The female face of the TRS, a party which has a sub-par gender balance in its senior leadership, Kavitha Kalvakuntla has a distinct identity. She is seen as the key Delhi representative of the party, being a Member of Parliament and although Kavitha is not contesting herself in the upcoming Telangana Assembly elections, she is one of the frontline campaigners in key districts. It helps that she is the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter, but she also has competition from within her family ranks in her brother KT Rama Rao and her cousin T Harish Rao.
TNM caught up with the Lok Sabha MP from Nizamabad at her residence in Hyderabad, during a short break from the hectic election schedule. In a candid, exclusive chat with TNM, she explains why the TRS is so confident of a clean-sweep in the state, and responds to critical and controversial questions with alacrity, and in some cases, tactful side-stepping. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Telangana CM KCR says that the TRS will win more than 100 seats in the upcoming polls, what gives him this confidence?
There has been no unrest in the state under our tenure, because we ensured that nobody sleeps hungry. After state formation, we were hit with two dry spells (drought), but our welfare schemes like pension and ration had ensured that there was no one was hungry. Earlier, there was a cap on rice—20 kg rice was given to a family, but we increased the social safety net by providing six kg rice for each person and enhancing the pension from Rs 200 to Rs 1000. We have fulfilled the needs of the people and hence we are confident.
TRS promised 1 lakh government jobs in the run up to the previous elections. But with only 33,000 filled in the last 4 years, even if many more have been sanctioned and notified, is it not slow progress?
We have already sanctioned 1.07 lakh, but there is a delay only because of due process followed by the State Commission. We are strengthening the government departments in a constructive way. We have decided not to rely on private contractors. Out of the 1.07 lakh jobs, the government has notified 84,000 jobs. Anybody in the world knows that the recruitment has to be through due process. You must have seen students saying that the service commission is not doing things as fast as it can. But you wouldn't have seen any student saying that there was some graft for which we didn't jobs in a fair way. You must note that there have been no complaints that jobs are being handed out as favours or in return for bribes. We have also added private jobs by inviting close to 9,000 companies. Already 3.5 to 5 lakh people have taken private jobs.
You promised free education from KG to PG ahead of the previous polls. Why has that not been achieved?
When we came to power, we realised that the education system in the state is in shambles. We had to first rectify the basic problems. The administration of government schools is fragmented as a few schools fall under the village panchayat, some under the central government and many under the state government. We took one year to understand and integrate this. Now, we have started model schools from class 5 to 10. We have even plans to bring Anganwadi into the model schools. We have invested heavily on public schools. We are on the right track.
Are farmers in the state happy with the TRS?
Then why is there such criticism on Rythu Bandhu? The poor tenant farmers, who actually need the help, are complaining that they are not receiving the benefits of the scheme, and it is the landowners who do, most of who are not even involved in tilling the land. Is it a policy problem or an implementation problem?
There is no problem at all. We’ve been extremely correct. Can the government directly engage with the tenant? Now if you own a house, can the government tell the tenant that the government will give tax exemption etc. to him. Will you accept it?
The scheme is for the small land owners and 98% of those who avail the scheme are small and marginal farmers with land less than 5 acres. The government’s decision is to support them, and the money is indeed reaching them.
Then what about the poor tenant farmers?
As a policy we took a decision that the government will not intervene in the private business. The government cannot keep identifying who is a tenant farmer. The money we give to the landowners will be passed on to the tenant farmers. Land is the private property of an individual, we can’t intervene in their private business.
CM KCR has recently received flak for stating that there are no farmer suicides in the state. Opposition puts the number of suicides at 4000 and above. According to NCRB data, there were 1358 farmer suicides in 2015 and 632 in 2016. Are you trying to whitewash the issue?
There is no such attempt. Like other state governments we don’t fudge the data. Prior to 2014, there has been more than 3,500 farmer suicides every year. There were 1,000 suicides as you said. You have to look at the positive side, it has gone down from 1,000 to 500. If you look at the subsequent year data, I’m sure it must have come to zero.
But you do agree that there were farmer suicides in the state
I can only say that you should look up to the latest data. You are giving me a figure which is two years back. In these two years, we were able to give water to more than 20 lakh acre across Telangana.
Have the BJP and Congress created a challenge for the TRS online, in managing to create the perception that it won’t be as easy a win for the TRS as it claims?
The TRS is on a silent campaign on WhatsApp. Both of them are national parties. They have a huge social media team, as they have openly claimed. If Uttam Kumar Reddy tweets something, there would be thousands of retweets and favourites from other states. The fact is no villager uses Twitter, people use Facebook and extensively WhatsApp.
We have collected 80 lakh to 1 crore phone numbers, which includes close to one lakh village heads and prominent people with considerable influence to spread the welfare brought in by the TRS. We collected contact numbers of these prominent people across the state with their consent, and regularly share the development programmes and welfare schemes brought by the TRS. But this campaign is invisible.
After dissolving the cabinet, KCR labelled the TDP as an ‘Andhra party’ and has repeatedly attacked Chandrababu Naidu and his alliance with the Congress. Does the TRS view TDP and Chandrababu Naidu as a threat?
We don’t see him as a threat. The people of Telangana have dismissed the TDP, the bye-elections are testimony to it. We just want the people to know about the unethical alliance of the Congress and TDP.
Has the TRS been going soft on the BJP as a strategy?
In this state, the BJP doesn’t exist. They have five seats now, they won’t even have one seat after this election. So why would we want to exhaust our time, energy and resources on a party which doesn’t even exist.
A party which potentially could damage the TRS in two or three seats is the Congress. We want our people to focus on the Congress so that they won’t even win those seats.
BJP doesn’t matter and doesn’t exist in Telangana. When it will come to the other elections, probably it will matter.
There is an accusation that TRS is closing ranks with the Reddys. Out of 107 candidates announced by TRS for the polls, many are from the Reddy community. Is TRS becoming a party of the Reddys?
We were actually accused the other way around. When we formed the party in 2001, we formed a policy that at least 51% of the members in all committees must be from SCs, STs and BCs. We are the only party in this region with such a policy. We will ensure that the final list is a fairly balanced list.
There is a criticism that the TRS has turned into a dynasty party and the government is being run as a family enterprise, don’t you think it is valid criticism?
The CM didn’t give a long rope to anyone including my brother, cousin or anyone. All of them were elected by public, they were no backdoor entries, through nominations. If the ministers were inefficient, they wouldn’t have been part of the cabinet. We have run the government very professionally, that’s the reason we achieved these results.
When it comes to the party, all of us were part of the movement and were later elected by public. If you are not elected by the people, the public will give their verdict someday.
Is KTR the next CM?
TRS has only one leader. We aren’t inclined for an alternative. I want KCR sir to be the Chief Minister forever.
Is there an infighting between KTR and Harish Rao?
It is all media speculation. All their moves are under scrutiny. If they are together on a dais there's a speculation, if they are not there's a speculation. As an insider I can say that everything is cool between them.
What are your personal ambitions in the party, what do you see in your political future?
We come from a different background, where we don’t put the needs of the individual above the party. In our party, anybody has no set options or personal agenda. We just keep working, whatever role party gives and wherever we are thrown, we are happy to work. If they throw in Delhi or in the USA we will work in the interest of the state.