about the Mahakutami, a grand alliance being formed with the TDP, Congress, CPI and Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS), Sravan says, "We will have a formidable alliance. Discussions have reached a fruitful stage. It is for Delhi to take a final call since that's our high command. I'm sure it'll be a big blow to KCR. This is why he is making a lot of noise and trying to create animosity between Telangana and AP and brand TDP as an Andhra party but he's forgetting that so many TDP leaders who he branded as Telangana 'drohis' (traitors) are now in his party."
When asked about the potential figures on the seat sharing, the Congress leader says, "I think at end of the day, the collaboration will be proportionate to what each party can bring to the table. We respect their existence. It will be amicable but we can't give any numbers now."
KCR has also been upping the ante, dubbing the Congress and TDP as 'outsiders', asking people to vote only for the home-grown TRS. At a public meeting earlier this month, the caretaker Chief Minister even said, “Do you want to be a slave of Vijayawada and Amaravati or Delhi? Shouldn't decisions for Telangana be made in the state itself?"
Asked about this line of questioning, Sravan says, "It is he (KCR), who has sold the self-respect of the people of Telangana to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There were so many times when he should have fought against the Centre for the state's rights, but refused to do so. He has no moral right to take that stand.”
"If Etela Rajender in Karimnagar or Indrakaran Reddy in Adilabad have to take a decision, won't they come to Hyderabad to consult the party's high command? It is an absolute dictatorship in TRS. At least here, our leaders are empowered to take decisions at the grassroot level but in the TRS, it is only the father-son duo calling the shots," he adds.
When asked about what the verdict of the elections could be, Sravan says, "We are going to win. People are feeling betrayed. Even the martyrs were not given justice. Many are disillusioned and are questioning if this was the Telangana that they fought for all these years. I think people are going to teach a befitting lesson to KCR and the TRS party."