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KCR protests against Centre as paddy issue gets ‘serious’, turns up the heat on BJP

CM K. Chandrashekar Rao, his ministers, legislators and party workers joined in. Experts say many ways to read the protest, including a question on prestige factor.

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Hyderabad: Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao Thursday held a dharna in the state capital, the first since he came to power in 2014, to protest against the Centre’s decision not to procure the balance five lakh metric tonnes of paddy produced in the state. Ministers, MLAs, MLCs and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party workers joined the sit-in.

Incidentally, KCR chose the same venue for his dharna where he once banned protests, Dharna Chowk, which is to Hyderabad what Jantar Mantar is to Delhi — a designated protest site with over a decade-long history, especially during the movements for Telangana’s statehood.

The state government has been seeking to discourage paddy cultivation, with the CM asking farmers not to grow paddy in the Rabi season because the Centre won’t procure it. 

KCR had earlier written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking a direction to the Food Corporation of India to procure the balance 5 LMT of rice produced in the Rabi season 2020-21. He also wanted the procurement target for the coming Rabi season to be confirmed.

This is the ruling TRS’s second protest within a week at the same site.

The latest protest comes in the backdrop of the TRS’s recent loss to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Huzurabad bypoll. However, experts point out that there are various ways to read this protest, including that KCR might now be feeling heat in the state from the BJP.

The loss had more to do with the BJP candidate Eatala Rajender, a former minister sacked by KCR from his cabinet, who has a strong hold over the constituency. But the win certainly was a boost to the BJP and a battle lost for KCR, who had campaigned against his former aide in what was perceived as a grudge match.

“These protests are an attempt by KCR to regain what he lost — his prestige. KCR himself made it a high stakes battle and despite using his might to a great potential, the party lost. More than the candidate’s loss, it was seen as a voice of dissent against KCR’s governance,” senior analyst Suresh Alapati told ThePrint.

Another senior political analyst, Telakapalli Ravi, pointed out how the protest Thursday didn’t receive an overwhelming response, adding that this could also be an attempt to change the negative perception among farmers.

“Paddy procurement is a serious problem for the farming community and KCR spent crores of rupees on farmer schemes, irrigation projects and yet if with this one issue farmers feel that he has not done enough or fought for them, it would not benefit him. So, this agitation could also be because he wants to show famers that he is fighting for them,” he said.

“Also, there is not an overwhelming response because it looks like people are not really convinced if this is a serious fight against BJP,” Ravi added.

Speaking at the protest, the CM said that TRS will take responsibility to lead farmers’ agitation at the national level, if necessary. He also said that all the paddy left to be procured will be dumped at the BJP office.

Also read: ‘Whistleblower’ Tathagata Roy wants to ‘expose the corrupt in BJP’, party calls him a liability

Escalating battle

The protest is the latest chapter in KCR’s battle with the BJP. Last week, the CM held a press meet for the first time after the Huzurabad result. He criticised the BJP government at the Centre over the paddy procurement issue. He also lashed out over issues such as poor GDP growth, rising fuel prices, anger over farm laws, adding that the BJP government is inefficient, anti-farmer and unable to stop China’s transgression into Arunachal Pradesh.

Hinting at the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in October, in which eight people including four farmers were killed, KCR even accused the BJP government of crushing the farmers under car wheels if they raise their voice. Ashish Mishra, the son of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’, is the main accused in the case. 

KCR also brushed aside talks of BJP gaining strength in the state, adding that he will go to Delhi to protest for the farmers in the state.

Another senior analyst, Prof. Nageshwar Rao, pointed out that the ruling TRS might have faced heat with the bypoll loss.

“You can take any regional party in the country, they have supported BJP when it was needed and opposed it depending on the situation. Whether it is Uttar Pradesh or West Bengal, only when BJP poses a challenge these parties fight it,” Rao said.

“There could be multiple reasons as of why he is attacking BJP one could be to change perception that TRS lost to BJP in Huzurabad, not just one bypoll but BJP’s performance in 2019 Lok Sabha polls and next elections which may have had KCR think about BJP’s growing image in state,” he added.

Most analysts also pointed out how KCR’s focus on BJP and its state chief Bandi Sanjay could also be an attempt to divert attention from the newly-appointed Congress state chief Revanth Reddy, who is also considered a staunch critic of the CM.

The Huzurabad win makes no arithmetic difference to the 119-member Telangana assembly, where 103 seats belong to the TRS. But the BJP’s efforts to sell a narrative that it is the Modi-led party that’s the key opposition in the state and not the Congress, will be strengthened, say experts.

The BJP also won the Dubbaka bypoll over TRS last year, and also won 10 times more seats in the Greater Hyderabad municipal poll last year than its previous tally in 2016.

Also read: Previous governments reduced eastern Uttar Pradesh to mafiawaad & poverty, says PM Modi

KCR banned Dharna Chowk, but has come to same site now

The history of Dharna Chowk, about two kilometres from the state secretariat, began 15 years ago.

In 2005, the then-chief justice of undivided Andhra Pradesh G.S. Singhvi, was caught in a traffic jam due to a massive protest. The next day, the judge called Hyderabad Police Commissioner at the time, Dinesh Reddy, to identify a designated protest site for Hyderabad, like Jantar Mantar in Delhi. That is how ‘Dharna Chowk’ came into existence in Hyderabad.

In 2017, KCR announced his decision to close down the site, saying that the government had received several representations from the residents and walkers that such frequent protests were causing a lot of inconvenience.

Opposition leaders and intellectuals, who termed this decision as a move to curb the voice of dissent in the state, moved the high court and got the decision reversed in 2018.

“During the assembly session, Dharna Chowk witnesses around six protests in a day. KCR’s mentality is like that — he believes he is the personification of Telangana movement struggle and does not tolerate opposition voices. He does not allow dissent anywhere. Not just opposition parties, even farmers wanted to oppose (on certain issues); he imposed Section 144 several times,” Prof. M. Kodandaram, KCR’s aide-turned-critic and founder of Telangana Jana Samithi, told ThePrint.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: After Amravati violence, BJP ‘trying to occupy Sena’s Hindutva space’, MVA calls it conspiracy


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