Hyderabad: There’s a sudden shift in Telangana’s politics, ahead of a crucial bypoll, with the focus now on the “empowerment” of the Dalit community in the state.
Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, or KCR as he is known, set the tone in late June when he announced a ‘Dalit Bandhu (empowerment)’ scheme, in which he promised Rs 10 lakh through direct bank transfer to every Scheduled Caste family in the state. The money, according to the scheme, was to help with entrepreneurship within the community.
The scheme was to be launched on 16 August at Huzurabad, which is up for a bypoll, but after the chief minister faced flak from the opposition, it was unveiled at Vasalamarri village in Yadadri district on 4 August.
The state government Monday, however, issued orders to implement the scheme in Huzurabad and released Rs 500 crore for it. This, even as the notification for the bypoll is still awaited.
The Congress, which has slammed the chief minister’s scheme as an election stunt, Monday launched a month-long Dalit-Adivasi Dandora (drive). Rahul Gandhi is expected to take part in the event sometime in September.
Congress leader Dasoju Sravan told ThePrint that the drive is meant to “empower” Dalits and Adivasis and make them aware of their land rights, which he alleged was being ignored by the government.
“Today the chief minister suddenly wants to become the messiah of Dalits. Why were earlier promises not kept? Why did he not use the funds allocated under SC/ST sub-plan for the community and instead diverted them for his magnum projects like Kaleshwaram (irrigation project)?” Sravan alleged.
“Also, no more than one lakh of the nine lakh applications received by the SC Finance Corporation in the last seven years have been cleared. Does he have a timeframe on when ideally would he be able to give Dalit Bandhu to all families in the state?”
In keeping with the trend, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has no presence in the state, received a fillip Sunday, when former IPS officer R.S. Praveen Kumar, who played an instrumental role in revamping Telangana’s social welfare residential educational institutions during his tenure, joined the party. The BSP event at Nalgonda, to mark Kumar’s induction, reportedly saw the participation of around 2 lakh people.
‘BJP pressure pushing CM’
While the BJP has not really announced any major plans for Dalits in the state, its Huzurabad candidate is Eatala Rajender, the ousted minister of the KCR cabinet and a one-time close aide of the chief minister.
Rajender, the former Huzurabad MLA, hails from a Backward Caste (BC) and has been reportedly touching the feet of those from the Dalit community as part of his campaign.
Experts told ThePrint that Rajender is one of the prime reasons for KCR’s Dalit outreach. They added that certain sections of the BC vote may rally behind the former minister, seen as a strong leader in the community.
Apart from Rajender, the BJP has other prominent BC leaders in Nizamabad MP Dharmapuri Arvind and its state unit president Bandi Sanjay, one of KCR’s most vocal critics.
“All the parties, including the chief minister, are preparing for the 2023 elections. The BC and SC/ST population together easily make up 50 per cent of the state’s population,” Prof. Gali Vinod Kumar of Osmania University told ThePrint.
“The BJP has been trying to woo the BC community for a long time now and traditionally Dalits are a Congress vote-bank,” he added. “With Revanth Reddy’s rise as new PCC chief, they (Dalits) may look to the party for hope. So for the CM, the Dalit vote-bank is crucial, and he is trying to woo them.”
According to senior political analyst Telakapalli Ravi, KCR’s Dalit scheme is a “masterstroke”, to which the other parties have to respond. He, however, added that the move is also because of KCR’s fear that the BCs may rally behind Rajender.
“There are a lot of unkept promises from the chief minister’s side, coupled with his fear of a split in the BC vote. So, this is a move to safeguard the Dalit vote-bank,” Ravi said. “Not just Huzurabad, this is a step for the next elections in the state. After all, Dalits are easily 17 per cent of the population.”
Ravi also pointed out that KCR has a history of rolling out schemes before elections.
“Before every election, he (KCR) doles out schemes for different communities. There are schemes for BCs and the shepherd community among others. So, this is like one of his pre-poll promises,” Ravi added. “But this time, he has doled out such a large scheme that nobody thought of. The maximum that the opposition can question now is the timing of the scheme, not the scheme as such. That would work against them. At the end of the day it is a welfare scheme, isn’t it?”
KCR’s Dalit outreach
KCR’s Dalit Bandhu scheme promises to bring ‘qualitative change’ in the community and will be extended to 100 families in each of the state’s 119 constituencies in the first phase.
The government has estimated that at least 13 lakh SC families would be eligible for the Dalit Bandhu scheme. Dalits make up 17 per cent of the state’s total voting population.
The state government has reportedly started a survey to identify beneficiaries. Government teams have been asked to collect sub-caste details, educational and employment details of families.
The KCR government has set aside a budget of Rs 1,200 crore. In fact, the chief minister has also said that he is ready to spend Rs 1 lakh crore to implement the scheme. The figure is roughly 50 per cent of the state’s annual budget.
The chief minister, who faces criticism of being an autocrat, and even being inaccessible to his own ministers, had in June called for an all-party meeting for the first time since he took over in the state, following which the decision was taken.
But this isn’t the first time that KCR has looked to woo the state’s Dalits. In the run-up to the 2014 assembly elections, he had promised to appoint a member of the Dalit community as the chief minister if his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) was voted to power.
The chief minister, at the time of the Telangana agitation, also promised three acres of land to each Dalit family. He launched the land distribution programme amid much fanfare in 2014 but according to data of 2019, the last available, a mere 6,000 of the 3.3 lakh beneficiaries have benefitted.
While his latest Dalit Bandhu scheme has also drawn flak from the opposition, KCR has responded to the criticism, saying his party is not a monastery and neither were his party-men living as monks in the Himalayas.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)