Bolstered by its impressive show in Telangana — first in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, followed by an Assembly by-election and recently in the Hyderabad municipal corporation — the BJP has now set its eyes on the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
Though Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has been more than willing to play ball with the Centre, the BJP sees an opportunity to grow independently in the state in the wake of a much weakened Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and a virtually decimated Congress.
Providing a glimpse of the emerging trend, the BJP leaders have started raising the pitch over issues concerning Hindu sentiments like the issue of utilisation of temple funds and the way the YSR Congress government has been handling the affairs of the Tirumala temple.
The BJP leaders have also been talking about large-scale religious conversions and a sharp rise in the number of church buildings across the state ever since Jagan, a devout Christian, took over the reins last year.
The coming by-election to Tirupati Lok Sabha seat will provide a testing ground for the BJP’s strategies. The seat fell vacant due to the death of YSRCP MP B Durgaprasada Rao due to COVID-19.
The BJP has been consistently raising the issues concerning the Tirumala temple, including attempts to dispose of temple properties and diversion of TTD funds for other activities.
The state executive committee meeting of the BJP held at Tirupati recently set the tone for a frontal attack on the ruling YSR Congress Party.
“We shall form the next government in Andhra Pradesh. The present YSRCP government has completely ruined the state’s economy and development has come to a grinding halt,” senior BJP leader and former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh said, addressing party functionaries of the state through virtual mode.
The state executive committee of the BJP discussed the strategy to be adopted by the party in the by-elections to the Tirupati seat. The party also organised a Shobha Yatra in Tirupati town in the evening to put up a big show.
A senior BJP leader said there was a clear political vacuum in Andhra Pradesh due to weakening of the Telugu Desam Party and the BJP could easily fill it and emerge as a potential force by 2024.
“Earlier, we had no opportunity to grow as a force in Andhra Pradesh, as we had an alliance with TDP in 1999 and 2014 elections. Now, we have a chance to grow independently,” he said.
Twin surgical strikes
“In Telangana, a single surgical strike is enough. But, in Andhra Pradesh, twin surgical strikes are required,” the party MP GVL Narasimha Rao said.
By twin surgical strikes, he means the ruling YSR Congress and the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which was an ally of the saffron party before walking out of the NDA in 2018 over the issue of special category status for Andhra Pradesh.
Alleging that both the parties were ‘practicing vote bank politics’ in the name of secularism, the Rajya Sabha member said the people of Andhra Pradesh would teach a lesson to them in the coming by-election to Tirupati Lok Sabha constituency.
For Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has drawn up a two-step plan. The first phase involves using Jagan’s shoulders to fire at the TDP and slowly weaken the opposition party. Already, several senior TDP leaders have left the party, some due to harassment by the government and others seeking greener pastures in the BJP or YSRCP.
In the second phase, which appears to have just begun, the party will step up its attack to expose the omissions and commissions of the government. This way, it wants to emerge as a principal challenger to Jagan.
Andhra is known for its strong caste loyalties. However, only a few influential communities like ‘Kamma’ and ‘Reddy’ have been controlling the levers of political power.
By forging an alliance with popular actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Paarty, the BJP is attempting to woo ‘Kapu’ community to which the film star belongs. Though his party came a cropper in the last year’s general elections, he still commands considerable following among the youth.
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A strong network of RSS and other Sangh Parivar organisations, particularly in the Visakhapatnam-Rajahmundry belt, is expected to play a key role in expanding the base and occupying the opposition’s space.
“It is possible that the TDP here will encounter a situation similar to the one being faced by the Congress in Telangana. A political vacuum created by the possible exodus from TDP will give enough space for the BJP to launch itself as a viable alternative,” a senior political analyst Parakala Nagaraj said.
Ever since the appointment of Somu Veeraju, who also hails from Kapu community, as the state chief in July, the party has stepped up its aggression, focusing on issues related to temples and Hindu sentiments.
Expectedly, a communal narrative was sought to be weaved around a few incidents of fire mishaps and thefts in temples. A minor incident of burning of a wooden temple chariot in the coastal Antarvedi became a full-blown political war, with the BJP, Jana Sena and some Hindu groups staging widespread protests in the state.
Then, a controversy was raked up over the visit of Jagan, a Protestant Christian, to Tirumala temple without signing the mandatory declaration form expressing his faith in the presiding deity, Lord Venkateshwara.
As per an old custom, which is generally ignored in practice, non-Hindu visitors are required to sign this declaration.
When Jagan took over the reins of the state last year after securing a massive mandate, there were whispers in political circles that his faith could someday become a rallying point for the opposition parties to target him and his government.
What was feared in some quarters then appears to be coming true now.