THE COMPLETE MAN
To call him the man of the moment would be understating his longevity in public life. He is, in fact, the new man of the new millennium. For all those who had apprehensions about the newly elected Government of the youngest State of India, here’s the good news. Not only is he an antithesis of the archetypal politician but also somebody who has the conviction and the means to make Telangana one of the finest global hubs. And if you go by the achievements of the ruling party Telangana Rashtra Samithi in the last one year, it’s quite obvious that his portfolio has contributed immensely to the party’s and the State’s growth.
One of the youngest and most progressive in thought, dashing, dapper and dynamic, Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao aka KTR, Minister for IT and Panchayat Raj, is probably the only minister in the State to be armed with impeccable educational qualifications – two post graduate degrees, one an M.Sc in Biotechnology from Pune University and an MBA in Marketing and e-commerce from the University of New York. His work record is no less impressive – Regional Sales Director, INTTRA, before he decided to plunge into politics full time. In between countless phone calls and an army of people waiting to see him in the buzzing corridors of the Secreteriat, KTR accords RITZ the privilege of chatting with him in the inner chambers of his spartan office.
What makes him every journalist’s dream is his candour, his immaculate speech that is devoid of any artifice, any pretence. Probably, a lot has to do with the values instilled by his mother, childhood that wasn’t exactly idyllic and an early responsibility in public life. As a young legislator at the age of 27 and a cabinet minister at 35, he has displayed an amazing maturity, much to the chagrin of his detractors. A will to serve combined with a sense of social equality seems to be his guiding principle. While his effortless articulation about his plans for Telangana impresses you, his earnest confessions about his personal life tugs at your heart.
Presenting KTR, the son, the brother, the husband, the father and the politician, in his own words…
‘When I was in the boarding school in Hyderabad, my parents had missed the deadline of paying the fee due to an oversight. I had to stay back in the hostel for a couple of days after everybody had left’
“I was born in Karimnagar and came to Hyderabad when I was in the 3rd grade. I shifted from school to school. In 10 years, I had changed 7 different schools! The problem was change of place every so often. I was in a boarding school from 3rd to 7th grade. I had some health issue there. So I had to come back home. I moved to a day school in the 8th grade and continued till 10th grade. I was happy to be back home.
Nevertheless, boarding school did influence me a great deal in terms of early exposure to the realities of life. My dad was very busy even then. He was a newly elected legislator in 1985. He was already active in politics much before I was born. My mother was extremely busy, too, with family responsibilities. My father had nine sisters and one brother. His parents used to live in the village. She had to take care of everything single-handedly. While I do understand now that I had to be put in the boarding school given my parents’ hectic schedules, it was very confusing for me back then. I missed home terribly. I wanted to be with my parents, my mom more so. It used to trouble me a lot. But now it makes a lot of sense when I think back. My parents wanted their child to get the best education. So they put me there. At one point of time I remember, it was an oversight more than anything else, when I was in the boarding school in Hyderabad, they had missed the deadline of paying the fee. I had to stay back in the hostel for a couple of days after everybody had left. Now I find it funny though it didn’t amuse me as a 10-year old. Luckily, my grandfather came to fetch me. It’s one of those memories that stands out.
Life teaches you that you don’t get everything you want. And that’s not a bad thing. Your parents want to be with you, you want to be with them, but priorities determine circumstances. At that time their priority was to ensure that I get good education. You can call it existential realities of life. Having said that, it does teach you decisiveness, independence, discipline, the ability to face challenges and a sense of individuality. You won’t end up being petty; you learn to look at the larger picture; you also understand that life is full of complexities. So it’s good. It keeps you grounded.”
“I was closer to my mom. Dad was away for a long time. I never used to understand it back then but now that I’m a dad, I understand how fathers think, what fathers want for their children. He wanted a good life for us. He wanted us to get good education. He wanted us to get the best of everything. Therefore, he was working hard for us. So irrespective of where he was I’m sure he was thinking about us, looking out for us. Mom being mom had to take care of the family.
My mom is a phenomenal woman. She is very grounded and extremely simple. You’ll still see her in the kitchen, cooking, doing simple chores, which is not expected from a Chief Minister’s wife. She is untouched and unfazed by our political life. She has always told us that “Power is transient; it might disappear tomorrow, so you better be who you are; don’t get carried away by it.” That’s the most valuable lesson, I keep revisiting every now and then.
In terms of politics, my father has influenced me significantly. But I have my own set of opinions and priorities. His tenacity inspires me a lot. That will, that courage in the line of fire, that conviction, that resoluteness are what I admire tremendously. It’s amazing how he has managed to accomplish what was considered as Mission Impossible by many, with his sheer grit. It was a fight against all odds.”
“My sister is 3 years younger. She has always been strong and far more aggressive and far more dynamic. She’s definitely been more adventurous and risk taking than I am. While I keep saying `You need to sober down,’ she’s definitely somebody I keep learning from. I am a very protective brother. I don’t want her to take to take undue risks; I don’t want her to hurt herself. But she’s her own person; while she respects my opinion, she does her own thing.”
“When I was in high school, I made some really good friends. They are still my friends and I try to meet them as often as I can. They are all non politicians. So that takes my mind away from the routine and pressures of my job. So it’s great to have friends who keep you grounded and tell you what you are doing right and what you’re not. They don’t mince words. Friendship is precious. We need to give enough time and space to our friends. I believe in a balanced life. I don’t believe that life is just work, work, work… I do get complaints that it’s not enough.”
The Family Man
“Ours was an arranged marriage. Not a very exciting story there. My wife Shailima is somebody I respect tremendously because she comes from a non-political family. Her father was a bureaucrat and she comes from a different world altogether. I grew up in a political family so I knew what I had to put up with but she had no idea. It was quite tough for her to adjust with the atmosphere. That in itself is a huge accomplishment. That’s why my respect for her goes up every day.
I have two young demanding children – a son Himanshu and a daughter Alekhya. To bring them up and maintain that family balance is a challenge my wife handles so competently.
I don’t think I am a hands-on father. Not as much as I wish to be. I try to attend the parent-teacher meetings. I try to go to their school functions. I do my bit but not as much I should, probably. I think I should do more. But I try, I try my best.
“In India, being somebody’s son or daughter helps you get an easy entry
but people in democracy will be quite critical if you don’t deliver”
I wish to give them a lot of lessons but they are they have distinct personalities already. In fact, I believe we’re a sandwich generation. We’ve to respect our elders and at the same time respect our children too. Children these days are very demanding. It’s an interesting time we live in now. So all I can advise my children would be to get good education and be better human beings than my wife and me. As parents, that’s the best we can do.
“I do miss the days before I got into politics. Recently, when I went to the US, I didn’t feel like coming back. I try to take vacations but not as much as I would want to. My recent holiday was in the US where I had gone for work. Three weeks I was working and the last five days I took off from work. I went back after 10 years so I think I was entitled to it. I keep telling my wife that compared to other politicians, I am doing alright. But she says compared to her friends and brothers, I’m not doing enough. It’s one of those ongoing arguments but I think ultimately one has to strike their own balance.
My favourite destination is Goa. It’s easily accessible, you can get away quickly, has some nice resorts and hotels and you don’t have to travel 16–17 hours to get there. My wife and children love it as well. Outside India, it’s Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong because they are closer. Don’t laugh at me.”
We weren’t; please note it was only a fond smile on our face noting his predicament!
“A politician’s job is a thankless one. I think people in our country have a very strong opinion about politics and politicians. And it’s not very good actually. As in, the perception among people about politics and politicians is not so great and I don’t blame them for it. But nevertheless, I think it’s a challenge. So, being a thankless job, it tends to sap you out. My day starts quite early and ends very late. I wake up at 5 am and try to get a bit of exercise. I exercise five times a week on weekdays. I start meeting people by 7.30 – 8.00 am and go on till late into the night especially when I’m touring the districts. For the last few months, I’ve been watching what I eat. High protein, lots of fibre, low carbs etc. Ever since I started working out, my trainer is trying to keep me in check. I wasn’t so conscious earlier. My favourite food is Chinese. In Telangana cuisine, I like the nibbles, the deep fried kinda stuff they make at home. I know it’s not healthy, so I try to limit it. I’m not very fussy about food. I eat all kinds of food.”
“In 2004 September, I came back to India to head the South Asia division of the company INTTRA I was working for in the US as the Regional Director. In 2006, there was a by election because of my dad’s resignation. At that point of time, it was a make or break for my father and the party. I kept telling my wife that I wanted to get into politics. Without even telling my dad, I quit my job and started working for the party. Without his knowledge I took the decision. I told him after we won. He was not very happy but once he realised I was very serious, he was supportive.
I wouldn’t probably have been in politics if I were not KCR’s son. I wouldn’t have been a minister. I am very realistic about these things. In India, being somebody’s son or daughter helps you get an easy entry but people in democracy will be quite critical if you don’t deliver. They won’t vote for you the second time. The first time they may look at you as somebody’s son and vote based on their opinion of your father or your mother. But I’ve won thrice now. So the fact that they have elected me two more times goes to show that I’ve delivered, that I have worked. Being somebody’s son does give you easy access but at the same time, there is a burden of expectations to deal with.”
“I can say that I have represented my party and our issues at various national fora. over the last six years, I have done my bit of serving my constituency. More than anything, I have played my own little role in the agitation for a separate Telangana. Looking back at the last 9 years, I feel happy that I was a part of the objective my father and several other leaders set out to achieve. Now our tasks are set out and I hope to play a significant role.
In the last one year, the biggest challenge was to revive the confidence in people. Lot of people thought that after the formation of Telangana, the IT industry would move away from Hyderabad, that new developments may not happen etc etc. Lot of apprehensions, lot of prejudices… We overcame all that in the last one year. Hyderabad remains one of the most attractive destinations, we have positioned it well. We have been able to attract majors like Google and Amazon to open their largest campuses outside of US. We have grown at a very healthy rate. While the country’s IT exports grew at 13%, ours grew at 16 %, 3% more than the national average. We were able to create more than 50,000 new jobs and 2, 50,000 direct jobs. We have attracted a lot of IT hardware manufacturers to Telangana. We have made our presence felt in the US, Hong Kong and Dubai. We have positioned the brand image of Telangana and Hyderabad very well overseas. We have been able to retain the existing investors in Hyderabad and also attract new ones.”
‘There is no better country to be in than India for young people today. There is no better place to explore one’s future, one’s career. Politics decides your future, so you decide what your future politics is’
IT and Panchayat Raj are two ends of the spectrum. The convergence we’re trying to bring about is very unique and challenging. We’re trying to leverage IT and communications to bring about a social change because technology that does not bring about social change is useless. So we’re trying to incorporate IT into the rural sector also. We’re coming up with a concept called e -Panchayat through which services will be offered right at the doorsteps of the villagers. It will be launched soon. We are also trying to lay the last mile connectivity to each and every household in Telangana. If you talk about e-health, e-education, e-commerce, the potential is huge. So there are several things we’re working on right now and you’ll see a lot of things falling into place in the next couple of years.”
“There is no better country to be in than India for young people today. There is no better place to explore one’s future, one’s career. At the same time they can help our country grow. In a country like India, there is a huge scope to make a difference not only in terms of social infrastructure but otherwise as well. Our country is full of challenges and needs solutions to them. Today’s youth have so many opportunities and so much information at their disposal. I think they should make use of it.
One thing I strongly believe in is ‘Politics decides your future, so you decide what your future politics is’. Because in a democracy, everything you do in your daily life is determined by politics. So you better start taking a stand. I’m not saying everybody should get into active politics but you should be aware of what’s going on because the kind of leaders you want, you should definitely have an opinion on. If you don’t like the kind of leadership you have, you should take it up on yourself to change it.”