Hyderabad is abuzz these days with speculation about when the chief minister’s English paper Telangana Today will be released. An editorial team has been in place for several months and a brand new press has also been set up, yet there is an inexplicable delay in rolling out of the paper.
Analysts attribute this delay to K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s penchant for astrology and aver that he is waiting for the ‘right day,’ but are still wondering what is the need for him to dabble in English journalism.
Rao controls a Telugu paper Namaste Telangana, which by all accounts is doing well.
Moreover, nearly halfway into his term, he seems to be in an unassailable position politically and by present reckoning, he will coast to victory in 2019.
The Congress party is in shambles and the BJP is a non starter in the state, at least till now. N. Chandrababu Naidu, and his Telugu Desam Party, have been banished to Andhra Pradesh, leaving Rao without any rivals.
During the time of Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the Telugu paper Eenadu was virtually the main opposition running strident campaigns against the chief minister. But in Rao’s regime, Eenadu has gone soft, even as the chief minister has offered 500 acres to Ramoji Rao ( the owner of the paper) to set up a spiritual city – Om City – that will be replete with temples, most of which will be replicas of major Hindu shrines across the country. There will also be cinema halls that will play religious movies.
Rajasekhara Reddy had established his own newspaper Sakshi to counter Eenadu, and had allegedly used the government machinery to push the paper and garner government advertisements. Though the paper was naturally biased in its political reporting, it did well for its good feature content.
So what is the need for Rao to start an English paper? There are no clear answers, but the averment is that Rao – and his son K. Taraka Rama Rao, commonly referred to as KTR – wants national acceptance and endorsement for his policies.
KTR – who is Telangana’s IT and municipal administration minister – is widely seen as Rao’s successor and represents the savvy face of the state government.
KTR often goes on tours aboard to scout for investments and attempts to do to Hyderabad what Naidu did in his first term as chief minister to Andhra Pradesh. Major investments like that of Microsoft had come in due to Naidu’s efforts, even as Hyderabad metamorphosed into a cyber city from a sleepy, dusty state capital.
KTR wants to turn Hyderabad into an IT, aviation and defence industry hub and probably feels that a newspaper under his control would be able to project the party’s programme in a more positive light.
This is especially so for the national audience. The perception is that news items in an English paper, even if locally circulated, finds a resonance to a national audience even in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
Now, after BJP president Amit Shah’s offensive comments against TRS and Rao, the need for an English paper is even more.
Amit Shah in Warangal on September 17 – to celebrate Hyderabad’s ‘liberation day,’ which marked the anniversary of the police action in 1948, which deposed the Nizam and incorporated Hyderabad state into the Indian union – was quite strident.
The BJP president called the Rao government as the “most corrupt government” in the country and alleged that Rs 90,000 crore – that the central government had given to the state – was being misused, and a part of it went to “buy MLAs from opposition parties.”
Shah also said that Rao was scared of Asaduddin Owaisi. A red faced Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leadership protested, but with an English newspaper under their belt, the riposte could have been sharper. What had upset the TRS bosses most was that barely ten days before that – at a meeting where the PM was present – Rao had profusely praised him and said that Modi led a non-corrupt government.
It is an open secret in Hyderabad that the Rao’s TRS wants to join the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with Rao’s daughter K. Kavitha as a minister. Kavitha is a first term Lok Sabha MP. The TRS also perceives that the BJP will return to power in 2019, but with lesser numbers.
In fact, the limited numbers will make it an NDA government of A. B. Vajpayee’s time forcing the BJP to have allies. Rao is quite happy being a partner in this arrangement and the party had been making overtures to the BJP national for this purpose.
The thinking is that with TRS as its partner, the BJP would limit its own ambitions in Telangana. Whether this perception is correct or not is a matter of conjecture, but an English paper can be a spin doctor and a vehicle for TRS’s ambitions nationally.
Kingshuk Nag was till September 30, 2016, the Resident Editor of The Times of India in Hyderabad. He is the author of several books, including one on the making of Telangana.