BJP’s numbers game in Telugu states

With the general elections less than a year away, the political churning has begun in both the Telugu states. Shrewd Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy, whose return to power looks a certainty, seems worried over the Central agencies, may be once again landing on his doorstep with the pending case of alleged money laundering. And, the Bharatiya Janata Party  (BJP),  which is determined to improve its tally from 30 to 45-50 Lok Sabha (LS) seats from the South’s130 seats is equally desperate to compromise on its principles of cracking down on corrupt politicians. As a result, the party would not hesitate to reach out to Jaganmohan, if he assures the BJP of at least half a dozen, if not around 10 LS seats, of the 25 on offer in AP.

Similarly, the BJP appears to go soft on the Kalvakuntla family, if it is willing to help the party win half a dozen (the party has four LS seats now) in the 2024 elections. That may be the reason the BJP central leadership has paved the way for K Chandrasekhar Rao headed Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) to return to power smoothly in the year-end assembly polls, by effecting a change in state party president. The BJP’s decision to replace its state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar, an MP from Karimnagar, with Union Minister Gangavaram Kishen Reddy, clearly indicates the BJP’s willingness to clear roadblocks for the BRS. Kishen Reddy had been the party’s state chief but was unable to enhance the party’s fortunes in Telengana. The BJP could see the party’s phenomenal growth in state politics ever since Bandi Sanjay Kumar took over the reins. His biggest achievement was to ensure reemergence of the party as a major force in the all-important Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, by winning 44 wards in the polls. This was when the BJP secured just one seat in the 2018 assembly battle when Kishen Reddy was leading the party.

However, in the 2019 LS elections the BJP managed to win four seats and it was attributed to the Narendra Modi wave and certainly cannot be credited to Kishen Reddy, as he had a tough time winning Secunderabad LS seat.

But, with the emergence of Bandi Sanjay on the state political scene as BJP chief, he indeed gave many anxious moments to a strong leader like KCR.  As a result, he reinvigorated the cadre to take KCR’s party head-on and gave an impression that the party was close to snatching power in the state. But, with the sudden replacement, that too when the elections are just five-six months away, many political analysts wonder what a political light-weight like Kishen Reddy can do.

Kishen Reddy, 63, represented one of the smallest electorate assembly constituencies, Amberpet, before getting elected from Secunderabad LS seat. Contrary to this Bandi Sanjay Kumar, won from Karimnagar, which was once represented by KCR, and considered a BRS stronghold. Against that backdrop, many feel, the BJP is offering KCR Telangana on a platter by changing the state leadership.

This is in the wake of the Congress bubbling with new-found enthusiasm after the massive Karnataka win. But the Congress may find it tough to repeat  Karnataka as the Muslims are strongly behind KCR. Added to the Congress’ woes are majority of those won on its ticket defecting to the BRS. This may force the Telangana electorate to vote for the ruling party than the Congress, which is offering Rs 4000 as old age pension (a 100 per cent hike) and free travel to women in state-owned transport buses – TSRTC.  However, the people are unlikely to forget that the Congress pushed the transport corporation into ‘red’ due to its short-sighted policies during its earlier stint. Today, the Corporation is performing better and could overcome losses, slowly but steadily.

The change in AP party presidentship, however, is a sign that the BJP is hoping to get some foothold in the state, where it had no representation, either in the assembly or LS.

Daggubati Purandeswari’s appointment as state party chief is also an indicator that the BJP may prefer to go with YSRCP than entertain the reentry of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold. Although Jaganmohan, who met the Union Home Minister Amit Shah and later the Prime Minister, claims it was meant for demanding the ‘special status’ to the state, there are no takers.

Purandeswari is not only the daughter of yesteryear superstar and former chief minister NT Rama Rao, but also a great communicator. She also was the Union Minister for State for Railways and is also known for her dislike of TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu’s kind of politics.

Thus, the message in appointing Purandeswari as AP and Kishen Reddy as Telangana party presidents, it can be inferred that the  BJP is determined to expand its NDA family – bidding goodbye to ideology and welcoming  opportunistic politics – with the sole objective of ‘winnability’.