The popular Telugu adage that backyard plants are not fit to cure diseases (Perati mokkalu vydyaniki Panikiravu) captures the mood of the BJP in Telugu-speaking states, especially in Telangana, where the party has been finding it difficult to become a force with home-grown leaders.
This is amply made clear by the induction of turncoats into the national executive, the party’s highest decision-making body, a couple of days ago.
This has happened against the backdrop of the party’s inability to produce a mass leader comparable to the stature of YS Rajasekhar Reddy, Chandrababu Naidu, KCR and YS Jagan, even though the BJP controls the national politics.
The BJP’s Predicament
The predicament of the BJP lies in the fact that the party always looked towards Delhi superstars Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Narendra Modi, etc, for inspiration. Though the same happened in the Congress as well, the GOP produced legions of regional satraps, who at times rose to the level of defying the high command. This phenomenon has been totally absent in the BJP. None of the BJP Union ministers of the NDA governments could evolve into state leaders. They ended up as governors, rather than becoming mass leaders who can lead the party to power. At the same time, the magic of national superstars is almost nil here.
In addition to that, none of the so-called ‘national moments’ the BJP created in the recent past has stimulated growth in the party in the Telugu-speaking regions. First Advani’s rath yatra (1992), which passed through these regions, failed to enthuse the Telugu-speaking people. Later, the Ayodhya demolition also could not stir up Hindu sentiment among Telugus. Even the leadership of a colossus like Vajpayee did not work. Finally, Modi‘s tsunami has also been proven ineffective, not once but twice.
This seems to have driven a point home that the party cannot be propelled with the charisma of national leadership alone, and there is an immediate need to project a few local faces. Such faces are absent in the party. Hence the large-scale appointment of outsiders to the national body.
In one go, as many as six turncoats have been given an opportunity to sit in the national executive. While former TRS minister Eetala Rajender (the party’s candidate in Huzurabad bypoll), who joined the party in June 2021, has been made a special invitee, former TRS MPs AP Jitender Reddy and Vijayashanti, former Congress MP G Vivek, and former TDP MP G Rammohan Rao have been appointed executive members.
Another former Congress leader to be appointed one of the national vice presidents is DK Aruna. All these leaders are rich, influential and battle-hardened. P Sudhakar Reddy, former MLC, who jettisoned the Congress as recently as 2019 to join the BJP, will sit in the national executive as Tamil Nadu BJP in charge.
Jitender Reddy, a former BJP MP from Mahabubnagar, quit the party to join the TRS before the 2014 general election. He won the seat in 2014 as a TRS candidate. But, denied a ticket in 2019, he quit the TRS to join the BJP.
Similarly, Vijayashanti , a Telugu movie star, joined the BJP in 1998, quit it to form the Talli Telangana Party in the wake of the Telangana movement. Later, she merged the party with the TRS in 2009 and got elected to the Lok Sabha. She, however, could not sail with the TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao for long, and quit it to join the Congress.
As Vijayashanti found no hope of a Congress revival in the state, she came back to the BJP recently. Comparatively, BJP natives such as Bandi Sanjay Kumar (Telangana state president), Muralidhar Rao (MP in charge), Dr Laxman (BJP OBC Morcha president), and Raja Singh (TS BJPLP leader) form a minority in the national executive.
Murmurs in the Party
All this has not been without a murmur. BJP veteran Perala Sekhar Rao, who was organising secretary of the party for the Northeast, is a bit perplexed. Rao, a respected RSS functionary for nearly four decades, wonders as to how an ideological body like the national executive could be filled with those who are alien to the party’s ideology.
“We can offer Lok Sabha or assembly tickets to those coming from other parties. The national executive is the heart of the party’s core ideology. Only those wedded to the party ideology alone should become members of the NE,” Rao, popular among the cadre as ‘Sekharjee’, said.
Citing the recent Bengal setback, he said: “Former Trinamool leader Mukul Roy was made party vice president. What happened? He left the party and went back to the TMC. Another leader, Babul Supriyo, who was made a minister by Modi, also ditched the party. Some responsible positions in the organisation should be left for the party’s leaders with ideological commitment.”
The Logic Behind the Shift?
However, many party functionaries are defending the move as an experiment. Former MLC and senior leader in Telangana N Ramachandra Rao said that it was necessary for three reasons. Firstly, the party is somehow not able to spread to rural areas. “We need these leaders to take the party to the rural areas,” he said.
“Secondly, Eatala Rajender, AP Jitender Reddy, G Rammohan Rao, DK Aruna and Vijayashathi represent different social groups. Accommodating them in the national executive is expected to widen the party’s social base. And thirdly, a message that leaders who joined the party are well taken care of and respected should be sent across,” Rao told The Federal.
Jammula Shyam Kishore, a senior leader from Andhra Pradesh, offered an interesting logic behind appointing political migrants to the highest policy-making body. Andhra has had its share of turncoats getting elevated to higher levels.
“Our experience in Telugu-speaking states is that on its own, the party is not taking off for the simple reason that we have no critical mass here. We need a minimum support base for the magic of national leaders like Prime Minister Modi to work. These leaders are expected to bring their experience and expertise to the table, which is going to help the party strike roots in many regions,” he said.
Another BJP functionary who did not want to be named put it bluntly: “The BJP’s ideological moorings could not help produce street-smart politicians in Telugu-speaking states. We have no option but to depend on migrants from the other parties, who have the wherewithal to fight the electoral battle to bridge the gap. The party now wants to fight elections like any other party.”