There were two images that came out of Telangana today and would have interested any observer of the state’s politics. The first one was the inauguration of the Kaleshwaram irrigation project with Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao performing puja at the project site. The presence of three chief ministers – K Chandrasekhar Rao, Devendra Fadnavis and Jaganmohan Reddy – was a show of federal unity, worthy of appreciation.
The second was former Irrigation minister and KCR’s nephew, T Harish Rao, performing yoga in his Siddipet constituency.
What’s the connection, those outside of Telangana, may wonder. Because Harish Rao in the first term of the TRS government in Telangana was the mover and shaker behind the Kaleshwaram project. So committed he was to the project that he camped for days and nights at Kaleshwaram to ensure the work on the project met its deadlines. So much so that during an earlier visit to the project site, Governor ESL Narasimhan referred to Harish Rao as Kaleshwara Rao. Which is why his absence in Kaleshwaram on D-day stuck out like a sore thumb.
Even though the distance between Siddipet and Kaleshwaram is a mere 90 km, Harish Rao’s absence is being seen as a pointer to the growing distance between the chief minister and his nephew. Since the TRS victory in the assembly elections in December 2018, Harish has confined himself to activities in Siddipet and at best, involving himself in Medak district party activities. He played a key role in ensuring the TRS victory both in Medak Lok Sabha seat as well as in the local bodies elections in May.
Harish was not drafted into the cabinet in KCR’s second term. Son KT Rama Rao too was kept out of the cabinet but was made the TRS Working president which enabled him to oversee the nuts and bolts of the Lok Sabha election campaign. Both KTR and Harish along with KCR’s daughter Kavitha and another nephew Santhosh, are seen as the gen-next of the TRS.
The contrast was stark because Harish who has been with the party since inception and is considered a brilliant crisis manager, was restricted to just Medak constituency while KTR oversaw the entire state especially the high-profile urban constituencies in and around Hyderabad. Kavitha was focused on the campaign in her constituency of Nizamabad while Santhosh who is seen as KCR’s eyes and ears, accompanies him everywhere.
No one quite knows what went wrong but conspiracy theorists have had a field day over the past six months. There have been unsubstantiated rumours about both the Congress and the BJP having been in touch with Harish Rao and about the role he may have played had the TRS numbers hovered around the half way mark. But Rao has consistently denied such rumours, accusing mischief makers of trying to create a rift between him and his uncle. A mischievous news report on April 1 in a local newspaper about Harish Rao headed the BJP way riled him very much and he took to Twitter to deny the story.
Ahead of the Kaleshwaram event, perhaps in an attempt to quell similar reports, Harish Rao tweeted giving all credit for Kaleshwaram to KCR.
Was Harish Rao invited or at least informally asked to come to the Kaleshwaram event on 21 June? Or was he instructed to keep away? Harish isn’t saying anything nor are his yoga postures giving anything away. But interestingly, all through the day, Harish Rao’s social media team was active, sending pictures of his various activities through the day in Siddipet. It was obvious Team Harish Rao wanted the pictures to do the talking.
KCR is expected to expand his cabinet in a few days. The hopefuls in Harish Rao camp say if not irrigation, the senior leader ought to be given the Finance or Education portfolio so that he can exhibit his efficiency in a new ministry. But in case he continues to be given the cold shoulder, the divide will be just too apparent.