KT Rama Rao, or KTR as he is known, is a politician by choice. KTR, joined his father and Founder of TRS, which spearheaded movement for a separate State for 14 years, after quitting a senior position in an e-commerce company.
KTR, in conversation with businessline after unveiling the redesigned -- The Hindu and businessline -- spoke on the raging debate on federalism, freebies and how the Union government is trying to ‘strangulate’ the State by denying funds. Excerpts.
The debate on Centre-State relationships and Federalism is raging. What’s your opinion on this?
BR Ambedkar has chosen to call India as a Union of States not as a unitary State. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn’t like Parliamentary democracy. He wants direct elections. He will dismantle all States and say he will make it one. Every one (Prime Ministers) else formed States. From 14 States in 1952, the number of States went up to 29 and the present Prime Ministers comes and scratches one to make it 28. As enshrined in the Constitution, India can only survive with all its heterogeneity and diversity only if all respect one another. Why Federalism is important because different States have different strengths. Please encourage performing States. Please encourage States to decide their own future course.
The Government of India should help us play to our strengths. Synergise and synthesise to contribute to the country’s growth. If someone from Delhi tells us, “We are giving and you are taking” -- that’s an issue. Hegemony is an issue. Any State with self-respect can’t put up with this (attitude).
A debate has also started on freebies which political parties use to attract voters. What’s your take on the issue?
We have become the povery capital of the country. The Prime Minister talks against freebies. But, you are the head of a third world country with a high percentage of poor people. Isn’t it the duty of the Government to take care of the vulnerable sections? How do you ensure that basics are met?
For example, when I give out pensions, get poor girls married or incentivise deliveries in government hospitals, what we are doing is containing the restlessness. If you are sleeping peacefully today, it is because schemes like these are addressing the challenge of restlessness.
What is a freebie? If I give something to industry it is an incentive. Why the nomenclature? If ₹12-lakh crore is waived is okay, why do you call ₹2-lakh crore in development schemes freebies?
Telangana is alleging that the State is being denied funds and that the rigid limits on FRBM is hurting it. How do you think the State can cope with its needs for funds?
Every State has three resources – State’s Own Tax Revenues, devolution of funds and non-tax revenues. Our SOTR receipts are sufficient for establishment charges and welfare schemes. What we need funds for is for taking up larger programmes. Remember, despite three huge setbacks – demonetisation, pandemic and inimical Union Government, we grew at a CAGR of 15 per cent. Our per capita income went by 130 pc from ₹1.24 lakh to ₹2.78 lakh. The GSDP went up from ₹5-lakh crore to ₹11.55-lakh crore. We will continue to grow.
As long as you continue to invest in capex, maintain law and order and attract investments, you will grow. The way the GoI is acting, it is almost like imposing economic sanctions. I wouldn’t call anything else.
NTR called the Centre a myth. The taxes that the State contribute come to the Centre. It is an amalgamation of States.
What they should realise is that by shooting Telangana, they are hurting the country’s interests. The issue of paddy is a case in point. They refused to buy our parboiled rice saying they have buffers for four years. In six months, they changed stance and banned export of broken rice. It’s a myopic view. By choking Telangana Government, which contributes 5 pc to GDP, you are hurting the nation’s growth. You are messing up with your own numbers.
If the country has grown the way Telangana grew, we would have become a $4.6 trillion economy by now. By putting sanctions they are hurting.
Why do you think they are doing that?
They are strangulating us and instigating the local BJP leaders to say that we are not doing enough. They try to conquer you by killing you. That’s their modus operandi. The funny party is they talk about debt. The collective debt (before Modi) was ₹56-lakh crore. In the last years, it went up to 156 lakh crore. He added ₹100-lakh crore. Each one of the 140 crore people has a debt of ₹1.25 lakh. The Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharamain alleges that Telangana’s budget is mismanaged. But our debt to GSDP ratio is 25 per cent as against the Centre’s 59 per cent. We have not crossed the FRBM limits.
The Constitution never said one Government is subordinate to another. In a developing country, deploying debt into productive sector helps. Investing in a productive sector pays.