With Telangana emerging as the priority state for the BJP as part of its “Look South” mission, the race has intensified for the party chief’s post.
The saffron party, which has vowed to capture power in Telangana in the 2023 Assembly polls, is looking for an “aggressive” leader who can galvanize the cadre across the state to take on the well-entrenched ruling party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
The present incumbent Dr K Lakshman, whose term will end in December, is seen as a “soft, low profile” face of the party. With a doctorate in geology and a former legislator, Lakshman hails from Hyderabad. However, the BJP is keen to shrug off its image of being a ‘Hyderabad-centric’ party and scout for someone who can have state-wide appeal.
The party’s national general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, who was successful as Karnataka in-charge, is among the frontrunners to head the Telangana unit. Though there are several aspirants for the post, recently-elected MPs Bandi Sanjay and D Aravind, former MP Jithender Reddy and Muralidhar Rao could figure in the list of serious contenders, BJP sources told The Federal.
Muralidhar Rao leads the pack because of his proximity with the central leadership and his proven organisational skills. He belongs to ‘Velama’ caste, considered a stronghold of the TRS. TRS founder and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao hails from this community. The calculation among a section of BJP leaders is that Muralidhar Rao being at the helm could help the party cut into TRS’ traditional vote base.
However, Rao was never active in state politics. Though he hails from Telangana’s Karimnagar district, he moved to the North after a stint in student politics as general secretary of the Osmania University Students’ Union in Hyderabad. He was the organising secretary of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) before being co-opted by the BJP and made its national secretary in 2010 and later as national general secretary in 2013.
Among other names doing the rounds as possible replacement of Laxman are BJP MLC N Ramchander Rao, DK Aruna, former Congress minister who defected to the BJP in the run-up to the April Lok Sabha elections, and the party spokesperson Krishnasagar Rao.
The first-time MPs B Sanjay, who defeated KCR’s close relative B Vinod Kumar in Karimnagar and Aravind the giant-killer who defeated Chef Minister’s daughter K Kavitha in Nizamabad, are also serious contenders to lead the party unit. Both belong to the Backward Class community.
Emboldened by the success in the Lok Sabha polls where it bagged four of the 17 seats, the BJP is looking to push the Congress aside and emerge as an alternative to the TRS which has 103 MLAs in the 119-member Assembly and 9 MPs.
While the rest of the southern states, barring Karnataka, gave a thumbs down to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls, the outcome in Telangana surprised many including the ardent fans of the saffron party. It bagged four seats — Secunderabad, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad — in a state where the party was largely seen as a fringe player.
Barring Secunderabad, all the other three seats are considered strongholds of the TRS. The gains have come as a major boost for the BJP which could win only one seat in the 119-member assembly in the December 2018 Assembly elections and polled just 7 per cent votes.
The saffron party’s vote share has almost doubled from 10.5 percent in the 2014 elections to 19.4 percent this time. This has further emboldened the party to take on the TRS government more aggressively.
As part of its ‘Mission Telangana’, the BJP has started luring leaders from various parties into its fold.
Already, the prominent Dalit face of the TRS and a former MP from Peddapally, G Vivek has joined the saffron party. Vivek, a leading industrialist and a media baron, is the son of former Congress leader and ex-Union minister G Venkataswamy. He has been moving back and forth from Congress and TRS since 2013. Following denial of TRS ticket in the last elections, he has been looking for greener pastures.
Another Dalit leader from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and former minister M Narasimulu is also set to switch over to the BJP.
The names of Komatreddy brothers — Komatreddy Venkat Reddy (MP from Bhongir) and Komatreddy Rajgopal Reddy (MLA from Munugodu) — are other names doing the rounds.
Significantly, they all belong to the influential Reddy community, considered a strong support base for the Congress. A leader from this community — G Kishan Reddy (MP from Secunderabad) — is now a minister in the central cabinet.
“The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections has clearly proved that Telangana is going to be the fertile and potential ground for the growth of BJP in the next five years. Now, our aim is to conquer the state in 2013 and form the first BJP government in the state,” the state BJP president Lakshman said.
In his assessment, there is a “huge political vacuum” in the state at present and the recent LS verdict was a vote against the “dynasty and dictatorial rule” of both the chief ministers — Chandrababu Naidu and KCR.
“The TDP has lost its ground completely and Congress party’s base is gradually eroding. In fact, we have pushed the Congress to the third position in seven or eight parliamentary constituencies. Apart from winning four seats, we came second in two other constituencies. So, we are the only potential opposition in the state,” he reasoned.
Party leaders are of the view that induction of Kishan Reddy into the Union cabinet as a minister of state for home affairs was a strategic move to improve its strength in Telangana. Reddy is said to be close to party president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
“Telangana provides a perfect political setting for BJP to repeat its West Bengal strategy. Like in Bengal, the BJP will be looking for Hindu consolidation by harping on TRS’ friendly ties with the AIMIM (All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen) and its Muslim appeasement policies,” the political analyst Dr K Nageswar said.