Rise of TRS and YSRCP, and subsequent decimation of Congress in Andhra, Telangana puts BJP ahead in Telugu heartland

In the Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, BJP’s electoral performance in the last Parliament and Assembly elections was less than spectacular. But the party, which has been languishing for quite some time in these states, has now seen a great opening to dig its heels in.

Buoyed by the new turn, BJP’s number-two man Amit Shah launched a massive membership drive in Telangana on 6 July. The new-found confidence was evident when he asked the party workers, “Where do you want to see a BJP government first? Telangana, Kerala or West Bengal?” Pat came the response, “Telangana”. BJP secretary and state co-in-charge Sunil Deodhar launched a similar membership drive in Guntur of Andhra Pradesh.
What has prompted the BJP to make a fresh bid to gain a foothold in these two states?

The undivided Andhra Pradesh is one of the two states — the other being Gujarat — that returned the first couple of BJP MPs to Parliament in its debut Lok Sabha elections held in 1984. PV Narasimha Rao was famously defeated by Chandupatla Janga Reddy of BJP from Hanamkonda. But since then, the party had not been able to make a dent in this populous southern state, winning a few seats here and there but mostly remaining a marginal player.

After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into residual AP and Telangana in 2014, the party hoped to make inroads in the backdrop of rather inept handling of the division by the Congress. However, its impact was marginal in both the states in the first Narendra Modi-led elections. The party managed to win, in alliance with Telugu Desam Party, three MP seats out of the total 42 seats.

The Modi-wave of 2019 too had little impact in these states. In the recent Lok Sabha polls, BJP polled less than NOTA votes in the residual Andhra Pradesh. The party performed better in Telangana, where it romped home in four seats. But overall, BJP continued to be a minor player among powerful regional players including Telangana Rashtra Samithi, YSR Congress and TDP.

But what has given a new impetus and momentum for the party is the sharp decline of Congress, which was once a formidable force in the united Andhra Pradesh. The party, which ruled Andhra Pradesh from 1956 till 2014 except for 16 years in between, is now almost extinct.

In residual Andhra, where people see the party as solely responsible for the bifurcation mess, Congress got an infinitesimal 1.29 percent of votes in the recent elections.

Besides the near-obliteration of the Congress, the crushing defeat of TDP in both the Parliament and Assembly elections of 2019 in Andhra Pradesh also gave BJP the opening that the party has been desperately seeking. Since the ruling YSR Congress has been sharpening knives against TDP or what remains of it, many of the party rank and file is now looking to BJP as the only way out of the political jam that they have found themselves in.

Age not being on the side of TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu who is 69 now, coupled with the lack of effective second-rung leadership for the party have contributed to the despondency among the TDP leaders. As a result, four out of the party’s six Rajya Sabha MPs switched sides at one go and joined BJP recently. There is talk that sooner than later, two-thirds of the 23 TDP MLAs in Andhra Pradesh Assembly are likely to defect, making BJP the main opposition party. The party doesn’t have a single MLA at present in the house of 175 members.

BJP is already putting pressure on YSR Congress chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy to exterminate TDP. “The first responsibility of the newly-elected Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, besides developing the state, is,” Sunil Deodhar insisted, “to expose the corruption the TDP indulged in the last five years, and hand it over to the Centre.” He also talked of sending Chandrababu Naidu to jail in two years.

Once TDP is taken care of, it would be easy for the BJP to deal with a vulnerable YSR Congress. With a string of CBI cases hanging over Jaganmohan Reddy like a Damocles’ sword, the BJP has suddenly found itself in a position to dictate political terms in the state with 25 MPs.

With Congress obliterated, TDP crushed and Jaganmohan at its mercy, BJP has enough time to turn the tide in its favour well before the next round of elections.

In Telangana, Congress lost its advantage, despite creating a separate Telangana against the wishes of Andhra, to TRS which formed the government in 2014 elections. Congress managed marginally better than TDP by securing about 25 percent of votes and 21 seats in a house of 119. In 2018 Assembly polls, though it nearly retained its vote back at 23 percent, the party won only 19 seats.

In the latest blow, as many as 12 of its 18 MLAs (TPCC president Uttam Kumar Reddy became MP) defected en masse and were recognised as members of the ruling TRS, as they constituted two-thirds of Congress Legislature Party. Congress has lost its opposition status in Telangana Assembly.

BJP secured only one MLA seat and 6.98 percent of votes in the Assembly polls held in December 2018 in Telangana. But the decline of the Congress and the withdrawal of TDP from the contest meant the field was wide open to BJP in the Parliament elections. Not unexpectedly, the party won four out of 17 MP seats, one more than Congress.

Now with TRS swallowing the remains of Congress in the Assembly, the BJP found a great opportunity to be the only alternative to TRS in the state. In the new set of circumstances, an upbeat BJP even picked up G Kishan Reddy, the first-time MP, to be Amit Shah’s Minister of State to give a push to the party’s fortunes in the state.

In a way, the eagerness of TRS in Telangana to decimate Congress and that of YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh to finish off TDP has unwittingly provided a chink to the BJP in the Telugu states. It is now the only party which can fill the political void staring at both states.

The saffron party is mulling at how best it can bring about social engineering to earn a firm footing in the region. In Telangana, it is looking at a combination of Reddys smarting at the loss of power and the backward classes. In Andhra Pradesh, it is a fusion of Kapus, Brahmins, Vyshyas, Kammas and the BCs that the saffron party is likely to bank on.

The party hopes to make faster inroads in Telangana where there is a history of communal polarisation. The friendship between the ruling TRS and Majlis-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (MIM) provides enough political grist for BJP to breach the former Nizam dominion.

The author is a Hyderabad-based journalist.

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