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Welfare card and social media tactics helped Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao emerge as a hero

KCR's weapons included well-targeted schemes, great use of social media and delivering on his promises.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 16, 2018, 10.31 AM IST
Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao
By Indulekha Aravind & Ram Mohan

In the end, Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao’s welfare juggernaut rolled over allegations of corruption, talks of anti-incumbency and the ‘mahakutami’ or grand alliance of the Congress, Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Jana Samithi and CPI in Telangana. Analysts, voters and members of the victorious Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) cite KCR’s welfare schemes, his constant communication with voters and a relentless social media campaign as the main reasons the party scooped up 88 of the 119 seats, a big leap from the 63 seats won in 2014.

In fact, even the TRS members had not quite foreseen the December 11 landslide, insiders say. The Congress was reduced to 19 seats, TDP to 2 and BJP to one. KCR followed the model of “saturation welfare coverage” that chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) had popularised in undivided Andhra Pradesh, says Jayaprakash Narayan, the founder of Lok Satta Party and a former IAS officer. “YSR had said that targeting beneficiaries was difficult due to corruption in bureaucracy.” He said YSR’s solution was to launch schemes for nearly all sections of society, thereby ensuring saturation coverage and KCR followed the same model, making it a mission.

“KCR also benefited from his stature as the creator of Telangana, maintaining law and order after the bifurcation of Andhra and improving power distribution and management.” TR Ganesh, who retired from NTPC as deputy general manager and has been living in Hyderabad for 15 years, agrees. The TRS government did not make any false promise.

“There are no corruption charges against the ministers. There is 24-hour electricity for farmers. The water problem in Hyderabad has come down a great deal. The government did not make any false promise.”

The TRS has perfected the model of authoritarianism with welfarism that J Jayalalithaa and NT Rama Rao had started, says academic and political analyst G Haragopal. “When welfare helps people, other factors become marginal.”

In politics, cultivating the perception that you are working hard is as important as the hard work. Helping the TRS disseminate its welfare bonanza messages was a strong social media team, directly under the supervision of KCR’s son KT Rama Rao, referred to as KTR.

The party had been using social media aggressively since the days of statehood agitation when the mainstream media in Andhra Pradesh was against the bifurcation, says Dileep Konatham, Telangana government's digital media director.

Once the state was formed, a TRS social media wing was set up. KTR has led it since then. He is active on social media, has 1.4 million Twitter followers and responds to requests directly.

The party had also appointed 200 "opinion leaders" to spread "positive" messages and counter Opposition attacks, says Konatham. "These leaders come from different walks of life -- as diverse as someone in an MNC in the US to a bike mechanic in Kukatpally."

The TRS leadership, including KTR and his sister K Kavitha, a member of parliament, met these "opinion leaders" seven to eight times a year. For reaching out to voters for the assembly elections, TRS used ShareChat, Instagram and YouTube apart from the usual Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. "As ShareChat's reach increases, we'll start allocating more resources to it," he says.

A war room with 150 employees was set up, overseen by KTR, apart from separate teams of five to ten for KTR, Kavitha, KCR and his nephew and state minister Harish Rao.

Party sources say specific roles were played out by key leaders on social media. For instance, KTR attacked rivals while Rao highlighted the party's strength and KCR spoke on welfare schemes, said people active in backroom strategising.

"The comments sections on opposition parties' social media pages were regularly attacked by our supporters ensuring the Opposition had to focus more on addressing this onslaught than their own pages," says a source, requesting not to be named.

Soon after coming to power, the TRS was accused of harvesting data for its own purposes, when the government launched a survey of 83 lakh households, which asked for details on 94 parameters including education, employment, income bank accounts and mobile numbers.

The Hyderabad High Court, however, quashed petitions questioning the intent and execution of the survey and gave the government the go-ahead.

Dileep Konatham, too, denies that any information from the survey was used by TRS, though observers say this is what helped the party deliver targeted messages. With KCR now turning his attention to New Delhi and cobbling together a "Third Front", the TRS¡ social media activity may soon be asked to create more buzz.
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