‘Cong must shed big-brother mindset’

Dr Rao, 84, has watched the Opposition trying to put up a united face against the BJP, and says the issue of Opposition unity is “a perplexing paradox.”

‘Cong must shed big-brother mindset’

Dr K Keshava Rao, leader of Telangana’s ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi in Parliament

Dr K Keshava Rao, leader of Telangana’s ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi in Parliament, and a leading spokesperson of Opposition parties trying to unite against the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, had broken his 50- year-old relationship with the Congress Party in support of a separate State of Telangana, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. A member of the Rajya Sabha since 2006, Dr Rao was elected to the House for the third term in April 2020. A veteran political leader of Andhra Pradesh before its division, he was president of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee for three terms, and a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC). Familiar with political groupings and break-ups over his long political career, Dr Rao has been a sober participant in Rajya Sabha proceedings consistently, despite frequent clashes between Opposition and Treasury Benches in recent years.

Dr Rao, 84, has watched the Opposition trying to put up a united face against the BJP, and says the issue of Opposition unity is “a perplexing paradox.” On the one hand, he says, all parties stress its need, yet on the other, they grapple with its basics. It will thus remain elusive unless concrete plans are made, he says. According to him, there are two strong streams of thought. One stresses the need to unite all parties with a common goal to defeat the BJP/NDA; the second wants to involve people in this unity process, having seen the failure of “Opposition fronts.” The latter view is shared by the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), he says. The key is finding a tall, acceptable leader to hold the fort together, he tells DEEPAK RAZDAN, in this interview.


Q: How do you find the pace of Opposition unity for 2024 polls progressing?


A: Fine. A strong and purposeful unity is growing steadily amongst non-NDA parties, despite their differences and perceptions. It may not always be demonstrative. They share a common goal of ‘unity in diversity’ and are firmly committed to fight the divisive forces that operate in the name of religion. The expectations are high. One agrees that they do not often ‘walk the talk’; but share the sentiment strongly.

Q: What does the Karnataka result indicate?

A: Karnataka will have no impact on Telangana and many other regions. It has boosted the morale of Congress. Congress looks reinvigorated thanks to Bharat Jodo Yatra and now Karnataka.

Q: Was the boycott of the new Parliament building inauguration a high point of Opposition unity?

A: Why? Opposition has shown its unity and oneness on many occasions like Adani agitation, Red Fort Rally, etc. No doubt, Parliament event is important from the point of our democracy and constitutional frame work. According to our Constitution, Parliament means and consists of two Houses – Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and the President. Sidelining the President, in such a framework looks not only odd but violative of norms. It has nothing to do with any particular President personally. The criticism that since we did not vote for Mrs Droupadi Murmu, we had no right to talk of the President is nonsense. We voted for the office of the President, where the candidate had been different. And that is democracy.

Secondly, if we look to the President as part of the Executive, then we could have opted for the Speaker, and certainly not the Prime Minister, who represents only a part of the Parliament as Head of a majority group and executive.

All parties, except the ruling junta realized this democratic and constitutional principle and showed their solidarity in boycotting the Parliament event; not Parliament.

Q: Is the Congress doing enough to unite the Opposition?

A: Congress, according to me is just another party. And like any committed Opposition, it is putting its efforts to mobilize opposition unity. But the success of such unity will be productive only when we give regional parties prominence, as they enjoy bigger numbers.

Q:The Left had often given the philosophy for Opposition unity, how do you see its role now?

A: Left played its role well in the past. Today, it is not of much relevance, though respectful. Besides, they have never been in vanguard of opposition unity. In 1967, it was SVD governments, it was Ram Manohar Lohia who inspired ‘unity’.

Q: The stand of Mamata Banerjee and JD(S) stand is often not clear.Mamata skipped the Karnataka swearing-in, while JD (S) attended Parliament building function.

A: They have their own compulsions. But nonetheless, they are veering round on the point of unity. Particular issues or events should not determine one’s commitment to unity and opposition to the ruling dispensation – BJP. They are isolated issues. And as I said that in spite of the differences in perceptions, they want to be one.

Q: NCP had disagreed with the demand for a JPC in Adani issue.

A: Unity is not uniformity. NCP stand on Adani falls under the above explanation.

Q:Aam Aadmi Party has grown with its Punjab victory, but the Congress is unable to accept this. Do you agree?

A: That is the problem with Congress Party. It needs to come out of its “big brother mindset.” It is a great party, but lacks leadership. I am confident that it will realise and fall in line soon. Q: The South is mostly fortified, but large northern States with Samajwadi, BSP are asserting strong identities. A: That is the reality. We need to contend with one’s urge to maintain identity. But, it should not defeat the objective of unity. We need to work out strategies to overcome our shortcomings in the North. But the South, when read along with other parts (not north) like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal is a formidable block, which is mostly independent and may not feel all that happy with the Congress. But all these issues will be sorted out, given the time and purpose.

Q: Telangana’s K Chandrashekar Rao, Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee are strong voices, but do you think a strong argument to say why Modi should go is missing?

A: Yes they are strong leaders without a challenge. KCR is invincible. But that is the story of all other regional parties. When we look from the lens of ‘non BJP’, we see that Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana, Karnataka, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, J&K etc. are invincible. Next, it is for Congress to hold its own fort, not allowing Rajasthan issues to grow grave. The best way therefore is to evolve a right coordination. The nation is becoming averse to BJP’s divisive ideology and functioning. It sees a danger to its pluralistic existence or diversity.

The slogan as to “why should Modi go” is well articulated by the growing Opposition unity. The need for opposition unity reflects it. Per se nobody is against any individual or party; it is what they represent or symbolize. India with its vast diversity seeks unity within it. It demands decentralised governance, true cooperative federalism, not centralisation. It is for a secular polity. The socio-economic disparities, as reflected in the rich-poor income graph demands a perfect social control, not unbridled privatisation. ‘Non-BJP’ has become an agenda of the people, like antiCongressism of the late sixties.

However, it is true, that we need one acceptable leader to lead the present movement. This is on the mind of every party. Mr KCR, in particular, has been stressing this point with every leader that he has been meeting.

Q: What does Telangana’s 10 years of development show?

A: Telangana has created a brand of its own, and stands as a model of development to the entire nation. Developing from being one of the most backward regions of the country, it now reaches the stage of one of the richest states, with highest per capita income of Rs 3.5 lakh, as against Rs 1.57 lakh nationally. It provides free power to farmers and weaker sections, potable tapped water to all households. In the medical and health sector, it holds pride of place, with 29 planned medical colleges and more than 34,000 beds in Government hospitals. With a whopping social welfare spending of more than Rs 50,000 crore per annum, it has many ‘firsts’ and highest ranks in its kitty. The number of pensions for old-aged, widows, single women, beedi workers, marriage gift of Rs 101,600 as Shadi Mubarak/Kalyana Laxmi and double bed room houses to more than five lakh people in this period stand testimony to its commitment to social justice.

Its agriculture production is ranked second in the country, the area under cultivation is more than 1.6 crore acres, with irrigation covering one crore acres. It has built the world’s biggest multi-lift irrigation project – Kaleshwaram. In the field of education, it has pride of place with over 2,000 new residential schools for SC, BCs. Its unemployment labour index is amongst the lowest in the country. It has trebled its IT exports, nearing Rs 3 lakh crore, providing jobs to nearly nine lakh people. Its power generation has more than doubled with per capita consumption crossing more than 2000 units.

Above all, there is Telangana’s leadership. KCR provides answers to all important needs and questions of the nation today. Rated amongst a couple of leaders to lead the nation and opposition unity, KCR is the best bet.

Q: Against the Congress, the entire Opposition could launch a movement on price-rise only; is public mobilization missing?

A: That was during the Emergency period. Same situation is slowly developing, with dictatorial overtones of the ruling junta. The present unity reflects the “mobilization” on that front in the given circumstances. A programme/ strategy of peoples’ movement against these undemocratic acts of the ruling party is need of the hour.