Chief Minister of Telangana, Revanth Reddy, is controversy’s favourite child. Reddy has been caught in multiple controversies even before he assumed power in the state. Once, he remarked that “our DNA is better than Bihar’s DNA,” courting criticism.
In 2015, his name came up in a corruption scandal where he was allegedly caught attempting to bribe a nominated MLA. While his political opponents may describe Reddy as a ‘Godse sitting in Gandhi Bhavan,’ it is hard to drape him in one colour.
His latest statement attacking Telangana’s state emblem has ignited a debate. Referring to the state's existing state emblem, Reddy remarked — “This is the state that fought against the Nizam’s rule. Sammakka and Saralamma opposed paying money to Kakatiya rulers. Unfortunately, the state’s emblem has Charminar and the Kakatiya symbols. It represents the aristocracy and dictatorship of rulers in the past. Hence it has been decided to change Telangana’s official symbol.”
In a single statement, Reddy has managed to upset all his political opponents in the state — Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Telangana’s official emblem is a circular seal consisting of Kakatiya Kala Thoranam and Charminar with the Sarnath Lion Capital of Ashoka placed above. The emblem was designed by Laxman Aelay, a painter known for his work inspired by people’s poverty.
Former Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) adopted it, after passing the file immediately after being sworn in as the state’s chief minister. Initially, Charminar was not a part of the emblem but was placed upon Asaduddin Owaisi’s insistence.
The Kakatiya dynasty ruled most of the eastern Deccan region, including parts of present-day Telangana, Karnataka, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states between the 12th and 14th centuries. Warangal, earlier known as Orugallu, was their capital. The Kala Thoranam, or arch, is a stone sculpture reflective of the four gates of the Warangal fort.
This was an important part of the Swayambhusiva temple built by Ganapati Deva in the 12th century. The temple was destroyed during the 1323 Muslim invasion of the region. Similar structures such as the Rudra Mahalaya temple in Gujarat’s Patan were desecrated or destroyed during the invasions.
Opposition leaders, including from the BRS, have criticised Reddy’s decision to remove the Kakatiya Arch and Charminar. They have stated that the Kakatiya rulers worked for the poor, and were not royal dynasty.
According to BRS leader B Vinod Kumar, they belonged to the Backward Classes community. During the BRS rule under KCR, the government named the tank restoration programme in the state — ‘Mission Kakatiya’ — as a tribute to the rulers.
But what is interesting about this whole saga is Reddy’s mention of Sammakka and Saralamma.
During the recent assembly polls in the state, the Congress made a comeback with a surprising victory. Most opinion polls predicted a comfortable win for the BRS, but overlooked the possible anti-incumbency built over the last decade.
Meanwhile, the Congress managed to put up a splendid performance in the scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) reserved constituencies and won 23 out of 31 seats. Among these, 14 out of the 19 SC candidates fielded by the Congress managed to secure a win. This was also the case with the ST candidates. Nine out of 12 managed to win in their respective constituencies.
Of the 119 assembly seats, the Congress won 64. In the 2018 elections, the Congress won just two SC and four ST seats, while the BRS (TRS then) managed to win the rest.
Anti-incumbency, combined with a failure to implement schemes effectively, like the ‘Dalit Bandhu’. Anger among constituents rose when they recognised the beneficiaries of these schemes to be supporters of the then-BRS MLAs.
Speaking to Swarajya, veteran journalist Raka Sudhakar Rao said that the decision has to do more with undoing KCR's legacy than to do with anything else.
"KCR took decisions without consulting people. Jaya Jaya He Telangana was sung all the time during the pro-Telangana movement, but after KCR became the CM, he ignored it. Revanth Reddy confirmed it once he became CM. There's a lot of anger against KCR even now. Reddy wants to tap it further, and in the process, make his decisions look pro-poor," Rao tells Swarajya.
Rao also feels that the Charminar in the emblem may be retained, since the Congress seeks to court Owaisi ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Muslim voters coming to Congress once again will help them in building up their numbers.
As a result, Reddy is doing everything to tap into the anger against KCR, and use it to legitimise his decisions. That way, he will also be able to set his legacy aside and build his own.
"He wants to change the image of Telangana Talli and deprive her of the kiritam (crown). That way, Reddy believes, she will represent the common people of Telangana and not the doras (zamindars or landlords) that KCR represents. People are in no mood to forgive KCR as of now, so whatever decision Reddy takes will be tolerated by the public," Rao adds.
As far as the caste arithmetic is concerned, Rao feels that the decision may not necessarily have to do with Reddy's caste calculations since the number of tribal seats in the state are far too limited, in comparison to neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. While a few representatives have certainly made it to the Telangana assembly, it may not be the ultimate motivating factor for Reddy.
Legacy is what Revanth Reddy is after. Caste comes a close second.
Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.
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