The BJP in Andhra Pradesh has suffered a setback exactly a week before the much-talked about meeting of the National Executive of the party, scheduled to commence on July 2 in Hyderabad.
The party’s candidate forfeited the deposit in the by-election held for Antamkur constituency in the erstwhile Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. The by-election was necessitated by the sudden death of state finance minister Mekapati Gowtham Reddy, a close confidante of chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy.
Hyderabad has reportedly been chosen as the venue of the BJP National Executive to enthuse the cadre of the party in both the Telugu states, especially in Telangana, where, the party believes, it has acquired critical mass to take on the ruling TRS.
However, the hope of the party to demonstrate that it is not lagging behind in Andhra Pradesh is shattered by the by-election result.
Not up to par
For the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rytu Congress (YSRC) as well the result was a disappointment. The party thought its welfare schemes, coupled with the sympathy for the Mekapati family, would make the by-poll a historic one, both in terms of votes polled and the margin it was aiming for. On both counts, the result was not up to par. The voter turnout recorded a steep fall of 18 per cent from that in 2019. Also, the party could not reach the one-lakh majority it aimed for.
TDP, the main opposition party, did not field the candidate as per an unwritten agreement among political parties that they should not field candidates against the kin of the deceased member of the assembly in the byelection.
The BJP was also supposed not to contest the poll and leave the seat to the late minister’s brother Mekapati Vikram Reddy, the YSRC candidate.
However, the party, in a hurry to gain some brownie points before the national executive, decided to field the candidate ignoring the fact that its ally, the Janasena of Pawan Kalyan, also distanced itself from the by-election.
This created a situation where the YSRC and BJP were locked in a straight contest.
The YSRC, on the other hand, started thinking that it would create a history of sorts by winning by one-lakh margin as it was fighting an insignificant opponent. The entire campaign of YSRC revolved around one slogan — one lakh majority.
Half-a-dozen ministers were roped in for the campaign and for each panchayat an MLA was given responsibility. The party also hoped that the sympathy wave over the death of a young and dynamic minister would lead to a historic mandate.
Disappointment for both YSRC and BJP
The by-election, which was held on June 23, sprang a surprise for both the contestants. The BJP candidate, despite a high-decibel campaign, forfeited deposit. In fact, state BJP president Somu Verraju, along with other state leaders, camped in the constituency overseeing the campaign. The party spun the narrative that ‘the win in Atmakur bypoll would pave the path for BJP to form the government in 2024’ as its poll plank.
Party’s national leaders, such Sunil Deodhar, Satya Kumar, and D Puandeswari, were the star campaigners. But it didn’t work. Its candidate C Bharat Kumar Yadav lost the deposit. He secured just 19,533 (14.1 per cent) votes. The party though can take solace in the fact the party’s share of votes has gone up significantly from 2,314 votes (1.33 per cent) it polled in 2019. But what surprises observers is that even the supporters of Janasena, its ally in the state, did not come to the rescue of the BJP.
YSRC candidate Vikram Reddy won the election with a margin of 82,000 votes. The margin, though huge, fell short of the one-lakh target. This despite the fact that he was facing just BJP in the contest. He polled 1.02,240 votes, far less than the 1,72,288 his brother polled in 2019.
The voter turnout was very poor in the by-election. Only 64.27 per cent of 2.11 lakh voters exercised their franchise, a steep fall from 82.44 per cent in the 2019 general election. In 2019, the voter turnout was 1.77 lakh.
In just three years, in spite of dozens of cash transfer schemes launched in the state, the voters did not show much interest in the by-election. They simply ignored the call for a one-lakh majority given by chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy.
What went wrong?
According to TDP, the by-poll result was indicative of people’s growing disenchantment with Jagamohan Reddy’s government.
Senior party leader and former minister from Nellore district, Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy said people simply ignored the efforts of YSRC ministers, MLAs, and party senior leaders’ call to vote in a big way for their candidate to give a record margin of one lakh votes.
“This is because every section is unhappy with the government. Take the case of sarpanches. Panchayats would get funds directly from the Centre as per recommendations of finance commissions. The funds would disappear within minutes as government diverted them to its programmes. Sarpanches are made mere spectators. Similarly, farmers are unhappy as the state government is fixing the meters to agricultural pump sets. The election was held amid TDP campaign against this in the name of ‘Rythu Poru’. Similarly, other sections are unhappy with the RTC fare increase, and the government’s refusal to cut cess on the fuel. The disillusionment was expressed by not turning to vote for the ruling party in the byelection,” Somireddy told The Federal.
Veteran political commenter V Sankariah said this result of the by-election is not without significance given YSRC’s concentration of its resources and mobilisation of the party machinery in the constituency.
“We can’t say with certainty which factor or factors worked against YSRC’s attempt to make the election a historic one. Whether EC officials did not allow rigging or whether the party’s grassroot workers did not work as the government relied heavily on panchayat volunteers, or whether the voters really got disillusioned with the government is not known. But the 18 per cent fall in voter turnout from 2019 is a serious matter. The media reported all these factors as reasons. Maybe all these factors account for the low percentage of voter turnout and shortfall in the one-lakh margin of YSRC campaign,” Sankariah said.
YSRC plays down low turnout
However, the YSRC has sought to play down the poor turnout of the voters and the failure to hit the one-lakh vote margin target. Party’s senior leader and minister for water resources, Ambati Rambabu said the YSRC scored the big win in the by-election due to people’s continued support for Jaganmohan Reddy’s government.
Responding to the outcome of the by-election, he said, “the voters had witnessed good governance and welfare initiatives of brought in by chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy. This has resulted in securing continuous victories in the by-elections held in the recent past such as in Badvel assembly constituency and Tirupati Lok Sabha constituency,” he said.