KCR faces the heat with the Union Minister’s ‘cash cow’ jibe on Kaleshwaram

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(MS Shanker)

With the Central agencies determined to close in on all corruption cases across the country, the Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat describing the multi-crore Kaleshwaram project across river Godavari a ‘cash cow’ to the ruling TRS government headed by K Chandrasekhar Rao, assumes special significance.

Of course, this is not the first time that Central leaders have flagged this issue. Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had also referred to the irregularities in the Kaleshwaram project and termed it as an ATM for the TRS leadership.

The project which was originally estimated to cost around Rs 40,000 lakh crore was enhanced to Rs 80,000 lakh crore and now stands at Rs 1.15 lakh crore. The massive project was taken up no sooner than the TRS stormed to power in the new state of Telangana with KCR’s nephew T Harish Rao as the Major Irrigation Minister.  Though, there were allegations of corruption even before the 2018 assembly polls, the Opposition failed to make any political gains.

But, now with the Central investigative agencies like the CBI and Enforcement Directorate going all out against the alleged graft cases against politicians across the country, be it TMC leaders like Partha Chatterjee and his aides, Shiv Sena’s motormouth, Sanjay Raut, NCP leaders Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh and with the sword hanging over the heads of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, many wonder whether the Union Minister had dropped enough hints by charging the TRS government for making Kaleshwaram a ‘cash cow’.  He also termed the lift irrigation project as an ‘illegitimate child’, which TRS government expects the Prime Minister to adopt as a national project.  This was indeed a serious observation and if the TRS leadership was to “smell the coffee”, is an indicator of the grave nature of the crisis which the project could signify in the months ahead.

The Union Minister’s remarks came during the formal launch of the party state unit president Bandi Sajay’s padayatra from Vangapalli village in Yadagirigutta district, a couple of days ago.  He also alleged that KCR had committed multiple sins with the project. To use his exact words: “Whoever committed the sin should now own it.”

But, the rebuttal came quick and fast from none other than T Harish Rao, then Irrigation Minister and now the Finance and Medical and Health Minister.  He said, “The Union Minister should not forget his own words in Parliament.  He told the Parliament that all permissions were accorded to Kaleshwaram and there was no corruption.”  How come now he takes a U turn and makes such baseless allegations over permissions, he wondered.

Yet, one has to see the impact of the mood of the BJP and its increasingly aggressive posture against the TRS. The BJP looks more than confident to grab power in assembly elections in April/May next year.  Under its ‘Mission South’, it would not like to leave any loopholes in tightening the noose around their opponent’s necks.  Massive graft charges against the multi-crore project has once again taken centre stage of state politics and seeing the mood of Central agencies, many in the ruling party fear that KCR and his government may not be spared on Kaleshwaram.  In fact, it was the state unit chief Bandi Sanjay who went to the extent that the Central agencies might be in possession of all evidence against the ruling family members, including the irrigation project and may arrest them any time. He also described Kaleshwaram as a disaster as a project in terms of design mainly because KCR tried to don the role of an engineer.

As the heat is mounting on the ruling TRS, several disgruntled senior leaders are reportedly planning to quit the party and cross over to the BJP. Already, Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy of the Congress has resigned from the party and is all set to join the BJP.

Similarly, two senior TRS leaders – Tummala Nageshwara Rao and Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy – from Khammam are planning to follow suit, it is learnt. Rao won from Palair assembly constituency on TDP ticket and Reddy won on YSRCP ticket from Khammam Lok Sabha constituency in 2014 general elections. Both defected from their parties to the ruling TRS.  Interestingly, Rao was also inducted into the cabinet by KCR.

With growing tensions between the state and Central relationships and those who in the ruling party feel they may be denied tickets this time around many are said to be seriously contemplating joining the BJP.  KCR, of late has distanced himself from the BJP and the Centre by refusing to share the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi or even receiving him whenever he visited the state so far.  He had also chosen to skip the Chief Ministers’ conferences convened by the Prime Minister.

If one has to believe news reports, most of the leader’s attempting to join the BJP is from the Congress and TDP as both the parties almost got completely decimated in Telangana.  For example, Teegala Krishna Reddy, the former Mayor of Hyderabad and a TDP leader, joined TRS in Rangareddy district.  He is also reportedly feeling suffocated in the party as his arch rival Sabita Indra Reddy could consolidate her position within the ruling party, though she defected from the Congress and was a beneficiary of late YSR’s magnanimity when he chose to make her the Home Minister.

Many ruling and Congress members, besides TDP from districts like Warangal, Karimnagar, Adilabad, and Mahabubngar are ready to cross over and the BJP is said to be short listing them before admitting them.

The reason behind some of the senior TRS members’ decision to leave the party is that they fear they may not be renominated due to pre-poll survey reports submitted by Prashant Kishor’s IPAC engaged by KCR.

It remains to be seen how the next few weeks and months will play out for the TRS leadership with the Centre cracking down on corruption and the Enforcement Directorate tightening the screws on a number of politicians across the country.