How KCR won his first poll battle with tact and other stories his friends in Chintamadaka told me


How KCR won his first poll battle with tact and other stories his friends in Chintamadaka told me

The odds were stacked against him. The rival seemed invincible. Seemed. He had the numbers. Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao had the verve.

Something had to be done. Something had to be done quick.

Elections for the cooperative bank in Siddipet were being conducted. For the young man who was making his foray into an electoral battle, a win was what he was hungry for. If he lost, he would have lost nothing because the battle lines were clear, and it was evident that he would not make it. Who stood a better chance than him was evident from the fact that his supporters were known? They would stand by him in thick and thin. The rival, of course, did not think much of the Chandrasekhar Rao's challenge. He knew him. But from the outcome of the election, he became aware that he did not know him well enough. 

Chandrasekhar Rao had managed to pull all stops and be one up over him. The result came as a shocker. There was confusion all around. What did Chandrasekhar Rao do to emerge a winner in his very first electoral battle - a small beginning as it was?

"He had a trick up his sleeve," laughed a villager of Chintamadaka village in Siddipet of Telangana. As the battle lines were drawn and it became quite evident that Chandrasekhar Rao would in no way be able to make it, it set him thinking. Thinking hard. Strategizing. It was an 'out of the box' thinking. It needed more than imagination because the plan had to be executed without fail and the operation being kept a closely guarded secret.

As I sat under a tree in Chintamadaka village where Chandrasekhar Rao was born, the villagers who were playing a game of dice, stopped the game midway to talk to me. As an elderly man recounted the election, another man went about signalling to him to not spill the beans. They would rather it remain a closely kept secret about how Chandrasekhar Rao drew up the battle lines and caught his rivals off-guard. It needed tact. It needed to be kept a secret. It needed to be executed just in time. He won. 

Chandrasekhar Rao who had strategized to win his first election,  pursued his  political career, forming a political party - Telangana Rashtra Samithi - and also fighting for and achieving a separate Telangana state. As chief minister of India's newest state, he went on to lead his party to victory in the assembly polls again in 2018 and became chief minister for the second time.

I was curious to know from the  villagers how KCR had his first success in the bank cooperative polls. "He would have lost by one vote," the elderly man explained. "But he won by one vote," he said. But how did he manage it? "He was intelligent and sharp. Like he still is," the elderly man explained. There is a story behind what went into the winning strategy. And that something the rivals had no inkling about. 

Under the tree in Chintamadaka village, I played dice with the friendly villages. A close friend of KCR who studied with him recalled that as a child they would travel to school together and return to the village. “He had the power to grasp anything quickly. He would finish reading a book in just a matter of time,” he said. No wonder KCR has claimed that he has read 80,000 books in his life so far and he continues the habit.

The success in the cooperative bank polls was a huge win particularly in the face of a tough competition. He was not one to be deterred. KCR’s elder brother Kalvakuntla Ranga Rao was a youth Congress worker. KCR joined in his footsteps into politics but there came a time when he had to be on his feet alone as a politician as his brother passed away. The bigger challenge came when he was N T Rama Rao chose him as the newly founded Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to contest the Siddipet assembly seat on the party’s ticket. KCR did not have to think twice about it. If he had political ambitions, he would pursue them, come what may. Even if it meant, contesting against his own leader. KCR pitted himself against Congress leader Madan Mohan in the election. It was another matter that in the past he had worked for Madan Mohan’s success in the Siddipet assembly election. Now was his chance to climb the political ladder.

The fall was great. KCR lost. The fall was not crippling. In the next elections in 1985, KCR defeated Madan Mohan in Siddipet and since then it has remained his pocket borough.

“Even when he was a child, I noticed that he was a sharp learner. I did not have an iota of doubt that one day he would become the chief minister,” KCR’s brother-in-law P Yeshwanth Rao told me at Raj Bhavan during the swearing of KCR as CM for the second time after the triumph of TRS in the 2018 elections.

Jab we met for lunch

"Why? Don't you want to have lunch with me?" Chandrasekhar Rao asked me noticing the slight hesitation on  my face.

 "Tomorrow you are coming to my house and we will sit for lunch," he said. That was a decision. And he conveyed it strongly. I intervened. "It's just that we would like to meet you. Talk to you and understand the mission that you have taken up," I said.

"We will meet over lunch. That’s it," he said emphatically.  Of course, I was more than happy if the meeting happened over lunch as we would get more time to spend with him and get to more insight into how he was going his mission – a daunting task. At this point of time, no light was sighted at the end of the tunnel. It was as if he was only day-dreaming. There were critics. There were those who dismissed him. There were those who made light of him. There were those who laughed at him. There were those who chose to ignore him. There were those who felt he merited little attention. But there was one thing, Chandrasekhar Rao had been able to do. Arouse interest in the cause.

As part of my work as a journalist, I had been meeting the Telangana Rashtra Samithi founder-president Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao frequently after he launched the political party. This conversation about meeting again over lunch took place at the old office of the party a few years before the party moved into the  newly constructed building in 2006.

My then editor Kingshuk Mukherjee (who is now no more) wanted to understand the Telangana movement and the struggle for a separate state. Who best would be able to describe it other than the man who himself was spearheading the struggle? 

In the old office, KCR would usually sit at his table in a room adjoining the hall after he would address a press conference. During this time more informal talk would happen with reporters, across the table. On day, he seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. No one knew of any party programme that he had planned that day. It came as a bit of surprise. "I'm going to Abids," he said. "Looks like I need a new pair of footwear. I'm going to Bata where I usually buy my footwear," KCR said. And left.

It was on one of these occasions as we sat in his room for an informal talk that  I asked if my resident editor could drop by at the office to meet him and sought to know when it be a convenient time for him for us to chat with him.

"Why don’t you come to my house? Please bring him and we could talk over lunch," he said. "Just a meeting will do. Not necessarily over lunch,” I said. "Why? Don't you want to have lunch with me?" he said as if objecting to my refusal.

The next day, we drove down to his house at Nandinagar in Banjara Hills. We could spot him on the balcony.

"Have some biryani," he said as he served some in my plate. There was a big spread on the table. Biryani apart, rice and different curries. "You must taste these," he suggested and insisting on himself serving the food on  Mukherjee and another colleague’s plates. It was after the lunch that he spent a few hours describing what the need for a separate state was felt. “These are historical facts that you should know. Only in the backdrop of this will you be able to rightly interpret the movement that I have taken up,” he said. Even if it was the simplest of questions, he answered in detail.

Chandrasekhar Rao was by no means of description could one call a foodie. While he chose to serve us, there was hardly anything on his plate. This is what I got to see  subsequently also. During the multiple and regular meetings that he used to hold with leaders at his house on the first floor every day, lunch was not on the menu. Discussion would continue. He would make do with some 'mirchi bajji'.

On yet another occasion, we drove with him in his vehicle to Mahbubnagar where he was to visit a dargah. During the entire time of the journey, from Hyderabad, KCR talked about how it would be inevitable for the centre to give in to the demand for a separate Telangana state. We reached Mahbubnagar, and here too, he hardly ate anything while he ensured that there were proper arrangements for everyone to have their food, including the few of us who travelled with him in his vehicle. 

"They have all ganged up against a thin and lean man like me," he would say while addressing public meetings and attacking rival political parties accusing them of being a hurdle in the aspirations of Telangana people being achieved for a separate state. "I may be a 'bakka peesu (thin) but I am a 'mondi' (adamant) and one who never gives up," he would say addressing crowds. 

The post-lunch session was engrossing. Having explained his cause with facts and figures, he emphasized that he was wedded to his cause. "Nothing less than a separate state is acceptable," he said making his stand clear. That became a reality years later.

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