This is not the first time or the last that the Telangana chief minister goes into mysterious “hiding” without explanation
On 29 April 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to apologise to the Rajya Sabha for a cabinet minister who had skipped the Upper House during Question Hour, which is considered an important slot in the Parliament session.
Question Hour is the only time the members extract official response for their queries from the minister. The questions raised trigger swift action from the government.
On that day, one important cabinet minister was absent. Aghast at the absence, Opposition benches took strong objection, led by senior CPM member Dipankar Mukherjee.
Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat tried to pacify the House stating that the minister in question had informed the chair about his absence.
Mukherjee, a veteran trade union leader, asked what it was that was more important for a minister than the Parliament? There was uproar in the House.
Irked by this development, Prime Minister Manmohan had to intervene to tender his apologies for the absent minister. The minister was none other the union labour minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), now chief minister of Telangana.
The regular complaint against him, when he was an MP, was that he seldom attended Parliament. When he was representing the Mahabubnagar (Palamur) Lok Sabha constituency, the criticism had been that he never showed up at the constituency after the election.
A slogan “Palamuru ku raadu, Parliament ku podu” - (Neither does he come to Palamuru, nor would he go to Parliament) was coined to attack him.
Telangana journalists recount numerous instances when KCR suddenly disappeared from public view triggering intense speculation by media and hilarious interpretations by the Opposition.
Attempts have been made to connect his absence to his health.
There were times when it was speculated that he was undergoing treatment at the farmhouse in the Gajwel Assembly constituency. His critics have always anxiously waited for some sensational news about his health status that would prove he is an alcoholic. But every time, KCR emerged hale and hearty, politically stronger. He never called off his game plan.
The recent disappearance for a week is neither the first instance nor would it be the last.
The reason for the wide coverage of his absence this time round was the Coronavirus pandemic. He “disappeared” amid the reports of growing COVID positive cases at his official residence Pragati Bhavan. As expected, the media speculated again on his absence in Pragathi Bhavan.
Opposition parties used the occasion to chastise him as an “escapist” amid a health crisis. A Telangana activist filed a petition in the High Court seeking information on his health condition and whereabouts.
In all reports, what was not explicitly written was that he was down with COVID-19 and undergoing treatment in his safe haven, the farmhouse.
All were proven wrong.
KCR re-emerged without a trace of the illness he reportedly suffered, on his face.
According to political scientist Professor Kancha Ilaiah there is a psycho-political angle to his “missing game.”
“He does not want to be seen in the news round the clock with his comments in the press or on Twitter. Tweeting on every issue is the style of the likes of Chandrababu Naidu, his arch rival and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president.
He is not even like Jagan who loves to be seen everywhere with numerous announcements. KCR is like a guerrilla - attacks when the situation is ripe, beats a retreat if things turn adverse. It is paying dividends for him,” Prof Ilaiah told The Lede.
“It is not without any sociological reasoning,” Ilaiah said, adding that having come from the feudal Velama caste, KCR developed a penchant for Nizam-like governance, where the leader does not need either to appear before the public every now and then or respond to political Opposition.
“It is psychological gameplay. Even health can be pressed into service. The Telangana movement and the political power later, helped him create a huge fan following in the state. By his game plan, he loves to create anxiety among fans and unrest among his critics with his “missing” trick. When it reaches a peak, he makes a sudden reappearance and goes back into hibernation again after a couple of days, once his critics are fooled. All his acts of disappearance, which are numerous, follow this pattern,” Ilaiah said.
On the other hand, Professor Kodandaram, a former political science professor from Osmania University and once an associate of KCR, sees utter disregard for public institutions in the latter’s “missing” tricks.
Kodandaram now heads a political party called Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS) which was formed after he parted ways with KCR.
“This is not a simple disappearance from public view. This is his style of treating institutions with contempt. For KCR, the state is like his real estate, he is the owner. What is the CMO, Secretariat, Assembly? Why should he attend office every day? That is his attitude,” Kodandaram explained.
The former KCR aide said it was not a new trait that the sitting chief minister acquired after he became ruler of Telangana.
“Not attending office and becoming incommunicado had been there in his earlier avatar as transport minister during the TDP regime. There is no scope for any dialogue. He wants to rule as per his whims and fancies. This is a value system or way of life he believes in and upholds,” Professor Kodandaram said.
Keeping oneself flamboyantly available to the public is fraught with consequences.
‘‘Recently the Congress demanded an all-party meeting on the COVID-19 crisis. BJP wants something more. Some other party has another demand. He thinks why he should be answerable to these people. ‘People have given ownership right and I will rule as per my own belief system’: is his attitude. So he makes himself consciously unavailable to ministers, MLAs, MPs, and people as well,” said Kodandaram.
In the first two years after assuming office as the chief minister in 2014, KCR reportedly felt the existing secretariat, built by Andhra CMs, was not Vaastu compliant. Even the new camp office, built just five years back by then CM YS Rajasekhar Reddy was jettisoned. Many believe Vaastu was only one aspect of his personality. The other important one is a lifestyle, where his diktats alone matter.
As the protagonist of the Telangana movement and the first chief minister of a new state, he wanted a fresh start in every sphere. He avoided Secretariat and the CM’s camp office. He made his farmhouse at Erravalli the CMO. Located at about 70 km from Hyderabad, the fortress-like farmhouse insulates him from all kinds of incursions by media, political parties, and his own MLAs.
“The disappearance from public view is a political strategy and has nothing to do with his health,” said Dr Mallu Ravi, two-term MP and vice president of the Telangana Congress.
According to Dr Mallu Ravi, the disappearance game plan has provided him with a political edge. His supporters, Mallu said, enjoy his adamant style of shutting doors to the Opposition parties.
“This time around, however, KCR’s disappearance trick could not escape public scrutiny. Corona cases are on the rise across the state. Panic has gripped the people. Doctors and nurses are on strike. Private hospitals are fleecing people. Working in Gandhi hospital has become an adventure for the staff. The Centre is unhappy with the state’s Coronavirus handling. Political parties are demanding an all-party meet. No reassurance whatsoever has come from Pragathi Bhavan which is also invaded by the virus. So people are angry that KCR has surreptitiously escaped to his farmhouse only to save his skin,” Mallu said and added that chief minister KCR should start fulfilling the responsibilities associated with a public office.
“An elected CM cannot shy away from facing political realities. KCR should become accommodative and take the political parties into confidence,” he said.
A leader of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti who did not wish to be named said that the news of KCR going "missing" was a media creation.
"KCR was never missing in action. If he is not here, he is somewhere else holding meetings with officials. The media wants our leader to work according to its own whims and fancies. When the media could not locate the CM, it would spin a missing game story," he said.