Sriram Karri | Revanth era in Telangana: Hope reigns amid caution

The Asian Age.  | Sriram Karri

Opinion, Columnists

Under A. Revanth Reddy, the Congress has found a formidable leader, one who has risen from the ground, without a family backing

Telangana Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy. (Image: S. Surender Reddy)

A few months ago, at an averagely attended training programme of key state and district-level Congress leaders, Telangana PCC chief and Lok Sabha MP A. Revanth Reddy unveiled the roadmap to victory for the party in elections to be held by year-end. Several top state leaders of the party skipped it and not all district leaders attended. It was because the session was titled, “How Congress can win?”

Revanth Reddy was possessed by the spirit best captured by former American president Barack Obama’s magic phrase, ‘The audacity of hope’. He seemed to be among a handful who believed, beyond an iota of doubt that they could dethrone the BRS government of two-term chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao.
However, hope is infectious. After the BJP committed a series of moves best summed up as political hara-kiri, and the AIMIM was clearly siding with the ruling BRS, the Congress had the near monopoly of the Opposition space, despite its structural weaknesses and resource crunch. The situation of the Con-gress, and correspondingly the public mood, did change quickly, with almost everyone who was opposed to the BRS galvanising behind Revanth Reddy.

It is nearly impossible to understand the BJP losing its way, because, at the start of 2023, the saffron party was still ahead of the Congress in perception and popularity, as the primary opposition to the BRS.

A quick series of mistakes — allowing dissidents to build a campaign against the then state party president Bandi Sanjay Kumar, culminating in creation of two groups, and in a piquant and unprecedented situation for the BJP, groupism became apparent, with news leaked against each other, media plants, ending finally with Sanjay’s removal, to be replaced by Union minister G. Kishan Reddy.
Simultaneously, after the intense confrontation led by Bandi Sanjay against the BRS softened, including a decrease in attacks on the K. Chandrashekar Rao-led government for corruption and the involvement of BRS MLC and daughter of CM Rao, K. Kavitha, in the Delhi liquor scam, the BJP began to increasingly look like a party that had reached a clandestine deal with the BRS.

All three parties — the BRS and its top brass of Chandrashekar Rao and his son, K.T. Rama Rao, and the BJP and MIM, led by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi — seemed to believe in the myth of the invincibility of the ruling party. Starting with claims that they would easily score a hat-trick, a third term, never before by any leader in south India, by winning 100 odd seats out of 119, and that the Congress had no chance, despite the ubiquitous and apparent groundswell in severe and acute anti-incumbency, the three parties kept reducing their total seat claims, 90, 80, 70, 60, at least a hung House, but insisted the Congress had no chance of touching the magic majority figure of 60 seats.

The BRS had built and consolidated a formidable control and clout over media, and social media ecosystems, and kept the narrative, especially in Hyderabad and Delhi. Most journalists, analysts, influencers, psephologists and prominent voices kept parroting the ruling party line, and the more the ruling pink party spread myths and lies, the more they believed it, creating quite an echo chamber.
Outside it, and oblivious to it, common people were taken into confidence by the Congress, led by Revanth Reddy, and backed by the Congress high command, the Gandhi family trio of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka, and rest of the central leadership. The win in Karnataka added to the confidence of the fledgling party that had been defeated twice by the BRS in 2014 and 2018 assembly polls.
The Congress, despite lacking the enviable resources of the BRS, the Congress centered its campaign around change. People echoed it. “We want change, we want Congress”. Those whose dreams had crashed during the decade-long reign of the BRS, jobseekers who were still unemployed, inflation-burdened women and households, middle-classes, farm hands and contract farmers, Dalits and tribals, minorities outside the MIM fortress of seven seats in the old city, Telanganites of Andhra origin all created a formidable social coalition.

When finally polling concluded and exit polls began to speak the unspeakable, it was met with shock by the ruling elite, and their beneficiaries, but with joy and delight by commoners, especially in the districts outside the metropolis. The transfer of power and anointing of PCC chief Revanth Reddy as Chief Minister was swift and smooth — even before the BJP could name its first CM of the three states it won — Revanth had already gotten started on his tenure.

Just as promised, within 72 hours, Mr Reddy, batting like Rohit Sharma in a T20 match, got the fencing and barricades outside KCR’s camp office demolished and opened it to the public and organised separate Telangana’s first ever CM-public durbar, started work in the secretariat, which too was opened to general public. He dismissed all the political appointees of the previous regime sticking to their posts. He launched the first two of the schemes covered under the Congress Six Guarantees electoral promise — making bus travel free for all women and transgenders, and launched Rs 10 lakh health scheme for all poor for hospitalisation annually. By visiting a former chief minister ailing in hospital, he demonstrated that far from being a vendetta regime, it was democracy and liberal values of mutual respect, tolerance and space for all voices, including dissent, which would be allowed, and respected, to thrive.

But hope is not infinite, characteristically ephemeral and by nature evanescent. Revanth has inherited a throne of thorns. The BRS regime’s corruption, massive debts, destruction of systems and processes, creation of mini mafias at ground level, an obdurate bureaucracy and artisan officialdom, and high expectations and desire for very quick change, will put pressure on the new government, especially since the honeymoon period will be very short.

The first few moves of the government have been received with euphoria, but big issues will rise their heads, ahead of another season of elections, for the Lok Sabha, in a few months. The government has a low faith amongst the Urban metro populace, and have to show quick and strong results in ambitious urban development, rapidly catalysing the growth story on the one hand, enhance revenues and fund its humane but financially challenging welfare umbrella.

However, politics revolves around leadership, and under A. Revanth Reddy, the Congress has found a formidable leader, one who has risen from the ground, without a family backing, through struggle, baptism by fire, and an unending array of challenges, having faced the worst thrown at him and converted it into opportunities, and succeeded against the worst odds.

If he can continue to thrive with his characteristic charisma and a smile when the going continues to get rough, maybe it is the start of an era, one where hope abounds and caution lingers. And predicting bigger wins ahead have better odds.