Telangana: Winds of change and challenge
Political observers have been quick to notice and comment on Revanth Reddy casting himself in the mould of his popular predecessor, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy
The politics of ‘power’
India’s youngest state has had a long history of farm distress, erratic power supply and poor irrigation facilities. These issues once again dominated the assembly election campaign last month. The new Congress government has been quick to hold a review meeting and release a white paper on the power sector.
In 2014, when Telangana was formed, the state government started with dues of Rs 1,281 crore, said government sources. This figure has ballooned to Rs 81,000 crore, with even municipalities and municipal corporations defaulting on paying power distribution companies.
A grim chief minister Revanth Reddy informed the state that it had purchased power worth Rs 30,000 crore from other states since 2014. The reality is clearly not as rosy as the outgoing BRS (Bharat Rashtra Samithi) had been claiming.
The challenge before the Congress government now is to find resources to fund its poll promises — including free electricity up to 200 units for all domestic consumers, which is expected to cost Rs 4,800 crore per year and free 24/7 power supply to farmers, which will entail another annual burden of Rs 10,000 crore.
Free power to farmers has been an emotive campaign issue. Contrary to the BRS’ claims that it had ensured 24/7 free power supply to the agriculture sector, the new government has said that only 12-14 hours’ supply was provided.
“Fixing meters to agricultural pump sets and setting an upper consumption limit for the free power benefit must be the starting points to address the power sector woes," suggests Dr N. Jayaprakash Narayan, former bureaucrat and founder of Lok Satta, a national NGO working in the area of democratic and electoral reforms.
Praja (Pragathi) Bhavan
Pragathi Bhavan, inaugurated in 2016 and renamed this month as Jyotirao Phule Praja Bhavan, will be the official residence of deputy chief minister Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka. Chief minister Revanth Reddy has, to all appearances, decided to live in his own house in Hyderabad's Jubilee Hills area and work from the chief minister’s office in the Secretariat.
Pragathi Bhavan was the official residence of outgoing chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, who never visited the Secretariat. The Congress government has dismantled the iron fencing around Pragathi Bhavan, which encroached on a busy road, and thrown the building open to the public.
The building started as a camp office in 2004 for the undivided Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. KCR, as the first chief minister of Telangana, got it renovated at a cost of Rs 49 crore and made it vaastu-compliant before turning it into the chief minister’s official residence.
Belying its name, Pragathi Bhavan is actually a complex of five buildings — the residence, the chief minister’s office, Janahitha (the meeting hall), the old chief minister’s residence, the state guesthouse and the office of the inspector-general for security. It was built after demolishing 10 IAS officers’ quarters and 24 peon quarters in the officers’ colony.
Digging out the drug problem
Unusually for a new chief minister, A. Revanth Reddy struck a grim note as soon as he took office, reminding people of the 2016 Bollywood film Udta Punjab, with its unvarnished portrayal of the drug menace in the border state. Even as the film triggered a political controversy by allegedly showing Punjabi youth in a poor light, it is believed to have played a role in sensitising society to the perils of substance abuse.
Warning that the prevalence of drugs is equally grave in Telangana, Reddy asserted, “My government’s priority will be to make Telangana and Hyderabad free from drugs.”
One of his first tasks after taking over as chief minister was to appoint K. Srinivas Reddy as the new commissioner of Hyderabad Police. One of the first statements made by the new police chief was also to sound a note of warning: “I want to tell the drug gangs and those promoting drugs that they better pack up. Leave our city, leave our state. We are not going to tolerate you, however big you are.”
Way back in 2017, Hyderabad Police had conducted a sting operation and unearthed a large network of drug peddlers in the city. Several prominent Telugu film personalities, senior executives of MNCs, IT professionals, and school and college students were among their clients. Even as the city’s ugly underbelly was exposed, the case was quietly buried. Can this new government change the landscape?
In the YSR mould
Political observers have been quick to notice and comment on Revanth Reddy casting himself in the mould of his popular predecessor, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whose connect with the masses and pro-poor policies are part of the region’s political folklore. “Revanth [Reddy]’s style of functioning and his brand of politics are reminiscent of YSR,” says K. Ramesh Babu, political analyst and author.
Like YSR, Revanth Reddy has also infused energy and dynamism into a party unit that was bogged down by internal politics. His aggressive campaigning, ability to strike a chord with the crowds, relentless focus on populist policies and decentralisation of the administration bear a striking resemblance to YSR. Taking a leaf out of YSR’s book, Revanth Reddy has also started holding a praja darbar (people’s court) at his camp office, where he looks to redress grievances submitted by the general public.
Soon after taking oath in 2004, YSR had signed his first file to grant free power to farmers, a hugely popular policy continued by successive governments. Revanth Reddy’s first two files also pertain to the implementation of the Congress’ six poll guarantees — including free bus travel for women, pensions and payouts for widows and single women, and financial aid, free power and loan waivers for farmers.
He also made it a priority to provide a job to a physically disabled woman, keeping a personal promise made during the campaign.
Women lead in academics
Telangana’s women continue to leave men miles behind in higher studies. Common Post Graduate Entrance Test (CPGET) data shows that 15,018 women got admission to various programmes this year, and men were only a third as many. Of a total of 20,353 enrolments for 2023-24, women bagged 74 per cent seats and male students 26 per cent.
Last year too, women accounted for about 72.2 per cent of enrolments in postgraduate courses. They dominated enrolment in all but a few courses, including biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics, statistics and computer science.
This year’s undergraduate courses show a similar trend, though not as steep. Of the 2 lakh-plus students who got admission through the Degree Online Services Telangana (DOST) scheme, 53 per cent were women while male enrolment stood at 47 per cent.
Officials attributed the number of women in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses to the setting up of residential government colleges. Of the 85 welfare residential degree colleges, nearly 50 are for women. They also attributed the trend to growing public awareness about the importance of education.
Biryani is love
Hyderabad, often described as the ‘biryani capital’ of India, accounted for every sixth biryani ordered on food delivery app Swiggy this year. Swiggy, which released its year-end trends, said India’s favourite food to order online remained biryani for the eighth year in a row, with 2.5 plates ordered online every second.
Hyderabad expressed its love by consuming 15 plates every minute, or nearly 21,600 plates per day. A Hyderabad-based consumer set a new record by placing 1,633 orders, or more than four biryanis a day! This loyalist apparently treated himself to his favourite dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks.
Biryani, a dish as laden with lore and legend as flavour, has been a highlight of popular Hyderabadi cuisine for the past 400 years. Hyderabadi dum biryani originated in the kitchens of the Nizams, and displays a blend of Hyderabadi and Mughlai techniques.