Why KCR highlighted Manmohan Singh in contrast to Modi?

Is KCR’s Manmohan mantra, a double-edged charm offensive for BRS national tryst?


HYDERABAD: Why was Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) so profuse in his praise for former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his Sunday speech in the State Assembly on the Appropriation Bill? Well, those discerning the political dynamics in Telangana – especially the ones with a sniff of politics played by the BRS supremo – were not entirely surprised as they clearly see KCR’s smart dexterity that veers from its course with changing demands.

A quick look at history with specific focus on KCR’s political maneuvering reveals the Telangana strongman’s contrasting styles of politicking, purely for strategic reasons. To reach his larger goals, he enticed, aligned and sailed with different political entities at different phases – some of them at the most unanticipated times – riding perfectly on the political vagaries of the day. His choice of allies at one time and the decision to go it alone at another instance during the daunting phase of the separate Telangana statehood movement are a classic case in point. His means for course-correction, then and now, were not impulsive. Instead, they hinged on both political and administrative imperatives of the moment.

Throughout the agitation time, the boss of the BRS (the erstwhile TRS) steadfastly maintained that he would have no qualms in honeymooning with any political party in his quest for the separate statehood. And he uninhibitedly pursued this to the T (read Telangana) when he tried different methods of alliances for success at the hustings. If the Telangana cause formed the core of his fight until 2014, the larger interests and aspirations of the new, nascent state and its populace became the fulcrum for his deftness in post-bifurcation politics. A clever blend of aggression with calibration was witnessed during this time where cordiality in relations appeared to be the bottomline, be it with the Centre or the neighbouring states. Having attained both these objectives with a fair amount of success, KCR is now rearing to take the 'Delhi bullies' by their horns, harbouring dreams of filling a huge vacuum in opposition ranks and emerging as a viable alternative in national corridors of power.

Though subtle in nature, a pattern of a deep-rooted design oozes from KCR’s sudden, unexpected praise in his Assembly speech for Dr Manmohan Singh and the UPA regime the latter led as the Prime Minister between 2004-14. In fact, his frequent references glorifying the ‘pious sikh’ would have made a few Congress heads hang in shame for not showing the gumption to do what KCR just did. In a nutshell, KCR infused the Manmohan charm offensive with finesse in his all-out Modi-bashing, to get ‘two birds with one barb’ all through his speech.

“Despite a far better show than Narendra Modi’s regime, Dr Manmohan Singh’s rule was maligned before it lost power. His successor (Modi) has proven to be the most inefficient in India’s history. He offered the country nothing, except chest-thumping even in defeat, a heap of lies and betrayals. Even after performing better, Manmohan Singh never craved for publicity like his successor.” This was one of KCR’s taunts during his Assembly speech while smartly putting Manmohan Singh on a higher pedestal of stature.

Listing out comparative statistics between both the UPA and NDA, he stated emphatically that key performance indicators on all fronts displayed a dismal show by the Narendra Modi government in its nine-year rule in comparison with the nine years of Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA regime.

“Noted independent economist Puja Mehra, in her book ‘The Lost Decade 2008-2018’, came up with a like-to-like comparison of Manmohan Singh and Modi governments. Is there really one sector that witnessed growth under Narendra Modi? She has encapsulated exactly this. Under the congress-led UPA, the annual growth rate was 6.8 percent. The same under the NDA came down to 5.5 percent. Irony is, the Congress never shows the appetite to highlight this. These are not my claims but an analysis of budgets and audited figures of the CAG.

“Similarly, the growth rate in per capita income during Manmohan Singh’s nine-year rule as Prime Minister was 12.73 percent. Registering at 7.1 percent, it almost halved under the aegis of Modi. And yet, the Modi bhakts unabashedly indulge in tall claims on these fronts,” KCR commented.

“The debt-to-GDP ratio under Manmohan since 2004 was 66.7 percent. The same plummeted by 12 percent to 52 percent during Modi rule. The debts under Manmohan Singh in 2014 were around 52 percent while it soared to 56 percent during Narendra Modi’s primeministership,” he said.

The dime a dozen references of positivity to the former Prime Minister and his Congress party in his marathon speech, may not have gone unnoticed, within both the Telangana political circles and the grand-old party. KCR’s extravagant encomiums, by his usual standards, for a political adversary and an electoral rival of some potential, is already being viewed as a signalling of a possible thaw in relations between the BRS and the Congress in future, if necessary. Those who know the nimbleness of the BRS chief’s strategies will quietly nod in endorsement of this likely eventuality. This comes with the popular awareness that, if the situation warrants in the post-election scenario, KCR might not be entirely averse to burying the hatchet with the Congress and forging a realignment with it.

Flexibility, KCR’s virtue in politics

KCR’s penchant for testing different waters of political alliances has been a constant feature in his long political journey since he floated the TRS and became the torchbearer of the statehood movement. In the TRS’ first crucial elections in 2004, he joined forces with the Congress and tasted reasonable success while the grand-old party assumed power both at the Centre and in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. After being part of the Congress and the UPA governments in both the state and at the Centre, he severed his ties with it in 2006 in protest against the betrayal and reluctance on committing to a separate Telangana state.

After a few by-elections with mixed results, the chief of then TRS showed yet another facet of him with this surprise: The TRS went into alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a party he broke ranks from, a few years before. The amalgam of the TRS, TDP, together with the Left Parties, fought the 2009 elections as a Secular Alliance. The indication that KCR never intended to treat any party as an outcast and banished it for too long came on the very day of elections in 2009 when he dashed off to Chandigarh where he attended a BJP public meeting, attended by national stalwarts including L K Advani.

With the Statehood movement reaching its flashpoint after 2009 in the post-YS Rajasekhara Reddy era, KCR emerged as the game-changing heavyweight in state politics. The question of singing along never arose as he played the proverbial pied-piper to steer the Telangana agitation single-handedly through the difficult years and finally to its fruition.

Since the time the year 2014 marked the watershed moment with the creation of a new Telangana state and KCR holding the reins as its first Chief Minister, there has been no looking back for the TRS leader. With the question of alliances effectively thrown out of the window and the focus shifting to the rebuilding of the nascent state into a role model for the country in no time, KCR was seen deftly shifting his gears to pursue friendly politics with the Central powers while playing hardball with rivals in the state.

But with a perceived necessity at the Centre now for a potent political alternative looming large at the national level, KCR once again sees a monumental chance to emulate what he once famously did at the head of a long, excruciating struggle. And the metamorphosis of the TRS into the BRS is a masterstroke, coming from the master strategist in contemporary Indian politics.

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