Change of guard imminent in crisis-ridden Telangana Congress

Telangana, Congress, A Revanth Reddy, PCC
There is a growing realisation in the party that it needs a leader who can infuse energy and dynamism and boost the morale of the cadre at a time when the state has almost become ‘Congress-mukt’. Photo: PTI

Smarting under an existential crisis following mass desertions, the Telangana Congress is likely to see a change of guard soon.

The firebrand MP A Revanth Reddy is tipped to take over as the PCC chief, replacing N Uttam Kumar Reddy who has been facing flak for failing to prevent the exodus of party legislators to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) camp.

Revanth’s meeting with party president Sonia Gandhi at New Delhi on Tuesday (September 3) has triggered speculation over his imminent elevation in political circles. Party sources said that an announcement in this regard is expected to be made in a couple of days.

However, the choice of Revanth, who had defected to the Congress from Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 2017 ahead of the Assembly elections in Telangana, is likely to ruffle feathers in the faction-ridden party unit and cause heartburn among several seniors who had opposed his entry into the party.

A majority of the OBC leaders in the party have been demanding that the PCC chief post be given to them.

When Revanth was made one of the working presidents of the party ahead of the December 2018 Assembly elections, there was furore in the state Congress with several seniors including V Hanumantha Rao, Renuka Choudary, D Aruna and K Venkat Reddy raising objections over his elevation. He is seen as an outsider by a section of leaders in the party.

Known for his aggressive brand of politics and fiery speeches targeting the TRS supremo and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, the 50-year-old MP from Malkajgiri in the city is seen by many in the party as an ideal choice to rejuvenate the Congress. He is related to former Congress Union minister late S Jaipal Reddy.

Accused in bribery case

Despite his credentials as an effective public speaker and organiser, Revanth’s political career is tainted by his involvement in the ‘cash-for-vote’ scam that rocked the state in 2015.

Revanth, who was then with the TDP, is the prime accused in the case involving bribing of a nominated member to vote in favour of the TDP candidate in the elections to the Telangana Legislative Council.

The case pertains to the alleged offer of bribe to a nominated legislator Elvis Stephenson to vote for TDP candidate V Narender Reddy in the Legislative Council elections held in May, 2015.

An audio tape had surfaced in June that year, purportedly containing Chandrababu Naidu’s conversation with Stephenson and assuring him that “all commitments would be honoured” if he voted in favour of the TDP. Earlier, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which conducted the sting operation, had produced a video proof of the meeting between Revanth, who was then the TDP deputy floor leader in the Telangana Assembly, and Stephenson where ₹50 lakh cash was offered as an advance.

He was arrested and subsequently released on bail. The trial is still on.

Proximity with Chandrababu Naidu

Even after quitting the TDP to join Congress, Revanth, who hails from Mahaboobnagar district, is believed to maintain cordial relationship with Chandrababu Naidu and had played a key role in forging an electoral alliance between the two parties in Telangana Assembly polls. However, the alliance came a cropper.

A section of the state Congress leaders argue that their alliance with the TDP, which is widely seen as an ‘enemy of Telangana’, had cost the party dearly at the hustings.

However, there is also a growing realisation in the party that it needs a leader who can infuse energy and dynamism and boost the morale of the cadre at a time when the state has almost become ‘Congress-mukt’.

As many as 12 of the party’s 19 MLAs have crossed over to the TRS in batches and sought a merger with the ruling party. The Congress has also lost the main opposition party status in the Assembly.

The State Legislative Council has already become ‘Congress-mukt’, with four of its six MLCs defecting to the TRS while the term of the remaining two ended in March this year.

The writing on the wall was clear for the grand old party soon after the Assembly elections as it suffered steady desertions from its camp.

Existential crisis

Several factors have contributed to the present existential crisis of Congress. Despite granting statehood for Telangana during the UPA-II in 2014, it failed to capitalise on it but allowed KCR to walk away with all the credit and reap electoral benefits by positioning himself as the architect of the new state. The party could win just two Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections while the TRS walked away with 12. It was a poor show in the Assembly polls as well with the opposition party managing to win 21 seats.

The absence of a strong and charismatic regional leader with a state-wide appeal had a telling effect. The party had, over years, failed to nurture strong regional leaders who could take independent decisions and stand up to the emergence of a formidable regional player. Added to the party’s woes were fierce infighting and groupism and lack of a cohesive strategy.

Meanwhile, the PCC president Uttam Kumar Reddy has communicated to the high command that he was ready to step down whenever the party wants.