The exit of former minister Etela Rajender from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) marked the end of a cold war between him and Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao and sparked a debate on the impact the former would have on the ruling party with his joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
A month after being dropped from the state Cabinet following allegations of land encroachment, Rajender on Friday announced his decision to quit the party and also resign as a member of the Legislative Assembly.
Though Rajender’s announcement to end his nearly two-decade-long association with the TRS and decision to join the saffron camp may not have any immediate impact on the ruling party, the development may encourage others unhappy with the leadership of Chandrasekhar Rao aka KCR to raise their voice.
The development came at a time when Telangana entered the eighth year of its formation under KCR, whose leadership so far remains unchallenged.
“Exit of Eatala Rajender reiterated the fact that TRS is synonymous to KCR, and he is the sole proprietor of the party. The claims of multiple owners to the pink brigade can be put to rest. This development will re-establish supremacy of KCR, and this is an answer to all future dissidents in the party,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
While KCR and his party will defend the action against Rajender by citing his alleged acts of omission and commission, the bitter allegations by the former minister are likely to embarrass the TRS leadership and provide ammunition to the otherwise weakened opposition.
KCR, who revived the Telangana movement in 2001 by floating the TRS, continues to have a vice-like grip over both the party and the government.
In fact, the action against Rajender, who has been his confidante since the formation of the party, is believed to be a well calculated move to nip in the bud any possible rebellion or challenge to his authority.
While there had been reports of a fissure between KCR and Rajender for more than three years, the TRS chief took everyone by surprise by ordering a probe against him after a group of farmers from Medak district complained that Rajender grabbed their lands for a poultry unit owned by his family.
The action came when the state was in the grip of a Covid surge and Rajender as the health minister was busy holding meetings with officials to review the pandemic situation. The chief minister himself was recovering from Covid at his farmhouse.
As the officials went on record that 66 acres of land was encroached, KCR stripped Rajender of his health portfolio on May 1 and the next day dropped him from the cabinet.
Rajender, a member of the Assembly from Huzurabad constituency in Karimnagar district, hit back at KCR and alleged that there is a conspiracy to defame him.
The former minister faced another probe as KCR formed a committee comprising four IAS officers to investigate encroachments and illegal transactions of Sri Sita Rama Swamy temple land at Devarayamjal village in Shamirpet near Hyderabad. Rajender and his supporters had allegedly encroached 1,521 acres in the village.
Eatala, one of the founding members of the TRS and a six-time MLA, had entered KCR’s bad books a couple of years ago when he took potshots at him on a few occasions.
“The minister’s post is not anybody’s pittance. We are the owners of TRS who have carried the party flag,” Rajender had said at one party meeting.
On another occasion, he remarked that he reached his position not because of his caste but by his sheer hard work.
“I am not here because I am somebody’s son,” Eatala had remarked in what was believed to be an attack on KCR’s son and minister K.T. Rama Rao.
Rajender said he quit the TRS because he did not want to continue as a slave. Alleging there is no freedom for ministers and MLAs to function, he said they are treated like slaves.
“In the past I resigned several times from the Assembly for the sake of self-respect of Telangana. I am resigning again but this time for my self-respect as I can’t continue as a slave,” he said.
Interestingly, Rajender also claimed that Finance Minister T. Harish Rao too faced humiliation.
Harish Rao is KCR’s nephew and there have been reports of a chasm between the two ever since the TRS started projecting his son Rama Rao as his political successor.
“The TRS was born from the movement and is not run like a family party like Lalu Prasad’s or Mayawati’s parties. Telangana state was achieved with sacrifices of thousands of people and not with a handful of people,” Rajender said while targeting KCR for promoting his son and daughter.
Political analysts say by raising the issue of self-respect and KCR promoting his family, Rajender may be encouraging other TRS leaders unhappy with the leadership to speak out.
The counterattack by TRS on Rajender has been on expected lines.
“He is talking of self-respect after being dropped from the cabinet following allegations of land encroachment. How can he acquire assigned land of the poor which is illegal. He has more respect for his properties than the law of the land,” said TRS legislator P. Rajeshwar Reddy.
Now that Rajender has decided to quit his Assembly seat and sail with the BJP, all eyes will be on Rajender’s stronghold Huzurabad.
“By joining BJP, Eatala indicated that he needs a safe haven and support of the party in power in New Delhi. He did not show the might to start a party of his own or fight as an Independent to win the seat he currently represents,” said political analyst Raghavendra Reddy.
The by-election in Huzurabad will be the fourth in the state in three years and will provide the BJP another chance to prove itself as an alternative to the TRS.
After wresting the Dubbak Assembly seat from the TRS and posting an impressive performance in the elections to Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) late last year, the BJP suffered humiliation in recent elections to two graduates’ constituencies of the Legislative Council and by-election to Nagarjuna Sagar Assembly seat.
Analysts say the BJP may gain in the narrative by projecting itself as the real alternative to the TRS. With Eatala joining its ranks, the BJP will be hoping to garner more votes.
The TRS, which appears to have bounced back after the shock defeat in Dubbak, is likely to go the whole hog in Huzurabad to check both the BJP and Rajender.