‘Shift’ in Telangana politics? Karnataka win, BRS defections give Congress momentum in poll-bound state


New Delhi: Following the induction of 35 Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) leaders into the Congress ahead of its 2 July rally in Khammam, Telangana, the latter is being as the principal opposition in the state ahead of polls scheduled to be held later this year.

After a meeting with Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Rahul Gandhi Monday, former BRS MP Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy and former BRS minister Jupally Krishna Rao joined the party with 33 others. Most BRS leaders who jumped ship are from Khammam, a politically-significant district which shares a border with Andhra Pradesh.

“The Telangana government has not fulfilled its promises to people. The revenue of Telangana is being looted by the party and the family. The people of Telangana are angry,” said Manikrao Thakre, All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge for Telangana, Tuesday at a press conference.

“When Sonia Gandhi heard the people and made Telangana a separate state, she had a mission for the state. A large majority of the SC, ST, OBCs were reeling under poverty and statehood was granted to help them. It has been 10 years and there has been no change”, he added.

Telangana was granted statehood in 2014, when the Congress-led UPA government was at the Centre. According to media reports, the Congress credits Sonia Gandhi, then party president and UPA chairperson, as having fulfilled the decades long demand of the Telangana people, who felt “alienated” by the Andhra government. One of the reasons stated by the government for bifurcation was better distribution of resources in the Telangana region.

Speaking to ThePrint, political analyst from Telangana K. Srinivasulu said that the exodus of 35 leaders from BRS indicates a “clear shift” in state politics.

“It has been 10 years of BRS in power and there’s an accumulated discontentment within the party. There’s a personalised structure (within the party). Forget the MLAs and MPs, even ministers don’t have access to the supremo anymore,” said Srinivasulu.

According to Srinivasulu, earlier there was a wave in favour of the BRS, but now it has shifted to the Congress. He attributes this to three factors.

“First, the Karnataka elections. The Congress’s win in the state has been a catalyst for this change. Secondly, a desire among the leaders of Reddy community in the BRS for a change in the political scenario. And now that there’s a winning energy in the Congress…these (BRS) leaders are moving to the Congress,” he said.

Third, said Srinivasulu, is down to “voter fatigue” towards BRS which leaders across castes are sensing.

“For example, Jupally Krishna Rao is from the Velama caste, which is the CM’s caste. It is influential but small in terms of numbers. Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy is from the Reddy caste which makes up 6 to 7 per cent of Telangana’s population. Earlier, a former minister from a backward caste had jumped ship to the BJP. So, leaders across caste are leaving because they sense voter fatigue.”

Also read: Why KCR is going all out to woo Telangana’s 3% Brahmin vote ahead of polls

Congress back in action

In the 2018 assembly elections in Telangana, called early by K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), the Congress won 19 seats with a vote share of 28.4 per cent, as compared to the BRS’ (then Telangana Rashtra Samithi) 88 in the 119-member Telangana assembly with a vote share of 46.9 per cent.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP tried to gain a foothold in Telangana. Of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in the state, BRS won nine, and the BJP won four — one more than the Congress’s three, despite the latter’s vote share percentage being more than the BJP’s.

However, the wind has shifted and Congress is back in the game and on a strong footing in the state.

Speaking to ThePrint, at least two BRS leaders, on the condition of anonymity, conceded that the Congress is a stronger competitor for them than the BJP. Officially, however, the party has said that both Reddy and Rao were “working against the BRS”.

“For eight months, these two people were window shopping for this party or that party — either the BJP or Congress. There were discussions and debates about whether they will join during Amit Shah’s public meeting or Priyanka Gandhi’s public meeting. So, now they have finally come to a conclusion,” said Krishank Manne, spokesperson of the BRS, to ThePrint.

“In 2018, our party president, CM KCR ji, in a public meeting very clearly addressed that we have lost a few seats because of in-fighting. That some of our leaders have worked against our party candidates. So, it’s not a loss for us to lose someone who was with us and was working against us,” he added.

Political analyst Mohan Guruswamy, however, believes that neither Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy or Jupally Krishna Rao are mass leaders, even within Khammam.

“Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy has, in the past five years, gone to all five parties. He was a Congress MP, then he went to the TDP (Telugu Desam Party), then to TRS. There’s a lot of opposition to him in the district because BRS cadre felt that he came in later and was trying to dominate the politics there,” said Guruswamy.

“A lot of attrition is taking place to the Congress at the ground level. But, so far, they are not in striking distance of coming to power. They are very active though and busy on the ground and have replaced the BJP as the main opposition to KCR,” added Guruswamy.

Importance of Khammam

The choice of Khammam for the 2 July rally is significant because of the district’s political relevance.

Since the beginning of the election season, all parties in Telangana have kick-started their poll campaigns from Khammam.

Located near the Andhra Pradesh border, the demography of Khammam is different from that of the rest of the state. It is a district where parties from both sides of the border feel that they hold sway. It is for this reason that when Y.S. Sharmila — sister of Andhra Pradesh CM Jagan Mohan Reddy and daughter of former CM Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) — launched her own party, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Telangana Party (YSRTP), in Telangana, she launched it from Khammam.

She even said that she wants to contest from the district’s Palair constituency.

Amid speculation that Sharmila may be merging her party with the Congress, the Khammam rally comes at a crucial time for the party.

During the time of YSR (the 1990s and the early 2000s), Khammam was a Congress stronghold. It shares many social and cultural similarities with Andhra Pradesh. The district has a significant Kama vote which is a majority community in Andhra. The former Congress CM, who died in a helicopter crash in 2009, worked for the development of the district. However, YSR was not a proponent of statehood for Telangana. And that is where the Congress’ dilemma lies.

While the party, sources say, are in talks with Sharmila, there is a section within the Telangana Congress that feels that associating with YSR’s daughter could put the party on a backfoot across the state.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior leader of the Telangana Congress told ThePrint that Sharmila does not have enough political capital in the state for the merger to significantly change the Congress’ fortunes.

“She will have relevance in Khammam because YSR may still have some goodwill there. But to have the sister of the Andhra Pradesh CM in the party may alienate the citizens of Telangana who have fought hard for statehood,” said the leader.

He added that Sharmila’s entry into the party may create another power centre in the already factionalised Telangana Congress with a camp led by state unit chief Revanth Reddy and another led by senior state leaders already at loggerheads.

“If YSR were to be alive, Telangana would not have been a reality. He was a strong leader with the ear of the Congress high command and he had the capacity to empty out BRS (then TRS). YSR was one of the few leaders who had a following in all three regions of undivided Andhra Pradesh. He had the image of being invested in the interest of Andhra Pradesh so the people may think that it continues in his progeny,” said Srinivasulu.

“If she joins Congress, she will bring the baggage associated with her family in the pre-divided state. For the merger to be successful, Sharmila will have to get rid of that impression,” he added.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: ‘Weed out’ corrupt politics from state, Modi tells people in Telangana, as CM KCR skips event


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