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How the BJP is making inroads into two Telugu states

By Radhika Ramaseshan
September 24, 2020 17:01 IST
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In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the BJP is looking to fill the Opposition slot and not aspire to occupy pole position -- yet.
Radhika Ramaseshan reports. 

IMAGE: BJP workers stage a dharna against the TRS scheme over Layout Regularisation Scheme (LRS) in Hyderabad. Photograph: PTI Photo

The appointment of new presidents to lead the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana units of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would have passed off as a procedural, state-related exercise by J P Nadda, the party chief, had the changes not been invested with political significance that enthused the local cadre.

Bandi Sanjay Kumar and Somu Veerraju will helm the BJP's Telangana and Andhra Pradesh units, respectively.

Andhra Pradesh is practically untouched terrain for the BJP.

But the impressive showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Telangana fired up the local cadre to work and propel the BJP to a position from where it can usurp the Opposition space from the Congress by the next assembly polls.

From one in 2014, the BJP picked up four of Telangana's 17 Lok Sabha seats and secured a vote percentage of 19.45 -- the highest in 20 years.

In contrast, a year earlier, in the assembly election, the BJP opened its account with just a seat in the 119-member assembly and a 7.1 per cent vote share.

The BJP drew a blank in Andhra Pradesh in both Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

The failure to breach the state -- that has 25 Lok Sabha and 175 assembly constituencies -- compelled the BJP to seek the Jana Sena Party (JSP)'s hand in January this year after a three-year estrangement.

Veerraju's importance largely drew from the perception that he was 'staunchly' opposed to the Telugu Desam Party, the BJP's periodic ally since 1999.

"The TDP stalled our growth. Our earlier state presidents were its handpicked nominees," alleged an Andhra functionary, blaming central leaders for the dalliances.

A national office-bearer added N Chandrababu Naidu, former CM and TDP president, was a 'master in sabotaging another party'.

"Now that he has lost his credibility for encouraging dynastic politics, the Opposition space is open for us," he claimed.

Net-net, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the BJP is looking to fill the Opposition slot and not aspire to occupy pole position.

In aiming to settle legacy scores with the TDP, sources said the BJP must not be seen warming up to Andhra Pradesh's ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, headed by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy -- the chief minister.

"It's a tightrope walk," said a top BJP source.

"Jagan is attacking Naidu for corruption, so we can't oppose him on that. Jagan's alleged corruption and misconduct are also there but in the present circumstances, these are secondary in our political scheme."

That this assessment was not uniformly shared came through when a BJP Rajya Sabha MP said: "As an Opposition, we have to perform our role and that means attacking the YSRCP dispensation and not the TDP."

The BJP's central command certainly wouldn't endorse such a view because typically, in the small pool states, it wallows in intra-and-cross-party politics, Tamil Nadu being an illustration, instead of building its strength.

It succumbed to the temptation in Andhra Pradesh when it sensed there were internal fissures in the YSRCP after K R Krishnam Raju, Narsapuram MP, assailed Jagan for being 'inaccessible' and introducing English as a compulsory language in primary schools.

Raju surprised his party colleagues when in January, he hosted a dinner for the BJP's central ministers and brass.

The Lok Sabha speaker appointed Raju chairperson of Parliament's subordinate legislation committee.

The YSRCP served a show-cause notice for 'anti-party activity' and petitioned the Speaker to disqualify him as a member.

Raju's BJP cheerleaders ruled out his disqualification, contending he had not criticised Jagan.

"Jagan is close to the Centre. If there's an offer, he will join the NDA (National Democratic Alliance)," a BJP source said.

Where does the Jagan quandary leave the BJP?

Sunil Deodhar, the BJP's national secretary who's the co-in charge of Andhra, said: "We are neither with the TDP nor the YSRCP. We and the JSP will fight together.

"The TDP tries to shoot at Jagan from our shoulders, and vice versa. We will use our shoulders to perform the last rites of these parties."

The tie-up with actor Pawan Kalyan's JSP was dubbed a 'lemon' by Andhra BJP leaders.

"We are depending on a person whose party won only one seat (in the state polls). He brokered the latest alliance with us through a Karnataka MP and a general secretary.

"We were not taken into confidence," said an Andhra office-bearer.

Moreover, the Kapu caste to which Kalyan belongs is said to be 'notoriously unreliable'.

In Telangana, the BJP is aware that the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and K Chandrasekhar Rao's overwhelming dominance in state politics is hard to crack.

The BJP's chief state spokesperson Krishna Sagar Rao said: "When a regional party with a regional face rules the roost, it's hard for national parties to raise national fervour.

"We have to craft an agenda that relates to the emotions, aspirations and sentiment of the region."

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Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
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