As several leadesr queued up outside Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s residence ahead of the cabinet expansion hoping to get inducted into the cabinet last week, all eyes were on Health Minister Eatala Rajendar. The big question was – would he be dropped from the cabinet for his statements against KCR?
Speculation was rife that Eatala Rajendar would be sacked from the cabinet owing to allegations of corruptions in the Civil Supplies Department, when he was the Civil Supplies Minister and also for his statements against KCR. Owing to the political drama unfolding in Telangana, it seemed that Eatala’s sacking would be imminent.
“I have helped a lot of people during my time in public office. The minister post is not a biksha (alms in Telugu) given to me by someone,” Eatala Rajendar had told the media on August 30. He had made this statement after KCR was reportedly furious with him for leaking government plans.
Soon after, TRS MLA Rasamayi Balakrishna from the Manakonduru segment, who shared the dais with Eatala Rajendar at a function on September 5, said, “The statehood for Telangana achieved through a series of sustained mass movements with lot of sacrifices brought no change in the state, except nameplates and signboards.” The statement was a dig at KCR, who was one of the prominent figures who had spearheaded the Telangana statehood movement
Following in the footsteps of Eatala and Rasamayi, former Home Minister Nayini Narasimha Reddy and Rajya Sabha MP Capt V Lakshmikantha Rao criticised KCR’s move to induct former TDP leaders into the cabinet. As if lending credence to the criticism, nearly half of the 17 ministers in KCR’s cabinet carry the outsider tag and prominent among them are Panchayat Raj Minister Yerraballi Dayakar Rao, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav, who were formerly with the TDP. Besides, Sabitha Indra Reddy, who was earlier with the Congress, was one of the six new ministers inducted in the KCR’s cabinet on September 8.
A meek posture?
Given the tight grip KCR has over his party, everyone expected that Eatala would pay the price for his controversial statements against the party’s leadership. Surprisingly, he was retained in the cabinet with his health portfolio untouched.
In an act of open defiance, Eatala Rajendar began enlisting support from his voter base, which is primarily that of the other backward classes. He also sought the support of the BJP. The OBC Associations in Telangana and their leaders even warned KCR against stripping Eatala Rajendar of the ministry. Hailing from Mudiraj community, Eatala Rajendar has a considerable mass following, as he is a founding member of the TRS.
The fall of the TRS and rise of the BJP in its heartland of north Telangana in the 2019 Parliament Elections were attributed to KCR’s alienation of the OBC community. Former Nizamabad MP and KCR’s daughter Kavitha Kalvakuntla tasted humiliating defeat at the hands of BJP’s D Aravind, son of TRS Rajya Sabha MP and OBC leader D Srinivas in the recent Lok Sabha polls. Srinivas, who was an aspirant for the TRS ticket, was denied one by KCR. This worked against TRS as the those belonging to the OBC community ended up voting for Aravind.
Vikram Poola, a political analyst, told TNM that KCR in the present juncture was left with no choice but to retain Rajendar as rebellion would arise within the party, which would be harmful to KCR’s future in politics.
Why Harish Rao could not be kept out of the cabinet
In addition, Chief Minister’s nephew T Harish Rao, who was denied a cabinet birth after TRS returned to power in the 2018 Assembly Elections, was also inducted on Sunday and handed the Finance portfolio. He took oath as Finance Minister along with his cousin and KCR’s son KT Rama Rao, who retained the IT portfolio.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019, KCR had hoped to play a bigger role in national politics and had attempted bring together regional leaders for a Federal Front. After the Assembly Elections, KCR had sought to clear the decks for his son KT Rama Rao to succeed him as the Chief Minister if the Federal Front worked and KCR got to play a bigger role in national politics. Keeping this in mind, KCR had initially kept both KTR and his nephew Harish Rao, a six-time MLA and leader of mass appeal, out of the cabinet.
But Harish Rao has never faced defeat in an election and keeping him out of the cabinet would inadvertently mean rebellion in the TRS. Harish Rao’s popularity is such that he won Siddipet Assembly constituency in 2018 with a huge margin of 1,20,650 votes, surpassing the margin with which KCR had won.
After KCR’s dreams to enter the national political arena went awry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerging victorious, KCR could not afford to keep his son out of the government any longer. This also meant that he could not sideline Harish Rao. Faced with growing public sympathy for his nephew, rising dissent within the party, and a strong opposition in the BJP, KCR seemingly could not risk leaving Harish Rao out of the cabinet.
Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states.