Will the TRS patriarch’s son be appointed as the new Telangana chief minister soon, as speculation suggests?

In September 2019, on the floor of the state’s assembly, Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao deftly avoided what many see as the inevitable succession drama within his party. “I will not let my son (K.T. Rama Rao) succeed me as chief minister since I am hale and healthy and want to lead my state for three terms with full vigour.”

Rao made this wise move a week after the reinduction of his son, and his sulking nephew T. Harish Rao, into the cabinet after keeping them out for more than eight months since he swept back to power in the state elections in December 2018.

By then, his plans to play either king or kingmaker in national politics with the ‘Federal Front’ went awry when the NDA, under Narendra Modi, won a landslide victory in the general elections of 2019.

Now, the talk about succession has resurfaced again, in the heat of the municipal elections, which are due on January 22 in the country’s youngest state. It started gaining credence when two ministers – Errabelli Dayakara Rao and V. Srinivas Gowd – who are close to KCR, triggered a debate on the prospects of KTR becoming the next CM.

Son or nephew: which side is KCR on?
Although KCR had in September ruled out the prospect of anointing his son as CM immediately, one action suggests he would prefer his son to succeed him. By creating the post of working president (to which his son was later elected) in his Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) party, Rao accommodated KTR as the No 2 in his party one day after taking oath as the chief minister for his second term. This obviously left Harish Rao sulking and he was irked some more when he was denied a cabinet berth, even as his cousin received a plum post in the party.

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KCR felt the need to put a lid on the raging son-nephew power tussle, fearing it might be a tool for the BJP to split his party. Subsequently, Rao pacified his nephew, for the time being at least, by giving a cabinet berth along with his son in the September reshuffle.

Why the pitch now?
Though two ministers have speculated about the possibility of KTR succeeding his father, a section of leaders in the TRS dismissed it. They cite KCR’s ‘plain speak’ on the issue of succession, referring to comments the CM made in the assembly.

A party spokesperson, wishing to stay anonymous, said it is unlikely that KCR will risk passing the baton on to his son right now given the challenges ahead of the party. This includes the growing threat of the saffron party, which won four Lok Sabha seats in the general elections, including three in the TRS’s heartland of north Telangana. The state is also in a financial mess, reflected in the state government pruning its budget outlays. This has sparked visible signs of anti-incumbency among the people, already leaving the party worried about the state elections, due only in late 2023.

Testing the waters?
But the statements made by the ministers is, however, viewed by a majority of the ruling party’s ranks as the TRS chief’s mood. “What the two ministers said about the elevation of KTR is only a signal, indicating the mind of our leader,” a TRS former MLC told The Wire. He further added, KCR might be wishing to test the waters by asking the ministers to float the issue in the run up to the local body elections. “The succession is likely to happen sooner or later,” he said.

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A. Sammi Reddy, an analyst, predicts that KTR will take the reins immediately after the municipal elections. “Given the present political situation, the TRS, with KTR at the helm, will sweep the elections. The CAA and the NRC that sharpened the communal divide in the state with a large Muslim population and the alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) may help the TRS trounce its rival Congress,” he said.

The BJP’s nationalist agenda has failed to be relevant during the local elections and is unlikely to pose a threat to the TRS-MIM combine and is unlikely to repeat the success story of the parliament elections, Sammi Reddy said. “Such a win would allow the TRS to project that the people approve KTR’s succession,” he said.

The move may be a way to preempt damage to the party’s electoral prospects. Over the past six years, when KCR became chief minister, his popularity has been waning within and outside the TRS. People have been dissatisfied about hiccups in the delivery of welfare schemes such as social security pensions and financial assistance to farmers under the Rythu Bandhu scheme.

This has worried the TRS patriarch, who fears it may prevent the party from returning to power in the future. By elevating his son to the top post, KCR hopes a change in leadership will ensure his party’s dominance will continue.

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Will the succession be smooth?
Sammi Reddy said that KCR has managed to gag dissident noises within the party by virtue of his firm grip and streak of electoral victories. If he steps down to make way for his son, these voices may feel more confident to speak up, said the analyst.

Former minister Tummala Nageswara Rao, a vocal Kamma leader from Khammam district, felt sidelined after he suspected that rival groups within the party sabotaged his campaign, resulting in his defeat. Kadiyam Srihari, a Dalit face, has receded into the background after serving as the deputy C<M in the first Telangana government. Etela Rajendra, the health minister, has also been critical of KCR and may have his eye on the CM post after the numerically strong other backward classes (OBCs) (to which he belongs) emerged as a deciding factor in the last parliament elections.

KCR’s nephew Harish Rao also enjoys the image of a homegrown leader associated with both the TRS and the Telangana movement, right from the initial stages, unlike KTR. The latter was parachuted into the party after returning from the US, and people believe this was done to keep power within the TRS’s first family.

This allows Harish to issue a rallying call for disgruntled groups within the party in the event of KTR succeeding his father. In such a context, KTR, still a novice under the shadow of his father, will have to face a daunting task. #KhabarLive

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