Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had arranged a special wardrobe – complete with bandh-gala suits – for his visit to Delhi last week.
KCR, as the chief minister is known, was to lead an all-party delegation from Telangana to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi over several matters concerning the newly formed state. The wedding of Union Minister Prakash Javadekar’s son on February 6 seemed to be the perfect opportunity to strengthen his relationship with Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Delhi and try and nudge the National Democratic Alliance government away from ally Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana’s parent state, and leader of the Telugu Desam Party.
The all-party delegation planned to discuss with Modi the sharing of properties with Andhra, as per the AP Reorganisation Act of 2014 – the blueprint of the bifurcation of the states – and press for the categorisation, or further subdivision, of scheduled castes based on their social and economic status.
But just 24 hours before his five-day visit to the national capital, a late evening phone call from a subordinate official of the Prime Minister’s Office curbed the Telangana chief minister’s enthusiasm. KCR and his delegation were informed that they would not be given an appointment with the prime minister.
Taking a cue from Modi, seven other Union ministers also backed off from their planned meeting with KCR, said officials from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. A frustrated KCR then cut short his stay and went back to Hyderabad after two days.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi accused state BJP leaders of foul play over the cancelled meeting with Modi, alleging that the saffron party did not want them to gain political mileage over the scheduled caste categorisation issue.
The categorisation demand
Dalits are a key voter base for parties like the Congress in Telangana, which had been in power in undivided Andhra Pradesh for close to four decades thanks to the community’s unflinching support. Among the scheduled castes, while the Mala sub-caste, mostly farm labour, are dominant in about 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh, Madigas are more in number in Telangana.
The Madigas, even in undivided Andhra Pradesh, had felt that Malas, who are more educated and have higher political representation, had usurped the benefits due to scheduled castes. According to a recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General about Rs 8,000 crores is spent on scheduled castes and Rs 12,000 crores on scheduled tribes in the state. Madigas claim that of this, only about Rs 2,000 crores of this comes to them, while the rest is used by the Mala community.
Those demanding the categorisation of scheduled castes based on education, income and social status believe it would help give a leg up to the socially and educationally backward Madiga community.
Shortly after KCR’s visit with Modi had been cancelled Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi President Manda Krishna Madiga had told the media “So what if the PM does not want to meet us? If KCR is ready, we will all go to Delhi and demonstrate before his residence. There is no point in going back on our resolve on SC categorisation.”
The sub-division issue, apart from being a long-pending demand of Dalit sub-castes, has also been a political hot button. Before the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the Telegu Desam Party had been supporting the Madiga cause but with the creation of Telangana, the NDA ally is no longer fighting for the issue. But getting the Centre to act on this demand is also important to KCR, because in the 2014 state elections in Telangana, Madigas had largely supported the Telegu Desam Party and the Congress.
Moreover, the BJP, which earlier supported the sub-categorisation process, now contends that KCR and his party are hijacking their initiative.
This is not the first time that Modi snubbed KCR. During his visit to Hyderabad last year the prime minister showed no inclination towards a one-on-one with the chief minister and purportedly told him that they would meet in Delhi.
Officials in the Telangana Rashtra Samithi said that after last week’s snub, two BJP leaders told KCR the prime minister’s predicament over discussing the scheduled caste categorisation issue with him. With polling in Uttar Pradesh about to begin on February 11, Modi did not want to upset the dynamics in the caste-sensitive and politically crucial Hindi heartland state, officials said.
But the Telangana Rashtra Samithi is not placated. Said Deputy Chief Minister Kadiam Srihari, a Madiga leader from Warangal in Telangana, “Prime Minister had time to meet farmers from Amaravati [the proposed capital of Andhra] who came to thank him for giving them capital gains tax exemption in the Budget even when Parliament was in session. But he has no time for an all-party delegation led by Telangana Chief Minister on a crucial issue like the categorisation of SCs?”
The party leadership also suspects that Telegu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu had a role to play in the perceived insult. “By remaining silent on the Madiga issue after bifurcation of the state, Naidu had sidestepped the categorisation proposal,” said Andhra Pradesh Congress president N Raghuveera Reddy.
This episode adds more drama to the KCR-Modi saga and the BJP and Telanagan Rashtra Party’s relationship in the state, said political analysts. “KCR is known as a very vengeful person and we have to wait and see what he will do in the coming days,” said a newspaper columnist who did not want to identified.