Telangana chief minister has been conspicuously absent in recent times, missing important public events. While opposition digs in, CMO says it shouldn’t matter so long as work is being done.

There is a new Nizam in Hyderabad, say opposition leaders in Telangana. He is invisible and inaccessible, they claim. But the allegation of being missing in action is nothing new for K. Chandrashekar Rao, the first and, so far, only chief minister of Telangana.

In recent times alone, Rao, better known as KCR, has been conspicuous by his absence in several situations.

He wasn’t there when the Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out on 16 January, even as his counterparts in many other states — including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — attended the launch of the drive on their turf. Instead, his son and state minister K.T. Rama Rao visited one of the vaccination centres. Like his father, the minister is also popularly referred to by his initials, KTR.

When capital Hyderabad and surrounding areas battled the worst flash floods in two decades last October — the deluge killed around 50 people and damaged thousands of homes in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation limits — KCR chose to monitor the situation through review meetings at Pragati Bhavan, his office-cum-residence in the city.

On the ground, it was again KTR, the minister for municipal administration, who led the charge, alongside other ministers and MLAs.

Through the pandemic, the state has come under fire for several issues —  from low testing, allegations of fudged case tally, and protests by doctors against lack of infrastructure at government hospitals and other issues, to allegations of some private hospitals fleecing patients, lack of beds in hospitals, and poor contact tracing.

Despite the ensuing criticism — from the central government as well as people in the state — KCR was not seen stepping out of Pragati Bhavan to tackle the situation, opposition parties BJP and Congress allege.

The only place where he is seen making regular visits is the site of the state’s massive irrigation project Kaleshwaram, for inspections. Construction on the project began in 2016. Another of his rare public appearances came Tuesday when he visited the Secretariat premises to inspect the construction of the new building coming up at the site. According to a statement from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), KCR “visited every nook and corner and interacted with the engineers on the site and representatives of the working agency”.

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Several reasons have been floating around to explain KCR’s tendency to stay away from the public eye. One theory fast gaining traction is that KCR wants KTR, seen widely as his successor and the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s next CM face, to take centre stage.

Last year, KCR’s absence from the public arena also led to speculation about his health, but an adviser to the Telangana government dismissed it as rumour.

Many, including opposition leaders and some political analysts, attribute it to what they describe as the CM’s “feudal mindset”. KCR doesn’t see himself as a democratically elected leader, they say, with the opposition alleging that he fancies himself as a ‘Nizam’, a reference to the erstwhile rulers of Hyderabad.

KCR’s team in the CMO, however, dismisses all such talk and makes light of the question itself. If the state is well-governed, a CMO official told ThePrint, what does it matter where the CM works from.

One of the strongest criticisms against CM Rao has been his refusal to visit the state’s Secretariat since he assumed office in 2014 because of alleged “Vastu defects” in the Nizam-era building. To add to this, last July, as the country battled Covid-19, the state government began the process of demolishing the building to build a new one, a move described by the the opposition as ill-timed.

“He acts like a Nizam who operates out of his fort. He never visits the Secretariat, never meets people, has no respect for democracy in the state, no respect for the Secretariat, which is a temple for administration, and operates only out of Pragati Bhavan,” Telangana Congress spokesperson Mahesh Konagala told #KhabarLive.

“When Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) was the chief minister (of united Andhra Pradesh), he used to meet the public every day for at least an hour to listen to their grievances,” he added, referring to the Congress leader who died at the start of his second tenure as CM in 2009.

“People could just enter what is now the Pragati Bhavan premises, the tradition was continued by Kiran Kumar Reddy. Can anyone even think of walking up to Pragati Bhavan now?” he said.

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#KhabarLive reached Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar by call and text for a comment on the criticism against KCR, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.

Under KCR, the public grievance cell run by his Congress predecessors at Pragati Bhavan no longer exists. He doesn’t organise regular meetings to address public grievances either, unlike YSR and Reddy.

BJP spokesperson Krishnasagar Rao criticised the CM’s absence at the vaccine rollout programme.

“CM KCR neither personally launched the vaccination programme in the state, as the elected head of the state, nor gave a public message to the people to participate in the historic vaccination programme,” he added.

Political analysts say the absence of KCR — who led the agitation for the creation of Telangana under the banner of his TRS party — from public events has been a constant mark of his tenure as CM, and even earlier stints in government.

“He has a very feudal mindset. Once he achieved Telangana after the agitation — it kind of went to his head. He became the first chief minister of the state and also displayed characteristics of a narcissist,” said independent political analyst Suresh Alapati.

“He became totally inaccessible, working out of his farmhouse, his residence. Forget people, he is not available to his own ministers and party leaders. These are all characteristics of a king, not any democratic leader,” he added.

According to Professor M. Kodandaram, once a close aide of KCR and an active campaigner for Telangana’s statehood who now heads his own political party, Rao also courted complaints of being missing in action during his tenure as state transport minister, from 1996-1999, under the government of N. Chandrababu Naidu, and as Union Labour Minister between 2004 and 2006.

“He has this thought that it is not necessary to meet people regularly and he will do it only if he is gaining something out of it,” said Kodandaram, who heads the Telangana Jana Samithi party.

“There were a lot of complaints against him for not meeting officials as transport minister, which is why he was not given a portfolio the second time under Naidu’s rule. Same with Delhi — he was absent in Parliament during question hour. Leaders from the Left parties pointed out his absence,” he added.

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An official in the CMO, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it’s not important where KCR works from. “Why is it a question where he operates from? How is it important? It should not be of any discussion,” the official said. “All that matters is … is the state well-governed? Under his administration, it is.”

The exact impact KCR’s rare public appearances have on his image with voters is something that has drawn different assessments from different people.

According to Alapati, despite being inaccessible, KCR has maintained his image in the state and among party cadres by the way he retains power with himself. The “weak opposition” in the state helps, he added.

“All the decisions are taken by him, the ministers have no power to do so. They simply follow his orders. When it comes to him being inaccessible to his own ministers — what can they do?” he said.

“They cannot talk against him, it is not like they have any other decent option if they quit the party. Both the Congress and the BJP have been terribly weak, (although) the saffron party is slowly picking up now. Also, it is like people of the state have accepted his way of working style… so it does not really dent his image any further,” he added.

One of KCR’s strongest assets, he said, is knowing when to be under the limelight — be it before elections, by criticising the Modi government “whenever necessary”, or announcing a slew of freebies.

“It is not like he allows his image to fade away… when it is necessary, he makes a move and it works. For instance, during the recent municipal polls, he spoke about an anti-BJP/Modi front and the entire Telangana sat up and took notice, he got national-level attention too… despite the fact that he spoke about such a front twice in the past,” he said.

According to Kodandaram, the last public activity KCR was seen actively participating in was the Telangana statehood agitation. “This attitude of his has slowly led to dissent in people. He is not able to galvanise support like before,” he said. #KhabarLive #hydnews