Amit Shah believes Bandi Sanjay Kumar is 'single-handedly' capable of unseating the TRS government in the December 2023 assembly election and there is no need for the BJP's central leaders to jump into the Telangana scene.
In the Bharatiya Janata Party's present schema, Bandi Sanjay Kumar ticks the boxes for first dibs on Telangana's chief ministership should the BJP be in a position to claim the post.
He arrived without rank and privilege, as a grassroots-hewn karyakarta from Karimnagar in northern Telangana, and demonstrated that politics had potential even outside Hyderabad, which dominated Andhra Pradesh before the state was bifurcated.
"He is a party worker to whom other workers relate effortlessly. They know if there’s a problem in their village or town and their lives are imperilled, Sanjay Kumar is available for help," said Telangana BJP spokesperson J Sangappa.
Kumar has hit upon a formula tailor-made for the BJP's success these days.
"His politics blends a commitment towards Hindutva with a zeal to fight the atrocities inflicted on the powerless by the powerful," said a state party official.
"A street-fighter's strength constitutes his core competence," remarked K Krishna Sagar Rao, another spokesperson.
To top it all, Kumar belongs to the Munnuru Kapu caste, which comes under Other Backward Classes and currently counts significantly in the BJP's social hierarchy.
The OBCs constitute over 50 per cent of Telangana's population.
Their votes are up for grabs because although the chief minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi president, K Chandrasekhar Rao, had mobilised OBCs substantively in the previous elections, his support base has since cracked because the OBCs and Dalits were oppressed by the Velamas, a land-owning intermediate caste to which he belongs.
The BJP spotted the cracks in the TRS's foundation among the OBCs, promoted its own leaders like Kumar, Aravind Dharmapuri, Vijayashanti, Eatala Rajender, Swamy Goud, and K Laxman, who was previously state president of the party unit.
Undivided Andhra Pradesh's politics was dominated by the Reddys, Kammas, and Velamas, despite the Velamas being just 1.5 per cent of the population.
Kumar was appointed the BJP's Telangana chief for these reasons.
The cherry on the cake's icing was Union Home Minister Amit Shah's endorsement of Kumar's leadership at a public rally on May 14 in Hyderabad's Tukkuguda.
Kumar had just completed the second leg of his padyatra, where he walked nearly 350 km in blistering heat.
Shah said Kumar was 'single-handedly' capable of unseating the TRS government in the next assembly election (December 2023) and there was no need for the central leaders to jump into the scene.
Praise in excess, considering that other BJP-ruled states were told in advance that even a provincial election will be fought under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership.
It was a double bonanza for Kumar, when hours later Modi called to felicitate him on the padyatra's 'success'.
However, Tripura and West Bengal showed that the best-laid plans of the BJP high command could go awry when confronted by powerful and sometimes recalcitrant state leaders.
So Kumar can't take it for granted that Hyderabad's Pragathi Bhavan, the seat of power, is his to occupy should that moment come.
His contenders include central minister G Kishan Reddy, who helmed the BJP Telangana for years; Etala Rajender Reddy, a former associate of Chandrasekhar Rao who won for the BJP the Huzurabad assembly in a by-poll after quitting the TRS; and Dharmapuri, the son of D Srinivas, a former president of the Andhra Congress.
"The BJP never prescribes the criteria for choosing a CM. Shah might give an impression that Kumar is the candidate, but the central parliamentary board will decide who, if and when the time comes," said another Telangana functionary.
But the functionary's contention was disputed by others.
"There's no doubt that the BJP gained ground after Kumar took over. He has provided an alternative to the CM without using the harsh language that Congress leaders like Revanth Reddy do," a BJP source said.
Born in a lower-middle-class family, at 50, age is certainly on Kumar's side.
As a student at Karimnagar, he had joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the RSS's student wing, and became its city president.
The BJP's established leaders of united Andhra like M Venkaiah Naidu (now the country's vice-president) and Kishan Reddy mentored him until he was elected corporator from Karimnagar in 2005.
"He was determined to prove he was self-made," a BJP source said.
However, his ambitions were checked in 2014 and 2018, when he lost the assembly election from Karimnagar.
A breakthrough came in 2019, when Kumar defeated the TRS in the Lok Sabha election from Karimnagar on the back of the Modi wave and his espousal of hard-core Hindutva.
That moment was a turning point because it coincided with the BJP's advocacy of Hindu militancy and Kumar was perceived as the right person to helm Telangana.
Apart from the Huzurabad assembly, under him the BJP also won the Dubakka seat and gave a close fight to the TRS in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation polls.
Some in the BJP thought Kumar overplayed the Hindutva card in the civic elections.
"He is impulsive. Sometimes it works, at times it backfires," a BJP source said.
"While campaigning in the old city, he spotted a shop named Andhra Surgical shop and he promptly warned that the BJP would conduct a surgical strike against Hyderabad's Rohingyas. That spurred the AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) to retaliate. The AIMIM consolidated the minority votes but we couldn't regroup the Hindu votes," the BJP source added.
Kumar has since widened the ambit of his attack against the TRS with Chandrashekhar Rao's 'failure' to deliver on his myriad farmers to every section as the pivot.
His solidarity with the teachers who agitated against the state government's employment and transfer policy and his arrest gave him and the BJP the traction they sought.