Hyderabad: The sauvé and energetic Telangana Rashtra Samiti working president K.T. Rama Rao says the party will fight for strengthening of states and delisting key subjects like health, education and agriculture from the Concurrent List to keep the true federal spirit, even if it requires Constitutional amendments.
Mr Rao told Deccan Chronicle during an exclusive interview that Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao was holding discussions on the proposed non-BJP, non-Congress Federal Front with Oppo-sition leaders Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, among others.
“The Federal Front we are proposing today might not appear formidable as we speak. But let me remind you that nobody would have forecast that Dr Manmohan Singh would be the Prime Minister for 10 long years when India was ‘shining’. Nobody predicted the BJP, NDA would lose,” he said.
He said reports indicated that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu would lose the election and the people should wait for the “return gift” that Chandrasekhar Rao had promised Mr Naidu after May 23.
Excerpts from the interview.
Being the first Lok Sabha elections after taking over the reins, what's your prediction?
TRS will win 16 Lok Sabha seats and MIM one. KCR ideal model of welfare and development will set the tone for the country. Overall, I see non-BJP and non-Congress allies win at least 150 to 170 seats in the country.
Will the Federal Front be a reality?
Rahul Gandhiji who wants to become Prime Minister has 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha. It’s a tall order going from 44 to 272. If KCR with 16 MPs, or wanting to get 16 MPs, wanting to become Prime Minister is a tall order, so is Rahul Gandhi with 44, in my opinion. Recent surveys and opinion polls point to this, and to continuation of coalition governments with no single party getting an absolute majority.
Are you saying KCR is a probable prime ministerial candidate?
No, I am not saying and neither are any of our party members. But this country should let BJP and Congress suffer from bipolar disorder.
There have been several surveys pointing to a BJP coalition or Congress coalition win.
No. Recent surveys or opinion polls also say coalition era is set to continue in this country with no single party getting an absolute majority.
BJP has certainly fallen the high of 2014 when they got 283 seats. They are facing one of the toughest situations. I don’t foresee them crossing 150. Recently, after the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party tie-up, two incumbent Deputy CMs have lost their own Parliament seats by a big majority not by a whisker. That goes to show that most certainly there is a change in thinking, change of winds. UP being the biggest contributor to BJP in the last elections, with 71 MPs, if that turns around then I don't see BJP crossing 150.
Are you pointing to BJP to suffer setbacks in other states?
Yes. The reason I say that is because BJP has suffered a set-back in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. They have lost a friend in Chandrababu, and the Akalis, who are in the dumps; they had to bend backwards to accommodate the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
But BJP is in an upbeat mood due to recent incidents and confident of winning the Lok Sabha elections hands down.
If you look at the BJP’s rhetoric today in their election campaign, it is evident they don't have enough to showcase their governance. Or what they have delivered. Today, their campaign is all about Pulwama. The Prime Minister’s sudden announcement on the anti-satellite missile, trying to own the DRDO’s achievement... all this points to the fact that after five years the BJP leadership really doesn’t have a lot to show the common man of this country in terms of what they have delivered.
What about the Congress party?
Rahulji’s Congress has also unfortunately failed to inspire any enthusiasm among the country's electorate. If you look at Madhya Pradesh, Chhatti-sgarh — Chhattisgarh is an exception — and Rajasthan, it is a straight face-off between the BJP and Congress. The Congress won by a whisker. Even in Gujarat, the Congress actually, according to me, gave away a winning state on a platter to the BJP. Having said this, the Congress in my humble opinion will not cross 100 and BJP will not cross 150.
Do you feel the field is now wide open?
In my opinion, the field is now wide open for non-Congress, non-BJP parties to take centre stage, to work together, come on to a common platform, and create a common agenda for states’ empowerment, states being strengthened, more decentralisation in the true federal spirit. That can be accomplished and that is what the Chief Minister is espousing.
Do you see some unpredictable things happening with regard to the Federal Front?
In our country, a lot of unpredictable things have become a reality.
What do you mean by ‘technically’ national parties?
Barring Karnataka, in Southern India, in Telangana, Andhra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry, they are zero. Non-existent. A party that is negligible, or non-existent in the entire southern India, how can it be a true national party? If you look at it, the Congress has also become a bigger regional party.
What about the TRS?
We are a smaller regional party. In our country, technically, according to the Election Commission, they [Congress and BJP] could be national parties, but in reality, nobody has a sizeable, commanding position in the country. So the coalition era is set to continue.
Its not a fight between Rahulji and Modiji as Congress and BJP would like the rest of the country to assume and believe. I believe it is a faceoff between the BJP-led coalition, Congress-led coalition and non-Congress, non-BJP formation, which will definitely take shape beyond May 23.
So we are hopeful of a non-Congress, non- BJP formation, the Federal Front, having a sizeable number of MPs between all of us, and we could come together with a true federal agenda. Because the ultimate aim should be: stronger the states, the stronger the country.
The Centre asserts it is supporting all states.
Ayushman Bharat was launched by the NDA government. But states like Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have a far superior scheme in the Arogya Sri. If the Centre is really keen and sincere in wanting to deliver on promises of affordable, accessible health care to all, they should have given the money for the states to spend.
Does this also apply to Rythu Bandhu?
Rythu Bandhu again is a classic example. Now the PM has picked it up. We are delighted, I tweeted about this… imitation is best form of flattery that PM has decided to copy Rythu Bandhu, PM Kisan. We are happy he copied the scheme and Telangana scheme becoming role model for the country.
If only competitive politics goes out and economics takes centre stage, then PM Kisan could have been tailored in such a way —depending on crop pattern, priorities — we could have tailor made it and possibly worked in cohesion.
North-eastern farmers vs. western farmers, vs. southern farmers, central Indian farmers — there is a huge difference in soil, climate, crop. You cannot have one size that fits all models.
What is your demand?
Health, education and agriculture should not be part of the Concurrent List. Leave those subjects to the states. Let the Centre play an important role in tackling terrorism, national security, defence, external affairs, trade and commerce, and other subjects, but not have day to day battle with states.
Will you poach from other parties to get the Federal Front?
Why poach? So far, in coalition politics, smaller regional parties have always supported bigger regional parties. We always give our energies, our resources, to either Congress or others.
In 2004, the number of seats won by the Congress was 140-odd out of the required 272; it barely crossed 50 per cent. Congress got 25 per cent of the 545 seats. Other regional parties supported the Congress. It was a Congress-led coalition. But it was as if the Congress was running the government. It was not. Congress hardly had 140 seats.
What do you feel should have been done?
Between us non-Congress and non-BJP parties have 160 or 170 MPs. May be there comes a time when the Congress and BJP decide to support the coalition instead of leading it. Let the regional forces lead.
Have you done the political arithmetic on this?
If you look at the number of seats we are contesting, UP alone has 80 seats out of which SP-BSP might win 50-55. In Telangana, we are confident of winning 16 seats and ally MIM 1, total 17. Likewise in Bengal, the Trinamul is likely to win 30 plus, in Odisha Naveenji [Patnaik] will win about 15, in AP Jagan Mohan Reddy is likely to win 20. So between all of us, we could have anywhere between 120 and 130 seats. If there are others joining us, it could be 150 to 160. National parties will have no choice but to support us. Anything can happen.
You mean to say more independent parties will support you?
There are many parties which are not with UPA or NDA. In Tamil Nadu, AIADMK is with BJP, DMK with Congress, but a bunch of others is in neither camp. Who knows what they will throw up? Go around the country, it is a similar situation.
Will KCR become Prime Minister?
Ideally. We would want a non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister. I do believe KCRji has it in him. He is a second term Chief Minister. If the gentleman, who lost in his own parliament segment and lost the municipal election in Amethi, wants to be PM, then why not KCR?
The second time KCR won by a thumping majority. An able administrator and according to a survey, No 1 CM. So, why not? He can lead the country.
After KCR, who will be CM?
It is thinking too far ahead. I am saying KCR has the ability to lead the nation. He has abilities, he has vision, he has strength, he has moral fortitude to lead the nation.
At the same time, do the numbers give credence to our idea? At this juncture it might look improbable. I understand. We understand realities, we understand the politics behind it. Please don't misquote me. Does he match up to Rahul, does he match up to Modi? Yes. He has all the leadership qualities to lead the nation. Does he have the numbers today? Probably not. So I am not going to throw out improbable combination. But we would like to see a non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister, man or woman to lead this country. Let’s wait.
Who is leading this Federal Front?
Right now, nobody.
We all want predictability, what is there, what is not there. Our CM is trying to rally non-Congress, non-BJP parties to come together. He has been saying that why should Trinamool Congress throw its weight behind the Congress right before the elections and make them look bigger? What is the point? You can hold all your aces up your sleeve and wait till May 23. Post the elections, we can sit and chat. Real power is you, and you are empowering Congress, BJP.
If the DMK doesn’t throw its weight behind the Congress, can the Congress win a single seat?
Do you feel regional parties have the strength to take on the BJP and Congress?
Regional parties have strength on the ground, so why are we leveraging and giving so much energy to these so-called national parties?
Can the BJP win a single seat in Tamil Nadu without the support of the AIADMK? Then why should these two Dravidian parties give their strength and resources to these national parties and make them look bigger?
If BJP and Congress support the Federal Front, who will be in Opposition?
When you are so serious, why didn’t KCR or you contest a parliamentary seat?
Why should we contest? Manmohan Singh won from Assam. It's a nonsense argument my opponent is making, that if KCR wants to be in national politics why doesn’t he contest as MP? To play a role in national politics should you be an MP? I am asking Uttam Kumar Reddy if you are sure about winning MP seat will he resign MLA seat?
Do you feel the Constitution has to be amended again in view of your demands?
As an Indian I am pained travelling to even Sri Lanka, Malaysia. Where did we go wrong? Telangana and Andhra is better off, go to UP, Bihar… there are villages with no roads, water, power, toilets. After 71 years, the PM asks people to construct toilets! When plan A has not worked, go for plan B.
Where did we go wrong?
Indira Gandhi said Garibi hatao. Now her grandson (Rahul Gandhi), 40 years later, talks about the same thing. How beautiful is the Congress party. They are so consistent…40 years after. Can India join first league countries with the existing set-up?
A country like Japan rose from the ashes after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They faced all kinds of natural calamities. South Korea is way ahead of us. I really feel ashamed. Somewhere we went wrong.
CM says 45,000 TMC is enough to solve the drinking water crisis in the country. Even after 71 years, we could not solve it. What is the narrative today in elections? Debate should be on employment health, education, agriculture, but it's not done. Now its Bofors vs Rafale. Is Chowkidar chor or not. Is this the debate?
Compared to Rahulji, Modiji, does he (KCR) measure up? Absolutely. I am not giving him a certificate as leader and son. Telangana people gave certificate to KCR.
If not KCR, but if Mayawati, Chandrababu Naidu, and Mamata Banerjee are in the race for PM, will the TRS support it?
We want a non-Congress non-BJP government. But when it comes to Chandrababu Naidu’s case, we have clarity. With guarantee I can say AP people will retire him, whether he likes it or not. It’s the ground reality.
If Jagan Mohan Reddy gets 20 to 22 MPs, if Naidu doesn’t have one or two MPs, forget spinning chakram in Delhi, he can’t even spin a bongaram (top) in Vijayawada. Let him come to stark realisation. His manipulative skills, abilities to fool people are over. He is abusing Jagan and KCR. First of all, we are not contesting in Andhra Pradesh. He is doing KCR japam more than than NTR did. The same gentleman wanted a tie up with us three months back. If Naidu had an alliance with us, he would not have abused us. We are not contesting in AP. But he contested and was defeated in Telangana state.
Why are you not campaigning in Andhra Pradesh?
Why should I? I am not contesting.
Your party is labelled the B-Team of the BJP.
When Rahul Gandhi comes to Hyderabad he calls us BJP B-Team. Narendra Modiji calls us Congress B-Team. This is the conspiracy of two national parties. They want the entire world to think that regional parties of this country are subordinates to either of them.
We are the A-Team of the people of Telangana state.
The BJP is talking about Ram Mandir again. [They are] political Hindutva activists. We are real Hindutva activists. Our CM, without hue and cry, went about constructing Yadadri not for votes.
That regional parties have no national agenda is a fallacy. KCR responded immediately on Phulwama. We suspended all our political activities for one week, unlike Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi. We gave `25 lakh each to victims of Phulwama. We helped Kerala, Andhra Pradesh Hud Hud, J&K, Jharkhand… as Indians, we want to set an example.
Your party is accused of not responding properly on the triple talaq issue.
The triple talaq issue was politicised by both parties keeping in view vote bank politics. We did not look into that aspect.
Why was Harish Rao sidelined? Why was he not taken into the Cabinet? Now he is a last minute star campaigner.
Neither of us is in the Cabinet. Am I also being sidelined? I entered TRS in 2006. I became a minister in 2014. I recently won my fourth election.
I won the first election by 171 votes, second with 54,000, third election 89,000 and earlier by-election with 68,000 votes. I fought my way up and I was part of the movement for eight years till I became a minister. During those eight years if the media were to be believed, I was sidelined, I was marginalised.
Depending on the situation, work is allotted by the CM. I led the GHMC polls, he [Harish Rao] took care of Mahbubnagar. We both are not in the Cabinet. Don’t read too much into this. Don’t make a non issue into an issue.
Key departments like IT, municipal administration don’t have ministers.
Our CM is more active than any minister. Nobody is indispensible in a democracy. There are thousands of people smarter, competent.
I don’t have any grand ambitions. There is superstition on Endowment portfolio. I and my rivals pray to gods, but only one wins. Ultimately Voter is God.
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