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Can Sharmila Help Congress Win AP?

February 03, 2024 12:09 IST

If she cannot recast the party, bring together the factions opposed to her, and present herself as her brother's true challenger, there will be little left for her in politics, notes Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: YSR Telangana Party chief Y S Sharmila joins the Congress and merges her party in the presence of Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Rahul Gandhi, in New Delhi, January 4, 2024. Photograph: Rahul Singh/ANI Photo

At a time when leaders (such as they are) like Milind Deora are walking out of the Congress, it should be a matter of celebration that people actually want to join it.

And so it was that Y S Sharmila merged her party with the Congress -- finally.

It was a marriage set to take place in July last year after Ms Sharmila met Karnataka Congressman and Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar and sealed the negotiation.

But there was too much pushback from the Telangana Congress.

Then state unit chief Revanth Reddy was not ready to yield.

He has become Telangana chief minister since then, and he's had his way.

While Ms Sharmila has merged her party all right, the Congress has appointed her chief of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Congress, pitting her directly against her brother.


IMAGE: Andhra Pradesh Congress President Y S Sharmila with Sharad Pawar at his residence in New Delhi, February 2, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

First, a word about Ms Sharmila. When Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, died, Jagan Mohan Reddy was keen to take over his father's mantle.

The Congress did not allow that, so he launched his own party, the YSR Congress.

Later, he was charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation in several disproportionate assets cases and sent to prison.

While he was in jail, it was his sister Sharmila and mother Vijayalaxmi who held the fort.

Together, they campaigned tirelessly for his release and to build up the party in the 16 months he was behind bars.

They launched a slogan Rajanna Rajyam, promising a welfare state that his father had envisioned.

Ms Sharmila started a marathon 3,000 km foot march. Jagan came out on bail and contested the 2014 assembly elections.

Though he was unable to form a government, his party won 67 seats. Many saw this as a result of his sister and mother's efforts.

Ms Sharmila fought no election, but worked with her brother to see him in power finally in 2019 when he became chief minister.

She may have felt she deserved a bigger public role, which had been organisational and behind the scenes.

In 2021, she launched her own party -- in Telangana, signalling she would not challenge her brother on his turf.

Her mother was by her side. The Telangana venture was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Now, she's wound up the Telangana arm of the business and will take up cudgels against a member of her family.

With barely six months left for assembly elections, the Congress can sense that it could revive itself in Andhra where it has an embarrassingly low footprint.

In the last assembly election, its vote share was lower than the votes cast for NOTA.

Suddenly, the battle in Andhra Pradesh has become triangular -- between Jagan, Chandrababu Naidu and a Sharmila-led Congress.

There's also the Bharatiya Janata Party.

IMAGE: Sharmila with Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Sitaram Yechury in New Delhi, February 2, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

As is always the case, not everyone in the Congress is happy at the way she has been parachuted into the party.

But this much is clear -- this is Ms Sharmila's last political battle. If she cannot recast the party, bring together the factions opposed to her, and present herself as her brother's true challenger, there will be little left for her in politics.

What does the political canvas in Andhra Pradesh look like now?

Jagan Mohan Reddy has taken welfare spending to another level, but someone has to pay for all the spending.

According to the Comptroller and Auditor General, during 2020-w021, the state borrowed Rs 9,226 crore (Rs 92.26 billion) on average per month, mainly to pay salaries, pensions, and foot the welfare bill.

The trend continued during 2021-2022. The dire financial situation of the state was flagged by the Reserve Bank of India, which, in its report on state finances released recently, said that the state's liabilities were Rs 4.28 trillion as of March 2023.

Chandrababu Naidu is eying a revival. But the leadership of the Telugu Desam Party is in the hands of Nara Lokesh, his son.

Will he be able to get the same level of popular endorsement as his father? Many have doubts.

The TDP has joined forces with Pawan Kalyan, of the Jana Sena, who is an ally of the BJP.

This could serve as the BJP's backdoor entry route in a state where it is a marginal player.

Interestingly, both the BJP (headed by D Purandeswari) and the Congress now have women chiefs.

Politics in Andhra Pradesh has got a new twist.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

Aditi Phadnis
Source: source image