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After Telangana, Congress seeks to reclaim Andhra Pradesh

The Congress appears to be determined to reclaim its supremacy in some of the Southern States, where it had performed poorly in the past two polls. After wresting Telangana from the Bharatiya Rashtra Samithi headed by K. Chandrasekhar Rao, during the recent Assembly polls, the grand old party wishes to consolidate its position in the […]

The Congress appears to be determined to reclaim its supremacy in some of the Southern States, where it had performed poorly in the past two polls. After wresting Telangana from the Bharatiya Rashtra Samithi headed by K. Chandrasekhar Rao, during the recent Assembly polls, the grand old party wishes to consolidate its position in the region by repeating its performance in Andhra which is at present headed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of YS Rajasekhar Reddy, who was principally responsible for bringing the Congress to power, along with its allies, both in 2004 and 2009. The Congress had at that time in the United Andhra Pradesh obtained 29 and 33 seats in the two Parliamentary polls under YSR’s leadership.

Unfortunately, YSR perished in a Helicopter crash under mysterious circumstances in 2009, and the Congress humiliated his family subsequently forcing Jagan to form his own party. The State was bifurcated and the Congress suffered humiliating defeats in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019 not only from the Andhra-Telangana region but also the rest of the country.

However, after winning Karnataka first and later Telangana, the Congress is hoping to now get back to its dominant status in Andhra. In order to emerge as a major challenger in the State, where the YSR Congress is in power and Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP is aiming to once again make a comeback, the Congress has roped in YS Sharmila, daughter of YSR and sister of the Andhra Chief Minister. Sharmila who headed the YSR Telangana Party has agreed to merge her own outfit into the Congress, and in the recent Telangana polls, she had assisted the grand old party to achieve its spectacular victory.

Sharmila had visited her brother on Wednesday to extend an invitation to him for her son’s wedding and reached the national capital to join her father’s party on Thursday. She is expected to hold an important position in the Congress and is likely to be elected to the Rajya Sabha from the neighbouring Karnataka, if political grapevine has to be believed.

The Congress is desperate to perform well in the South since its efforts to humble in the BJP in the North are appearing to be very difficult. Even in 1977 when the Congress was routed from the North and Indira Gandhi lost her own election from Rae Bareilly, it were Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh which stood by her. The people of the Southern States continued to back her, and in 1979, Indira Gandhi emerged victorious from Chickmaglur in Karnataka, after humbling Veerendra Patil, the combined candidate of the Janata Party.

Although she was expelled, yet while contesting the Parliamentary polls, of 1980, Indira Gandhi contested from two seats—Rae Bareilly and Medak in the then Andhra Pradesh and now in Telangana. She won from both the places but decided to retain Medak. Later history repeated itself and when Sonia Gandhi chose to contest from two seats to face the BJP at the turn of the century, she also contested from Bellary in Karnataka and defeated Sushma Swaraj. The BJP too is keen to make inroads into the South, but it is evident that the Southern States have as per the prevailing perception, made up their mind to reject the Saffron Brigade.

In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the BJP does not seem to be in any kind of fight, and thus would be mainly focusing on its strong areas of the North to aim at winning the Lok Sabha polls for the record third time. Sharmila is certainly going to be an asset and while bringing in some of the YSR supporters back to the Congress camp, she may emerge as the main force to take on her brother. The situation in Andhra is for the first time going to witness a major triangular fight between the Congress, the YSR Congress and the TDP. In this game, Chandrababu Naidu and his party may be at a disadvantage, and unless they perform well, the political space shall leave only the winner and the runners-up in the reckoning for the future. Chandrababu Naidu is a crafty and astute politician and could look at aligning with the BJP. Jagan Mohan Reddy may strive to beat him in that game.

Either of them would require the money muscles and support of the Saffron Brigade to humble to the Congress. The Congress has its own share of problems and is organizationally weak in the North. It is having issues convincing coalition partners about its ability to beat the BJP, and thus may have to make some adjustments electorally which could weaken it further in later elections. The Andhra project is very important in its scheme of things and it is hoping that if it crosses this hurdle, the party would be better placed. There has been speculation that both Rahul and Priyanka may contest from seats in the South but this itself would amount to admission by the Congress of its weak position in the North.

Therefore, the Congress would have to also keep its North flag flying in addition to its desire to dominate in the Telugu speaking region, and also Karnataka, besides having a sizable presence in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Sharmila’s entry in the Congress also is an indication that there is a division amongst the late YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s loyalists, who may like to return to the parent party. Jagan Mohan Reddy realizes this threat and is planning to chalk out certain issues with KCR in the neighbouring Telangana so that they can together a common strategy to keep the Congress out.

Pankaj Vohra

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