|"This is the last time, you may be interviewing me," K Chandrasekhar Rao said with a dramatic flourish to journalists in Hyderabad last Thursday, just before he got into his Innova to go to Karimnagar.
KCR was to start his fast-unto-death in Siddipet from Sunday. The police would have none of that so they arrested him, bundled him inside Khammam sub-jail, where 250 prisoners shared space meant for 150. Having boasted he will be a Mahatma Gandhi, KCR decided to fast behind bars but by Monday evening, he realised following in the Mahatma's footsteps is not really a cakewalk.
Setting Telangana on fire, in comparison, was a cakewalk. Between that Sunday and Monday, RTC buses, private vehicles, petrol bunks, shops were vandalised. I watched with horror as students at Osmania University in Hyderabad turned virtually into monsters, smashing the windscreens of every vehicle in sight. If they are the torchbearers of a Telangana state of tomorrow, I think Telangana would be ashamed of them. A state and a country needs citizens, not hooligans.
My colleague Uma said it was our failure that we as a society, have failed to teach them, show them a better way to protest. So much so that they think unless there is a law and order problem, no one will take notice. And political parties won't react unless there is an electoral crisis, meaning they are at risk of losing an election.
Verbal hooliganism is what KCR himself indulged in, in the period leading up to 29th November. Sample this tirade against the media, asking them to support his "just cause" if they wanted to function in Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana.
"I warn those media houses that are lampooning me and the movement. Be careful. The attack by the Shiv Sena would be nothing in comparison to the treatment we will mete out to them."
KCR apparently forgot that decorum demands you do not talk ill of those who have passed away. Yet he did not spare YSR. "YSR died in Nallamalla forest (earlier a naxal base) because he ordered the killing of so many naxals." Sharp invectives were reserved for his bete noire, Chandrababu Naidu as well.
A couple of weeks back, he growled, "Jago Telangana wale, Bhago Andhra wale" (Wake up people of Telangana, run away people of Andhra), demanding that people from coastal Andhra region had no business to stay on in the ten districts of Telangana. When his tirade drew criticism, he clarified he was targetting only those industrialists and film personalities who had amassed land in the region. Forgetting that the law of the land gives each one of us citizens the right to live and work in any part of India. Who is KCR to issue or deny visa into Telangana?
No one denies that there is a pro-Telangana state sentiment among the people of the region. Everytime I have travelled into rural Telangana, I have heard people articulate it passionately. There are issues of culture and identity. There is a strong feeling of being wronged, of being denied jobs, not getting a fair share of the development pie. The region has remained backward for years, while the neighbouring coastal Andhra region is perceived to have witnessed prosperity.
But is KCR the vehicle to achieve Telangana, people aren't so sure. As someone remarked in jest during the election campaign, "Even KCR does not believe he is the right vehicle. His party's symbol is the ambassador car but he doesn't travel in one himself."
To his credit, he is the only leader in the region who has managed to bring back the Telangana issue centrestage. Even now, though electorally discredited to a large extent, it is his initiative to go on a hunger-strike that has brought so many pro-Telangana voices on to television channels.
But has his leadership inspired a struggle that can democratically crystallise into something meaningful for the people of Telangana. Or has it simply provoked and stoked fires and passions, without giving them a legally acceptable direction of purpose?
Intelligence agencies piece together the series of developments leading up to 29th November. They say TRS leaders tried hard to mobilise support among students, particularly in Osmania University and Kakatiya University in Warangal, knowing fully well that the passionate among the students group could be provoked adequately.
More worrying are reports now that a significant number of Maoist sympathisers have infiltrated into some of the front organisations of the Telangana movement, that may or may not be directly connected to the TRS. Intelligence agencies suspect it is these elements that fomented trouble and much of the violence. If that is indeed true, KCR may have knowingly or unknowingly, paved the way for the return of the Maoists into urban pockets in Andhra Pradesh. And that means turning the clock back by a decade on Maoist violence.
A senior TRS leader told me on Saturday, "KCR hopes to gain politically through this fast because there is some amount of confusion within the Congress post-YSR. Also having won just 10 assembly and 2 Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 election, no one takes us seriously these days." Realising he had let out too much, he quickly added it was his personal opinion, not the party's.
Even in its best electoral year of 2004, in an alliance with the Congress, TRS won just 26 seats in the assembly. In many constituencies, TRS candidates lost to Congress rebels. KCR's endeavour has always been to emerge as the tallest spokesperson of the people of the region. But with every by-election that he forced on the people, with every fast that he withdrew within 48 hours, with every abuse he hurled on his political opponents, his stature only diminished.
When NDTV predicted in its exit poll in May this year that the TRS would win only two Lok Sabha seats, KCR's Man Friday called me to warn : "You guys have predicted two seats. I think we will win six. So be prepared for the consequences." I haven't seen him since the day of the results.
The next time, KCR gives a speech and I admit he is a wonderful orator, let him not say 'I will sacrifice my life for Telangana'. Because instead of claps, he may only hear rude sniggers.
In Pics: The violent TRS show: Fast to finish