Bengaluru: Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s decision to expand his cabinet last week is being seen as a step towards preventing a poaching operation by the BJP, as the latter pulled off in Karnataka and Goa.
For one, he inducted nephew T. Harish Rao to the powerful finance ministry, quelling the resentment his exclusion last year had brewed among a section of party members.
He has also tried to tick as many boxes as possible, including gender — his new 18-member cabinet has two women — besides caste and political equations.
Party sources say one of the reasons KCR became cautious is that he understands the BJP is all set to try and break his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party.
“The BJP will waste no time to try and pull down his government or woo the dissident MLAs and it is important to keep the party together,” a senior party leader told ThePrint.
The BJP has been a largely negligible force in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, but seems to have made considerable inroads, as witnessed in this year’s Lok Sabha elections. From winning just one of 119 assembly seats in the 2018 assembly elections, the party managed to wrest four of Telangana’s 17 Lok Sabha constituencies, defeating giants such as CM KCR’s daughter K. Kavitha.
Over the past few months alone, two former TRS MPs and some of their followers have joined the BJP.
Harish Rao’s induction is a major development as not only was he said to be unhappy about being left out, many TRS leaders had threatened to quit if he was ignored.
Rao is a popular grassroots leader who has cemented his popularity among the cadres with his accessibility. He was by KCR’s side all through the Telangana struggle, and has only seen his political capital rise through the years.
In the 2018 assembly election, he won his seat by a margin of over 1.2 lakh votes — he has retained his constituency Siddipet since winning it in a 2004 bypoll with a margin of nearly 25,000 votes.
The fact that his cousin, KCR’s son K.T. Rama Rao, was made working president of the TRS didn’t go down well with Harish Rao’s supporters either, who felt that the latter had been given a raw deal.
At the same time, K.T. Rama Rao has been accommodated in the cabinet as well in order to plug another probable portal of dissent.
A senior TRS leader, however, denied it was an appeasement exercise and said the calculations of the expansion were aimed at the upcoming municipal elections, with the party high command looking to address the “setback” suffered by its defeat in some crucial Lok Sabha seats this election.
“There are no differences (within the TRS) as is being made out by the BJP or other parties. Initially, the idea was to use big leaders like KTR and Harish to strengthen the party,” said the leader. “But, slowly, KCR realised both senior leaders have to be in the government if they want to be in power and so they were inducted.”
Harish Rao, KTR are the ‘troubleshooters’ KCR needed in cabinet
Political analyst Palwai Raghavendra said the BJP will try any given opportunity to tap into the TRS bandwagon and take away some of the talent.
“While leaders from the Congress have been taken in by the BJP, the next target for the BJP to grow in the state would be the TRS,” Raghavendra said. “KCR understands this.”
“Both KTR and Harish have a huge following and, so, with both troubleshooters in the cabinet, KCR hopes to consolidate his position,” he added.
Telkapalli Ravi, another political analyst, said one thing was clear that KTR had been anointed KCR’s successor and been assured the second rank in the TRS dispensation.
“It has become amply clear that Rao cannot be kept outside. KCR developed a certain amount of political vulnerability in the last nine months and was forced to bring in his trusted troubleshooters,” he added.
“Many problems developed and so the troubleshooters were brought in. That was why their induction was essential,” he said. “Harish is one of the tallest leaders of the party and ostensibly remained loyal to the TRS. Keeping Harish Rao inside the cabinet is safer than keeping him outside.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.