Telangana: The promised land

In November 2023, the Congress dislodged the BRS in Telangana. Today, it has become the destination for a steady stream of BRS defectors

Rahul Gandhi, Revanth Reddy, K.C. Venugopal, and other Congress leaders at the Nyay Patra launch (photo: @revanth_anumula/X)
Rahul Gandhi, Revanth Reddy, K.C. Venugopal, and other Congress leaders at the Nyay Patra launch (photo: @revanth_anumula/X)

Suresh Dharur

When the Congress chose Telangana as the launchpad for the release of its national manifesto — which it has called ‘Nyay Patra’ — the significance was not lost on political observers.

It was in Telangana that the grand old party made its turnaround, emerging victorious in the November 2023 Assembly elections, dislodging the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS). The party is now the destination for a steady stream of BRS defectors — including veterans bent on a dignified homecoming.

A massive ‘Jana Jatara’ was held last week in Tukkuguda, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, to declare the Congress guarantees for youth, farmers, women, workers and backward classes.

Tukkuguda holds particular significance for the Congress. It was from here that Sonia Gandhi kickstarted the ‘Vijayabheri’ rally in September last year, paving the way for a landslide victory in the Assembly polls.

Last week’s rally, presided over by Telangana chief minister A. Revanth Reddy, AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, also had visible impact. “Not long ago, the Congress cadre were a demoralised lot. The victory in the Assembly polls and now the people-friendly manifesto have come as a big boost,” says Prof K. Nageshwar, political analyst and former head of the journalism department at Osmania University.

“Today, everyone in Telangana knows the Congress is fulfilling its pre-election promises,” says senior political analyst S. Ramakrishna. “It has earned a people-friendly image, unlike the previous BRS regime, which seemed inaccessible. Already, the government has created nearly 30,000 jobs. It is on the right track.”

The state Congress promises of free bus travel for women, increased health insurance under Rajiv Arogyasri of up to Rs 5 lakh, free electricity up to 200 units and LPG cylinders at Rs 500 apiece were modelled on successful implementation in Karnataka — and are coming to fruition.

“Just as we have fulfilled our promises in Telangana,” Rahul Gandhi said, “we will fulfil them across the country. This manifesto is the voice of the people. We listened to the people and made this manifesto.” Echoing the cadres’ upbeat mood, he added, “We defeated the BJP’s B-Team (the BRS) in the Assembly elections. Now, we will defeat the BJP’s real A-Team in the coming Lok Sabha elections.”

“We aim to win 14 Lok Sabha seats (out of 17 in Telangana),” said senior minister D. Sridhar Babu.

The stink of a scam

Pharma and healthcare majors that played a significant role in Telangana’s success story are now under a cloud over alleged quid pro quo deals through electoral bond donations. Emerging details point to undue favours done in return for expensive ‘political support’.

Hyderabad-based Hetero Pharma purchased a batch of electoral bonds between April 2022 and October 2023 — after income tax raids that allegedly detected Rs 550 crore of unaccounted income. The company donated bonds worth Rs 120 crore to the BRS, then ruling Telangana. Of this, Rs 70 crore was spent just before and after the company’s founder and chairman, Bandi Parthasaradhi Reddy, was put up for Rajya Sabha candidacy by the BRS in May 2022.

Several other donors in the pharmaceutical sector were under the scanner of either the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or the I-T department over the past five years. Some were apparently experiencing ‘quality control’ issues.

Top Telangana donors include Yashoda Super-Speciality Hospital (Rs 162 crore), Dr Reddy’s Laboratory (Rs 80 crore) and Natco Pharma (Rs 69 crore). Vaccine manufacturers Bharat Biotech (Rs 10 crore) and Biological E (Rs 5 crore), which received approvals for Covid-19 vaccines, also figure on the list.

Then there is Sarath Reddy, one of the directors of Aurobindo Pharma, which donated Rs 34 crore to the BJP. He was arrested by the ED in connection with the alleged Delhi excise scam and later turned approver in the case.

A taste of its own medicine

As for the BRS, which won only 39 seats in the 119-member Assembly in the November polls while the Congress bagged 65, the humiliating drubbing has been followed by a taste of its own medicine. The aggressive poaching strategy it adopted five years ago to weaken the opposition camp is now coming home to roost, literally.

Basking in the glory of its second term in office in the December 2018 Assembly polls, the BRS had lured a big chunk of Congress legislators to its camp, virtually decimating the Opposition. Now, it’s payback time. Five of the nine sitting BRS MPs have already quit; several more legislators are reportedly keen to switch sides before polling day on 13 May.

The latest blow was the exit of Rajya Sabha member K. Kesava Rao, along with his daughter G. Vijayalakshmi, mayor of Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. In fact, it was a homecoming for the octogenarian leader, who served five decades in the Congress before joining the BRS in 2013. He was also Congress state president in undivided Andhra Pradesh. “Those who go on a pilgrimage must return home eventually. I am also coming home to the Congress,” Rao acknowledged.

The arrest of K. Kavitha, daughter of former chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, has compounded the woes of the BRS, once seen as an invincible regional force.

Looming water crisis

Hyderabad is moving towards a Bengaluru-like water crisis, with major reservoirs almost dry and the groundwater table dropping sharply. A report from the Telangana agriculture department says the cumulative storage in all major reservoirs on 27 March was 287.06 TMC (thousand million cubic feet), compared to 432.13 TMC on the same day last year.

Excessive concretisation by way of urbanisation has been a key trigger in Hyderabad. Lack of permeable surfaces hinders groundwater percolation even as urbanisation exacerbates its depletion. “Furthermore, water bodies, essential for storing and recharging groundwater, are now inundated with sewage and pollutants, contributing to recurrent urban flooding," says environmentalist B.V. Subba Rao.

According to state Pollution Control Board records, Hyderabad currently has 185 notified water bodies, a significant proportion of which are either heavily polluted or encroached upon. Alarmingly, at least 20 have completely dried up, while an additional 300 remain in a deplorable state.

Hyderabad and Bengaluru share many similarities. Both have witnessed alarming urban expansion rates, impacting water availability. Surely there’s a lesson there?

The Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, has recently conducted a study comparing both cities. Over the years, Bengaluru's urban sprawl has surged from a mere 8 per cent in 1973 to a whopping 93.3 per cent in 2023, marking an unprecedented 1,055 per cent increase in concrete structures! This unchecked expansion has led to a drastic 79 per cent reduction in water spread area, significantly impacting water availability.

Compare Hyderabad: Between 2010 and 2014, the city has witnessed a growth of 50.7 million sq. ft in commercial built-up area alone, followed by an expansion of 100.4 million sq. ft from 2015 to 2019. Additionally, the built-up residential area has seen a surge of over 500 million sq. ft from 2015 to 2021.

The ‘developments’ don’t bode well for public utilities, certainly not for the water crisis.

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