Decoding Harish Rao’s return to the KCR cabinet

When K Chandrasekhar Rao expanded his cabinet in February and kept former Irrigation minister Harish Rao out, it led to speculation that all was not well between uncle and nephew. It was confirmed when Harish Rao was confined to political activities in his Siddipet constituency or at best, Medak district. Despite having played a stellar role in executing the Kaleshwaram irrigation project, Harish was kept out of the high-profile inaugural event in June. 

In contrast, KCR’s son KT Rama Rao was made the TRS Working president and supervised the entire Lok Sabha election campaign. Harish only looked after the Medak Lok Sabha constituency. 

Now Harish Rao is back and given charge of the Finance portfolio. With this move, KCR and the TRS has put a lid on speculation on differences within the family. This is important because rivals of the TRS were looking to create a Shiv Sena-like situation in the ruling party.

The decision to induct Harish also brings to the fore one of the most articulate voices in the TRS, to take on an aggressive BJP and the Congress. Talent, let truth be said, is in short supply in the government and KTR and Harish Rao bring in the much-needed administrative experience, ability to network effectively and understanding of subjects to the table. 

But the decision to bring back Harish Rao is also deeply political. Keeping him out of the cabinet would have confirmed the conspiracy theories and conveyed the impression that the TRS is a divided house. In the light of the Eatala Rajender half-revolt, the efforts of the BJP to poach and its desire to emerge as a powerful political entity in Telangana by 2023, the risk of Harish emerging as a rallying point for dissenters, indirectly if not directly, always existed. There are many senior TRS leaders like Kadiam Srihari, Nayani Narasimha Reddy, Jupally Krishna Rao, Tummala Nageswara Rao who were ministers in the first term of the TRS but find themselves out in the cold and aren’t pleased with the turn of events and political fortunes. 

Though Finance on paper is a plum portfolio, those in the know say Harish has been given the assignment at a challenging time. The economy is facing a downturn and Harish will need to summon all his skills to ensure funds for the government’s welfare schemes and development projects while ensuring efficient tax collections. Incidentally, his first budget will not bear his imprint at all as the document has already been prepared ahead of the budget session that will start on Monday. In fact, KCR himself will present the budget in the Telangana Assembly while Harish Rao will read out the document in the Legislative Council.

Also unlike portfolios like Irrigation, Municipal Administration, Health and Panchayat Raj, Finance is a more bureaucratic ministry. It allows for little people contact, something Harish excels at. The apprehension among his supporters is that this will end up restricting him to administrative meetings rather than looking after political outreach.

But while the attention has been on Harish and KTR’s induction, an important decision was taken by KCR with respect to Jagadish Reddy’s portfolio. Reddy was under attack after the Intermediate Exam results fiasco with the opposition gunning for his head. KCR has changed Reddy’s ministry from Education to Energy, an indication that he too was not happy with his handling of the ministry and an insensitive approach to the woes of the students. The President of India asking for a report from the Telangana Chief Secretary on the issue, after the BJP submitted a memorandum, too has embarrassed the TRS government. 

Eatala Rajender managed to survive the axe and has retained his Health ministry as well as his chair. This despite a shoddy performance with the dengue crisis still looming large and his claim that he too is the owner of the TRS pink flag. But TRS sources say it does not mean everything is hunky-dory. KCR is not known to brook dissent and the jury is out if the last word has been said on Rajender’s political future.  

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