All the shelves in the Telangana cabinet are finally full. Chief minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao – or KCR, as he is better known – inducted six ministers into his team on Sunday after a six-month lull.
A statement from the CMO had earlier announced that 8 September was picked for the cabinet expansion as it was the auspicious Dasami Day.
The combination of ministers chosen by KCR is in line with the southern state’s shifting political scenario, analysts say.
Telangana went to early polls in December last year and KCR came back to power with a thumping victory. Subsequently, for two months, the state was run by the chief minister with just one minister: Mohammed Mahmood Ali, holding the home portfolio. The first cabinet expansion took place in February.
However, many were surprised when seemingly definite candidates – KCR’s son Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao (KTR), and his nephew Harish Rao – were left out of this list. Soon after, speculation about a power struggle between KTR and Harish Rao gained steam.
TRS insiders believed Rao was disgruntled at being left out by KCR when he allotted portfolios to 11 legislators. On the other hand, KTR was made the working-president of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) right after the polls – a post specially set up for him. It was also speculated that this was an attempt to strengthen his position and establish better relations with the party cadre.
While KTR was busy with “party duties”, Harish Rao had no role to play in the last few months. He was previously looked at as the driving force behind the massive Kaleshwaram multi-purpose irrigation project during his stint as a minister.
Rumours swirled that a tussle was on between KTR and Harish Rao for the ‘no. 2’ position in the party.
“It is natural in any political family to have contradictions and competitions; same is the case with Harish Rao and KTR. It is inevitable. But, bumping up KTR’s position as working-president was probably to show indirectly that he is no. 2,” political analyst Telakapalli Ravi told News18.
There was conjecture that Harish Rao may not be part of the cabinet this time as well. Rao, had previously, said that he would continue in the party even without any position and was ready to work “under KTR” if the chief minster ordered him to do so.
According to several political experts, Harish Rao is one of the strongest assets of the chief minister. Despite enjoying massive popularity on the ground, he has always abided by the party line and has been extremely loyal to KCR. He has also gained a lot of sympathy after rumours of him being sidelined started to spread.
Putting all speculation to rest, Rao was inducted as the finance minister on Sunday.
“Finance is a very strong portfolio. In terms of power, it is next to the chief minister’s post. By giving him control of this sector, KCR has pacified Rao and his followers. The CM knows that Harish Rao can be a strong overseer of this field,” Ravi said.
Talks of Harish Rao being unhappy escalated to such an extent that they fuelled rumours that he could be moving to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has drafted a number of defectors from various parties in recent days.
In the last few months, Congress veteran DK Aruna and at least three leaders from the TRS have moved to the BJP. Three Telugu Desam Party leaders, including a Rajya Sabha MP, have also taken the same route.
Telangana Congress stalwart Sabitha Indra Reddy, along with son Karthik Reddy, moved to the ruling TRS in March. She was home minister in the YS Rajasekhara Reddy government in unified Andhra Pradesh and has strong traction in the Ranga Reddy district near Hyderabad.
Sabitha Reddy is now Telangana’s education minister after being sworn in on Sunday.
Among the newly inducted ministers, barring Harish Rao and KTR, the remaining four are defectors from the Congress and Telugu Desam Party.
Gangula Kamalakar, who now handles the backward classes welfare as well as food and civil supplies portfolios, was previously in the TDP.
Analysts point out that KCR realised he had to keep the ‘outsiders’ happy to remain in power comfortably.
“Obviously these people would have moved to the TRS with some expectations. KCR knows that he cannot be imperious anymore,” Ravi said. “There have been significant defections to the BJP also. The ground situation is not one-sided and it was high time he recognised this.”
Another key factor that the chief minister had to take note of was balancing caste and community equations. For instance, newly inducted minister Gangula Kamalakar belongs to the Munnuru Kapu community, which is dominant in parts of the state such as Nizamabad and Karimnagar.
KCR’s daughter, Kalvakuntla Kavitha, lost this year’s Lok Sabha polls to the BJP’s Dharmapuri Arvind in Nizamabad, who is also from the Munnuru Kapu community. TRS’s Vinod Kumar, a close aide of KCR, was defeated in the elections by the BJP’s Bandi Sanjay Kumar, a member of the same community from Karimnagar.
“The BJP won four seats and also has an MLA. So he (KCR) understood the changing ground reality. If this continues, it will definitely be a problem for the TRS. For the first polls of the state, he was viewed as the ‘architect of Telangana’. The second time, he was an ‘able CM’. The third time, people will really judge him,” Ravi said.
The BJP has said its focus is to come to power in Telangana in 2023 and the groundwork for this has already begun.
Etela Rajender, who holds the health and family welfare portfolio, was under the scanner recently when he reportedly commented that he holds a minister’s post “because he deserves it and not because of someone’s mercy and grace”. Talks swirled that the party high command was not happy with these remarks and this meant that his wings would be clipped. However, nothing like that happened.
Another minister, Jagadish Reddy, who handled the education portfolio, found himself in a tight spot after the Telangana Intermediate Education Board fiasco, following which 23 students allegedly committed suicide. This led to massive protests across the state, with the Opposition demanding that the minister be sacked. Reddy has now been shifted to the energy department, and continues to be a part of the cabinet.
Another area where KCR drew flak was the dearth of women in his team. On Sunday, two women were inducted. Apart from Sabitha Reddy, the other one is Satyavathi Rathod who belongs to the tribal community and is a Member of the State Legislative Council (MLC). She has been given the Scheduled Tribes welfare as well as women and child development portfolios.
“KCR is a very calculated politician and this cabinet combination shows his vulnerability. He made sure everything was handled and everyone was pacified.” Ravi said.
All wasn’t well, say analysts, but it ended well.