Once the arid lands of Telangana are now lush green and cultivable three times a year. Nalgonda, which faced the fluorosis problem for decades, is now fluorosis-free. Once dry lakes of Telangana are now overflowing even in mid-summer. It’s been six years since the State saw power cuts. The per capita income of the people of Telangana has doubled in six years, the second highest in the country, and the unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country. Golden Telangana is in the making, bringing happiness and prosperity to its people.
There are times but very rarely it happens in the history of mankind that the fates, the fortunes and the destinies of such a large population are transformed so dramatically within one’s lifetime. The journey of Telangana is an amazing one, and it is synonymous with the journey of its founding father, K Chandrashekhar Rao, KCR. It is a story of how one person, and one man, achieved so much in one generation, against insurmountable odds.
In 2001, there was scant memory of the 1969 Telangana agitation, and those who had the memories had already given up on Telangana cause. The then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, was so vehemently against it that he banished the word ‘Telangana’ from the corridors of the Secretariat and the Assembly. If anyone even ventured to discuss a separate Telangana, it was considered a foolish man’s dream.
On April 27 that year, a small political group assembled at Jaladrushyam, Hyderabad, to launch a new political party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti. The founder of the party, KCR, having just renounced his position as Deputy Speaker of the State, giving up his MLA position, addressed the small group like an ordinary Telangana man, in ordinary Telangana dialect, which was almost considered a sacrilege for a politician at that time. He announced that the party would have a single point agenda: Achieving separate State of Telangana. There were to be no other objectives or goals as achieving statehood alone would bring immense transformation to his people, he believed.
Given the political climate of that time, what KCR took up looked humanely impossible to achieve. The Central government was led by NDA, and the TDP in the State led by Chandrababu Naidu, who was bitterly opposed to the formation of Telangana, was part of the alliance. The country had no sympathy or support for the creation of Telangana.
What KCR eventually spawned over the next 14 years was not just a political party but a truly people’s movement in India that would eventually mobilise the entire region of 35 million people. And to do that, he used a multipronged strategy.
First, he mobilised the people at the grassroots to create a deep-rooted mass movement. Employing the slogan of Ambedkar’s “Educate, Agitate, Organise’, he toured the region, town to town, village to village, house to house, to educate the people on the various discriminations meted out to Telangana in the united AP, on resources, on water, on jobs and on culture. He organised rally after rally to make a strong case as to why only a statehood for Telangana would bring about a positive transformation to each of them. His demand for self-respect caught the imagination of an entire generation. To strengthen the movement, he cajoled and impressed upon various political leaders and activists within the region, friends and foes, who joined his campaign. Thus the demand for separate Telangana became a mainstream opinion in the region.
Right from the beginning, KCR had a clear vision for this people’s movement. Learning from history, he conceded that violence could result in faster death of a movement. Therefore, he took a careful, conscious and deliberate decision that the grand dream will be achieved without shedding a single drop of blood. Taking inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, KCR decided that it would be a peaceful and non-violent movement. It would use the democratic methods, using the political system as a basis, within the constitutional framework of the country. It would be a slow, painful and arduous journey that would require perseverance, but he would not compromise on this.
Second, KCR believed that the solution to Telangana was a political one, and that only politics can be used to bring in the desired outcome. As a recognised political party, the TRS contested and won elections local body, Assembly and Parliament elections, with landslide majorities.
Noticing the growing support for Telangana cause, the Congress aligned with the TRS in 2004 elections with the promise to concede the demand for statehood, including it in Common Minimum Program, with the President of India endorsing it. The TRS actively participated in the political process supporting the governments and joining them, so as to compel and coerce the UPA into endorsing and conceding the statehood demand. Over the years, the TRS was also part of the government in the unified AP, at one point of time taking up 3 Ministerial positions.
Third, KCR recognised the need to garner support from various political parties of the country to get the Parliament vote in favour of Telangana. In March 2003, he took up a car rally in Delhi to elicit awareness and sympathy for Telangana cause. Over the years, he held many consultations and meetings, to compel, cajole and convert, with each and every political party in the country, explaining to them the merits of statehood for Telangana, and thus won the support of many political parties and their leaders onto his side, to create the required political consensus. However, the country was not yet ready to concede so easily.
There was a constant and incessant opposition from various quarters. There were many vested interests who did not want the formation of Telangana State to happen. KCR was a regular Telangana man, without the backing of any political family support, nor the money powers of the film industry or business. With anti-Telangana media constantly hounding and criticising him, with rich politicians of Andhra Pradesh heavily bent on destroying the movement, it was an uphill task for KCR to keep the morale high, to continue to give hope to the people of Telangana.
The media ridiculed KCR, using the same epithets that Telangana people were ridiculed with, for his slang, for his dietary habits. The only support he had was of the ordinary people of Telangana who professed faith in his goal and trusted him completely for his single-minded focus on achieving the objective of statehood. He made a promise to his people that he would never let them down, and if he ever drops his flag, the people have a right to stone him to death. Over the next 10 years, he became the personification of Telangana, his travails were travails of Telangana people, and therefore his success or failure would be success or failure of Telangana.
Even the political process turned into a saga of betrayals. Though the Congress won the 2004 elections with the support of the TRS, it backtracked after the elections and refused to concede the statehood demand. This led to TRS candidates, including KCR, resigning from the governments and legislative positions multiple times. When the betrayal happened once again in 2009, the morale of the party was low, the people of Telangana almost gave up hope.
In November 2009, KCR used one of the powerful instruments that Mahatma Gandhi used during the Indian Independence Movement. He launched an indefinite hunger strike to fight discrimination against the region in recruitments. It galvanised the entire region, with people coming out in his support demanding a separate State. When his condition was frail, and it looked like he may not survive, the Central government conceded his demand and announced the formation of a new State on December 9, 2009. But the jubilation and celebration was short-lived.
Within 14 days, bowing down to the blackmail tactics of Andhra Pradesh politicians, New Delhi backtracked once again. That’s when KCR launched the region into a widespread agitation, using Telangana-wide Joint Action Committee (JAC), involving all organs of civic societies, including all religions and all identities. Using innovative and locally grown methods of protests, based on the revival of Telangana folklore and its festivals, the people’s movement thus became the catalyst for the Cultural Renaissance of Telangana.
Unwavering and unyielding, KCR was steadfast in his endeavour to achieve his goal, guiding his cadre, inspiring his people, motivating his activists, against all opposition. Those four years witnessed a large scale mobilisation of people, involving thousands of protests, rallies, dharnas, cultural and social awareness programmes, with nonviolence being the cornerstone of all of them. KCR spent as much time meeting various political parties in the country, compelling them to heed and listen to the aspiration of his 35 million people. After four years of intensive struggle, on June 2, 2014, Telangana State was formed. Because of the sheer will power of one man who guided one people.
After the State formation, once again, the anti-Telangana media dismissed KCR, saying he is a leader of activism but not a leader of administration. But eventually, all the naysayers lost their bets. The then Central Minister Arun Jaitley remarked that ‘most often leaders of agitation do not transform into good administrative leaders. But KCR has proven it wrong. He had been a great leader of the agitation and now has become a great leader of administration’.
With a diligent mind, KCR set out to scour over compendious Bills reading every line to ensure his vision is clearly implemented. He sat through hours explaining his plans, allowing others to challenge him, poring over documents, to create one institution after another. That’s how the Kaleshwaram project, a modern engineering marvel, got designed and implemented, with KCR monitoring every step of the way. Each of his schemes comes out after many days of painstaking research, debates and discussion, on each and every nitty-gritty detail.
Today, his political and administrative leadership is unparalleled. Like Nehru, he built many great modern institutions and designed schemes such as Mission Bhagiratha, Mission Kakatiya, Haritha Haram. Like Ambedkar, he created revolutionary welfare schemes for the needy and the desperate in the State, such as Rythu Bima and Rythu Bandhu, some of which are even emulated by the Central government. Farmer suicides have become a thing of the past. Like Gandhi, he brought people of all religions and regional identities into one fold, thus proving that unity can come from diversity.
The people of Telangana are now optimistic about a better tomorrow. The Cultural Renaissance brought back the Telangana symbols, like Bathukamma, its folklore has become mainstream and the dialect a matter of pride. Its people are more enterprising than before, ready to work hard, learn, and create great successes for themselves and their society. Various group identities are now living harmoniously in the State sharing the common goal and common vision working towards making Golden Telangana a reality.
In the last 70 years of Independent India, thousands of political parties have emerged, but most of them vanished within a short span. A very few of them have sustained to become part of people’s lives. The credit of starting a political party only with the agenda to create statehood, sustaining a people’s movement and leading it for over 14 years, and then forming the first government after the formation of the new State goes to KCR.
Today, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our TRS party, and on this momentous occasion, I thank all the party members for their sacrifices, their commitment, and their efforts, and I would like to reaffirm our commitment towards their well-being.
As Professor Jayashankar always reminded us, that any day, ‘Only a Telangana political entity will safeguard and secure the interests of Telangana people’, it has now become clear that one cannot just rely on national parties to deliver on regional aspirations, because they have far too many agendas, sometimes conflicting with our demands. It is now proven over that last two decades that only the TRS party continues to be steadfast in its resolve and promises towards the Telangana cause. And I believe that we will continue to remain focused on delivering on our commitments for another two decades under the able leadership of our founding father, K Chandrashekhar Rao.
(The author is the working president of TRS)
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