Although the ongoing padyatra of YSR Congress led by Sharmila in the absence of party chief Jagan Mohan Reddy has managed to attract huge crowds in Kadapa, the real challenge for her and her party will begin once the padyatra steps out of the home turf, reports Vicky Nanjappa.
Clad in a salwar kameez and a pair of sneakers, the face of YSR Congress today is Sharmila, sister of Jagan Mohan Reddy. Her padyatra, which is expected to cover 3,000 kilometres, kickstarted at Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh last week and has been drawing huge crowds ever since.
But the real challenge for Sharmila and the YSR Congress will begin when she covers the rest of Andhra Pradesh.
The crowds for now have been phenomenal -- but then this is the home constituency of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and her father Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy. What one needs to wait and watch for is when she is out of the Rayalaseema belt and begins her march at coastal Andhra and Telangana regions.
Political experts say that would be the real test for her.
Sharmila has managed to overtake TDP's campaign
However, the YSR Congress can be content as Sharmila has managed to overtake Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu, who is also on a padyatra. For now the YSR Congress padyatra is clearly leading over the TDP in terms of crowds.
Sharmila has all the makings of a politician if one looks at the manner in which she has dealt with certain issues and also the public. She does not speak much and prefers to interact on a one-on-one basis with the public. Although people say that she is the one who will replace jailed YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy, she makes it clear that politics is not her cup of tea and she is only holding the fort for her brother until he comes out of jail.
She also rubbishes reports that there is a rift with her brother and she is aiming to take over the party from him.
'Crowds will subside once Sharmila is out of Rayalaseema'
At the moment she is still in Kadapa district and the police are finding it impossible to control the crowds. However, they feel that the crowd is likely to subside when she is out of the Rayalaseema belt and enters into the coastal Andhra region.
The members of the YSR Congress are banking on the sympathy and curiosity factors. When Jagan was arrested the entire YSR camp was demoralised and they thought it would mean curtains for the newly-launched party. However, with both Vijayamma (YSR Reddy's widow) and Sharmila stepping in, they have managed to attain a wave of sympathy in the rural areas of the state.
There are many who still believe that the ladies of the house have stepped out to serve the people and, hence they need to be supported.
Telangana is the real challenge
The YSR Congress is not too worried about the coastal Andhra campaign as much as they would worry about the response in Telangana. Jagan and his camp have been seen as enemies of the Telangana movement and hence there would be nervous moments when Sharmila's padyatra enters that region.
Chandrababu Naidu, whose padyatra is set to enter Telangana on Monday, has got a very hostile response. There are protests galore against him and already a TDP office has been burnt down in the Karimnagar district.
Many say that even Sharmila will get a similar response when she enters Telangana. The stand by the YSR Congress has regarding Telangana has not been clear.
At the plenary of the party held last year, Jagan had said that they understand the sentiments of the Telangana people and the issue was for the government to look into. However, the people of Telangana believe that he is opposed to the movement as he would not want to irk the people of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra where he has better support.
Although the YSR Congress hopes that Jagan would be released soon from jail, their wait would be a while longer. The Central Bureau of Investigation is no mood not to oppose his bail and says that there is still a long way to go for the investigation.
The agency has also told the Supreme Court that it is awaiting details of the funds being pumped into Jagan's firms from foreign companies.
'Wait for my brother; he'll be your CM in 2014'
With Jagan not getting bail the entire burden is on both Vijayamma and Sharmila. The mother and daughter have to keep the crowds engrossed and also deal with political bigwigs in the Congress and TDP.
The 3,000 km padyatra, which will last 300 days, is being driven entirely by Sharmila. She echoes only what her brother has been saying and that is there is no opposition in the state as both the TDP and Congress are hand-in-glove.
In addition to this she also desperately conveys the message that she is not the one who will take over the party as many have started to believe that she is the likely candidate for chief minister's chair if the YSR Congress is voted to power.
While the YSR Congress has decided that it would be Vijayamma who would replace Jagan in case he is not released, Sharmila on the other hand is giving no such indication in public.
All she says in her speeches is, "Wait for my brother; he will be your chief minister in 2014."
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