Thanneeru Harish Rao, senior leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), and one of its earliest members, instrumental in the formation of the party, played a crucial role in the long struggle for a separate state. He is minister for irrigation, marketing & legislative affairs and abounds with infectious energy and palpable optimism over the prospects of the TRS returning to power in the early elections caused by the early dissolution of the Assembly.
A nephew of Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), whom he calls his leader and boss, Mr Harish Rao had earlier served as a minister in the Congress government led by Dr Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, between 2004 and 2005, and represents Siddipet as a legislator. A graduate of Kakatiya University, he is rated one of the best performing ministers in the KCR Cabinet. He has dismissed allegations that he is a rival to IT minister Mr Rama Rao, for the top post.
Speaking exclusively to Deccan Chronicle, Harish Rao, defends the record of his government, promises a house with running water for every inhabitant of the state, denies allegations that he may be sidelined, and declares full faith in the leadership of Mr Chandrasekhar Rao who he says will lead the party to a victory of 100 plus seats (out of 119) in the coming elections.
Why are we having early elections? Why did the TRS feel the need for dissolving the Assembly before it completed its tenure?
Like every decision taken by my leader and boss, KCR garu, this decision too was taken in the interests of the Telangana state and people. We found that opposition parties, especially the Congress, unable to tolerate the sustained popularity of our government, was increasingly trying to block our work by filing false cases in courts. It has been our endeavour since we came to power to run a government without political motivations - we had hoped all parties would support us in the first term after we achieved our own state after such a long agitation. But the hope was belied. Both people and government are very disappointed by the opposition. We wanted to stop this obstructionist agenda by going to the people, the highest authority in a democracy. Why is the opposition upset if their claims that we are a government losing popularity (are true)? They should welcome elections. Why are they afraid of going to the people and seeking a fresh mandate?
Since you have brought up the popularity you perceive your government enjoys, can you tell us how a slew of broken or unfulfilled promises, as the Congress calls them, make your government and Chief Minister popular? You did not make a Dalit a chief minister, nor give three acres of land for every Dalit and Tribal family, nor handed over two-bedroom houses, nor provided drinking water to every house, nor created a job for every family.
Not only has our party fulfilled all promises in the manifesto, but we have delivered over a hundred major additional programmes of welfare and development: Kalyana Lakshmi, Shaadi Mubarak, Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Beema to name a few. Did we promise them, or did anyone even demand we give it? Two-bedroom houses is an ongoing programme and everyone in Telangana knows that as soon as we come to power we shall start delivering. Look at the monies involved, we enhanced it significantly from Rs 3 lakh allocated by the Congress as part of the Rajiv Gruha programme, to now, where we have allocated over Rs 5 lakh in rural and semi urban areas, and over Rs 7 lakh in GHMC limits. Over 25 lakh houses are being constructed and we will start handing it over as soon as they are completed. People know that the TRS government led by KCR garu fulfils all promises. Everyone will in coming times have a house, and every house will have water.
Water has been an emotionally and politically important subject for Telangana state. You have played a crucial role in managing programmes like Mission Kakatiya. But as a government you have failed to deliver water for agriculture or drinking water to homes on par with your promises.
Let us compare the results delivered by the Congress for Telangana over several decades versus what KCR garu has delivered in four years. It is very significant to understand where the motivation comes from: for Congress, water was about elections and contracts. For KCR, as he travelled to every district, every mandal and village during the agitation, it became a cause, a mission in life, to change lives of people of Telangana. None of us thought of coming to power, it was enough to realise the dream of a separate state and live with dignity. We have a vision and commitment to add over one crore acre ayacut of irrigated land; we have so far brought over 14 lakh acres of land under irrigation with various new projects. Nothing has changed in terms of the goal. We have worked quickly and efficiently, even Central Water Commission chairman S. Masood Husain praised the work of our state. In Mission Kakatiya, a minor and small irrigation project, we have revived historic tanks and legacy water storage points so each village and mandal gets self-sufficiency. We restored over 45,000 tanks and lakes.
Why did the Kaleshwaram project run into controversy?
The only reason is the Congress, which wants to create controversy. For seven years under the Congress, since the time Dr YSR laid the foundation of what was then called the Pranahitha-Chevella project, the Kaleshwaram project did not get approval even when they (the Congress) had both State and Central governments. Why? Because their own government felt their design was faulty. We corrected it, got approvals from a Central government we are not part of, and started the work. Over 80 per cent of the work has been completed. You must realise the first year of this government was wasted in sorting out all pending bifurcation issues and setting a changed government approach in place. So we accomplished all this in around three years, despite constant cases by the Congress trying to misuse our honourable courts for their obstructionist agenda. So much of our time and effort was to just get approvals, clear issues in court and get permissions from the National Green Tribunal.
Drinking water for all was a very significant promise. How close is Mission Bhagiratha to bringing drinking water to every household?
It is a promise every citizen of Telangana state knows that KCR garu will deliver soon.
Your past electoral allies, the Congress and the Telugu Desam, are coming together to fight against you. Does that concern you, one, that you lose allies, and two, that they are now together?
We did not seek to only build TRS through various elections. In the past, we got into alliances strategically for building support for our cause of separate statehood. First the Congress, a national party, then the TD, a principal regional opposition party, were allied with us to ensure they gave open support to Telangana statehood. We also got 36 parties across India to support us. Having achieved our goal, since several bifurcation issues are pending, the Congress has made a mistake by becoming a partner of Amaravati boss Chandrababu Naidu. Why is the Congress compromising on interests of Telangana - for electoral gains? Which state will the TD support: Andhra or Telangana? the Congress has also compromised on the issue of dignity. These alliance candidates will lose their deposits.
You have a strange, friendly relationship with the BJP and the MIM at the same time. That contradiction, the opposition argues, is the reason for early elections.
We have friendly relations with the MIM. They supported us in the larger interests of the people and state. We have friendly relationship with the BJP-led Central government as it should be in a multi-party federalism. We need the Centre for various projects and supported them for the state. We have no alliance with the BJP, whom we continue to oppose politically.
Your party supported the One Nation, One Polls call by Narendra Modi. Yet, you are going ahead with an early election, whereas the former NDA ally, Chandrababu Naidu, who opposed it, will go to polls at the same time. Any reflections on the irony of this?
We supported the idea in the larger interest of the nation. Since they have not found it feasible, we are going ahead with early elections in the interest of the state. We are not concerned with what other parties do.
So, no special bond between the TRS and the BJP?
If we had, would they not have given us a single national irrigation project like they gave Polavaram to Andhra? Would we still be waiting for the High Court to be separated?
There are no women in the TRS inaugural Cabinet, which the Congress says exposes the anti-woman worldview of your party.
Factually, your observation is correct but the explanation is horribly wrong. We have the safest metros in India for women. We have made policies supporting women of all ages and sections of society. We have empowered them in all areas. Cabinet representation, though important, did not work out in the current political context and is not an area people bother much about. Telangana produces maximum number of women champions, in education, in sports, in all walks of life. Who drives the Hyderabad Metro?
Is the TRS getting closer to the BJP? Will you join the NDA post-Lok Sabha elections?
Our Chief Minister and party president has made it abundantly clear. We are a secular party. We are fighting the BJP in all elections. It is not my office to decide on alliances, which our party chief will take a call on in the larger interests of the state and people.
What if tomorrow your party chief decides to crown KTR (his son K.T. Rama Rao) as chief minister? Would you find the decision acceptable?
Without a doubt. I am a sincere and loyal TRS party worker. My boss is KCR garu. Whatever decision he takes, I will abide by it in the future as I have always done in the past. He takes decisions keeping the interests of the state, people and party in mind.
If K.T. Rama Rao is made the chief minister?
I will happily work in his Cabinet and gladly accept him as my Chief Minister if that is what KCR garu decides.
As a cabinet colleague how do you rate K.T. Rama Rao?
Excellent. He has not only delivered excellent results as a cabinet minister but has also won great acclaim and support for our cause and state in national and international fora. He is a great speaker and has given the party great leadership during all times.
Does Harish Rao have any personal ambitions?
I am here today because of my boss, KCR, and my commitment to the cause of Telangana. Achieving a separate state was the great personal ambition and I am happy. I am blessed to have such a good leader, who has reposed so much faith in me, and the love I have received from people.
If the Congress offers you a Chief Ministerial post maybe after the elections if the numbers are such..?
I will live my life and die in TRS.
How confident are you that your party will win?
KCR garu is the greatest leader of Telangana state. He will lead us to a victory of over 100 seats....