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Pepper tongue clucking, time for home run

K. Chandrasekhar Rao

Some call him a maverick, a man who has made a habit of resigning and switching camps. But, for a politician, K. Chandrasekhar Rao comes across as someone who wears his mouth on his sleeve.

“I am being very honest. It is true I met Rahul (Gandhi), shook hands and also hugged him. I also met Sonia Gandhi with my entire family. It was an honour. I am grateful to them for giving Telangana,” he told a reporter at Station Ghanpur, some 120km from Hyderabad.

It was the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief’s third meeting since morning and the man known for his sharp tongue was just being frank. Not that it was all candour. “I will speak about whether I promised merger or not only after the elections,” he told the reporter.

The “merger” with the Congress that Rao was referring to fell through, prompting the Congress leadership to accuse him of going back on his word. Today, Rao is a lone ranger, hopping across the 10 Telangana districts in his battle for the would-be state’s legislature and at least half the parliamentary seats in the region.

Lok Sabha and Assembly elections are being held simultaneously in Andhra Pradesh. The new Telangana state, set to come into existence on June 2, will have a 119-member Assembly and 17 Lok Sabha seats. The residual Andhra Pradesh (Seemandhra) will have a House of 175 and 25 parliamentary seats.

Rao, who triggered the Telangana process in 2009 with an indefinite hunger strike, is contesting from the Gajwel Assembly segment and from the Medak parliamentary constituency to keep his options open: either rule in Telangana or take up the cause of the new state in the national legislature. “The TRS has the noble task of rebuilding Telangana and hence he has kept options open,” said a party leader.

In the past 10 days, Rao has addressed as many as 10 meetings every day. Asked about his acid tongue, he laughs. “I wouldn’t have come thus far without the strength of my high-voltage and peppery tongue,” he says.

Rao, KCR to his supporters, had once said: “Like all those born in Sri Lanka are rakshasas, all those born in Seemandhra are Telangana traitors.”

But Rao has been an unpredictable politician, though his loyalists would say that whatever he has done — switched camps, changed allies — has been for Telangana.

Since 2004, the TRS chief has won three Lok Sabha elections and resigned twice. In 2004, he won from Karimnagar before stepping down in 2006. The TRS, which had aligned with the UPA at the Centre and the YSR government in Andhra, snapped ties with both for not granting a Telangana state. In the by-election that followed, he won by over 1 lakh votes.

In 2009, Rao contested and won from Mahabubnagar, another Telangana seat, in alliance with the CPI, CPM and the Telugu Desam Party. After the polling was over, but before the results were declared, he switched camps and backed the BJP-led NDA before making another mid-course correction: a dalliance with the Congress again.

The buzz was the TRS would merge with the Congress. But things panned out differently.

“He is both the best and the worst politician I have seen so far,” the Congress’s Andhra minder Digvijaya Singh said recently.

“KCR is no doubt elusive, but he is very firm when it concerns Telangana,” said a senior Telangana journalist.

To TRS cadres, Rao is the saviour of Telangana. “How can they (Sonia and Rahul) expect the TRS to be merged with the Congress after leading the (statehood) movement for 10 years,” says a party worker.

How popular Rao is was evident from a 2002 fundraiser for the party when the rate for a seat at a dinner with him was Rs 1 lakh. “Astonishingly, 2,000 seats were sold in one week,” says TRS leader and Rao’s nephew and MLA Harish Rao.

As for Rao, he pooh-poohs all opinion polls. His party, the TRS chief says, will get between 60 and 90 Assembly seats in the House of 119. For Parliament, he is expecting over eight out of 17.