Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, popularly known as KCR, has attacked the Congress by criticising the rule of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ahead of the November 30 Assembly polls. This was after party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra praised the former PM’s record at party rallies, particularly on tribal rights, and invoked her legacy to garner support.
While campaigning in the tribal-dominated regions of Asifabad and Khanapur constituencies on November 19, Priyanka invoked the former PM’s legacy on her birth anniversary. She said people in Telangana still affectionately called Indira Gandhi “Indiramma”, 40 years after her death, adding that she gave the region’s Adivasis rights over their “jal, jangal, zameen (water, forests, land)”.
“Many leaders would come and go. Many leaders worked for you. But why do you remember Indiraji? Why do you still call her Indiramma? The reason for that… she gave you land rights. Indira Gandhi understood the problems of the poor and distributed seven lakh acres of land to landless poor. She created the Integrated Tribal Development Authority and built lakhs of houses under the tribal sub-plan. She respected your culture and used to tell us how divine your culture is,” Priyanka said, in a reference to the land reforms initiated under Indira as PM.
After she had lost from Rae Bareli in the post-Emergency 1977 Lok Sabha elections, Indira decided to contest from two seats in 1980, including Medak in present-day Telangana, with the Congress seeking to consolidate its hold in the South. While she won Medak by a margin of 2.95 lakh votes, in the united Andhra Pradesh, the Congress won 41 Lok Sabha seats out of 42.
Indira was the Medak MP at the time of her assassination in 1984.
The Congress has also named several of its current promised schemes after her, including programmes targeting women, below-poverty-line families and farmers.
In a string of recent public meetings, the BRS chief and Telangana CM has claimed that Indira Gandhi’s tenure was marked by starvation deaths, a growing Naxalite movement, and extra-judicial killings.
At a rally in the Nagarkurnool constituency on Sunday, KCR reiterated the same. “The Congress is promising to bring Indiramma rajyam in Telangana. Do you know what happened under her rule? There were starvation deaths, the Naxalite movement started all over the country, and people were shot dead in fake encounters. Congress party failed to provide even basic drinking water in the country during their decades of rule. Even though rivers are flowing through this region, Congress failed to provide water. On what basis are they asking for votes now?” he said.
The ‘starvation’ claim
According to KCR, there was hunger in unified Andhra Pradesh under Congress and it was not until N T Rama Rao of the Telugu Desam Party came to power and offered rice at Rs 2 per kg that the starvation situation began to change. KCR was earlier a leader of the TDP.
“It was a life of hunger and starvation till then. People should see what development under Congress in the last 50 years was and compare it with the BRS’s development in the last nine years,” the BRS chief said. “The progress Telangana has made since 2014 would be lost under Indiramma rajyam.”
Among the BRS’s promises for the upcoming Assembly polls is for all ration card holders to be provided 5 kg of fortified rice through public distribution system (PDS) shops instead of normal rice.
The Telangana angle
On Monday, speaking at Manakondur Assembly constituency in Karimnagar district, KCR accused the Congress of merging Telangana with Andhra Pradesh (in the 1950s) “against the people’s will”.
“There is no regime worse than Indiramma and Congress is promising to bring back those days. It was a time of scams and scandals and looting of public wealth. The Congress merged Telangana with Andhra Pradesh against the will of Telangana people due to which we have suffered for over 50 years,” he said.
Under the State Reorganisation Act, 1956, several state boundaries had been redrawn and new states created along linguistic divisions. At the time the Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh was carved out of the Madras Presidency (now Tamil Nadu).
A decade later in 1969, there was the first agitation for a separate Telangana state, which turned violent with clashes between protesting youth and the state Congress government. The movement was quashed, but more than 300 were estimated killed.
Finally, the Congress-led UPA government would clear the creation of Telangana in 2014.
The Narasimha Rao aspect
Even while repeatedly attacking Indira and her legacy, the BRS has in recent years praised former PM P V Narasimha Rao, projecting him as a ‘son of the soil’. In 2020, the BRS had turned his 100th birth anniversary into a year-long celebration. KCR even wrote to PM Narendra Modi requesting him to bestow the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, on Narasimha Rao.
These efforts were seen as attempts to push ‘Telangana pride’ and claim the Congress leader as a local icon.
In June 2021, KCR unveiled a 26-foot tall statue of the former PM at P V Gnana Bhoomi on Necklace Road in Hyderabad.
Earlier this year, on Narasimha Rao’s 102nd birth anniversary, KCR credited the former PM with introducing the large-scale financial reforms in the early 1990s. “P V Narasimha Rao laid the foundation for India to become a modern country, and he had great political acumen and good governance skills,” KCR said.
KCR’s focus on him contrasts with the Congress’s ambivalence regarding Narasimha Rao, who had strained ties with the Gandhi family. Lately, the Congress has been trying to reclaim Rao as its own, and its manifesto for this election says that if it comes to power, the party would name a district after the former PM, who was born in Warangal district.