'Changing governance, not govt our goal,' says TJS chief M Kodandaram as party emerges as Congress' key to counter KCR

'Changing governance, not govt our goal,' says TJS chief M Kodandaram as party emerges as Congress' key to counter KCR

'Changing governance, not govt our goal,' says TJS chief M Kodandaram as party emerges as Congress' key to counter KCR

On civil society, alliances and 'need to change governance' - In conversation with M Kodandaram

Ayswarya Murthy

The Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee has released its list of candidates for the upcoming State Legislative Assembly elections, several days later than expected due to prolonged discussions on seat-sharing among the coalition partners of the ‘Prajakootami’ or People’s Coalition. The delay, more often attributed to M Kodandaram, President of the newly-minted political outfit and alliance partner Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS), is perhaps indicative of the role his party could play in potentially upsetting KCR’s return to power. The State Congress unit certainly thinks so. They have so far offered Kodandaram the Deputy Chief Minister’s post or a Rajya Sabha seat if he is flexible on how many seats TJS gets.

A former professor at Osmania University, Kodandaram chaired the Telangana Joint Action Committee (T-JAC) that spearheaded the movement for statehood, particularly mobilising students and the civil society. Fresh from this victory, Telangana is especially familiar and amenable to the kind of on-ground activism Kodandaram and the T-JAC are adept at. As the political front of T-JAC, what he offers the congress-led coalition is a grassroots mobilisation by the civil society, in exchange for the price of a cultural shift in politics and governance. “Over the last four years, it’s the civil society that raised opposition to KCR, not so much the other political parties. It is in this context that I am proposing this alternative.”

An alternative to KCR’s strategy of distributing money and buying caste associations, he says - “This cannot be replicated [by us] and in fact, it won’t yield results. It is a kind of trap. Rather our counter to KCR must be projected and we must mobilise the people, civil society organisations, youth and caste-based organisations on the basis of the common minimum agenda as decided by the alliance partners.”

Kodandaram says now discussions on working out an election strategy are on-going. “To me it appears that parties are not able to visualise more concretely this alternative to the traditional campaign model that we propose. In order to be successful, we have to go from house to house. Talk to each person. During the course of the Telangana agitation, we followed this and were quite successful. The general public’s involvement in politics has increased because of this campaign method.” Considering that many TJS leaders are also activists who have been associated with various social movements over the past three decades, Kodandaram says they have the acceptance and legitimacy that can help bring home victory for the alliance.

TJS, which was launched in April this year, was all set to go to polls independently. They wanted to be able to act and think without relying on borrowed support, he says, but the early dissolution of the assembly disturbed their calendar of activities. While the alliance might not have been their first choice, Kodandaram has come to realise that with the decision to form the alliance, the mood has completely changed all over the state. “We have seen and it has been proved by various survey reports that the opinion is shifting in favour of the Kootami, against KCR. That is a positive development.”

Despite this urgency, TJS had remained firm on its demand for at least 12 seats out of 119, based on TJS’ strength and capacity. “We have explained, with data, how we can deliver victory in some of the seats that the Congress has never won in the last 35 years, because we are organisationally strong in these constituencies. Over the past few months, the constituency incharge in as many as 25 seats has been building the network down to the villages, and with alliance support, we can ensure victory here.” With the TJS eventually been given 8 seats, Kodandaram has said he has accepted it on the condition that all these seats are in the constituencies of their choice, and are not those that the Congress wants to hand out.

It’s not about changing the government, but changing governance

TJS was always going to challenge KCR, a former partner in the fight for Telangana, on the electoral field; but ironically, the Kootami has put TJS on the same side of the table as TDP, which vehemently opposed the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. Unlikely bedfellows they may be, but Kodandaram says they have decided to unite to realise an important objectives - “Democracy must be restored and the autocratic rule of KCR should come to an end.”

Things changed after Telangana was formed, he says - “We, as a civil society, decided to act as a watchdog and TRS, as a political party, decided to work on their own. Though we were not interested in giving unsolicited suggestions, we expected some kind of access to the decision-making structure. In a democracy, the involvement of people in decision making is essential, but they were not interested.” He also says KCR's autocratic hold over his partymen and hence the government; so even ministers were nothing more than rubber stamps and key decisions were not taken in time.

The JAC, he says, was very critical of the government’s large-scale land acquisitions, and lack of a strong employment policy and measures to handle drought. They were opposed to large-scale, ‘unnecessary’ land acquisitions carried out by the government, and asked for strict implementation of the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. They also insisted that a UPSC-like vacancy system should be adopted by the government for employment, and critiqued the current drought-relief, skill development and education reforms.

And so, five years after Kodandaram insisted that he had no political ambitions, he found himself entering the arena. The goal is not to change the government, but governance itself. For TJS, this means making governments more accountable to the people and ensuring participation, he says. “In the agenda, we have suggested a series of measures including strengthening SC/ST commissions, human rights commissions, Lokayuktha and anti-corruption bureaus. We must allow for people to claim government welfare schemes as a matter of right; not treated as charity. So, we have suggested a civic amenities act with a redressal mechanism built into it.” And Kodandaram is well aware of how most of the manifestoes are ignored after elections. Which is why, even before seat sharing negotiations, a pre-condition to the alliance was that TJS would have should have ample control over its implementation.

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