BJP's Telangana dilemma: How to placate Reddys ahead of Assembly polls
The BJP high command is reportedly toying with the idea of replacing its Telangana state party president Bandi Sanjay Kumar, a Backward Class (BC) leader, with Union tourism minister G Kishan Reddy, a member of the influential Reddy community.
The talk in the party circles is that Bandi, also an MP from Karimnagar constituency, is likely to be accommodated in the council of ministers at the Centre or he may be entrusted with some organisational responsibility at the national level.
The idea of change is propelled by a revolt of sorts in the party by Bandi’s critics, most of who joined the party in the recent past.
All newcomers are fierce opponents of chief minister and BRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) who has nothing to do with BJP’s ideals. Their argument for a change of leadership is that BJP cannot take on BRS effectively if Bandi remains the state president.
The state Congress, which has gained a new lease of life after the Karnataka election, has invited all these leaders to re-join the Congress in order to defeat KCR.
The Congress, under the leadership of A Revanth Reddy, was able to hijack two important BRS leaders, a former minister and a former MP, who were in talks with BJP.
The two, Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy and Jupalli Krishna Rao, will join the Congress on June 2 at a public meeting in Khammam, in the presence of Rahul Gandhi.
Many more critics of Bandi are said to be in touch with the Congress. Ravanth Reddy is openly campaigning to regroup all the Reddys, who have been uneasy after losing power following the formation of Telangana.
The news of dissidence and Revanth’s campaign seems to have made the central BJP leadership a bit nervous. It summoned two dissidents, Eatala Rajender and Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, to Delhi.
Both are said to have told Union Home Minister Amit Shah in no uncertain terms that their continuance in the party is doubtful if there is no change of guard at the state level.
Now the BJP is in a dilemma whether to continue Bandi as party president irrespective of the repercussions or buckle under the pressure from the newcomers. Allowing them to leave the party will open the floodgates to migrations.
The BJP with a view to broaden the organisation in Telangana and present itself as the real alternative to the ruling BRS lured influential leaders from other parties with lucrative packages which include central contracts and protection from harassment by the state government.
Added to it was a second consecutive defeat of the Congress in the 2018 assembly elections.
So, thinking that the BJP would replace the Congress in Telangana, many leaders joined the saffron party between 2019 and now, from Congress, BRS and TDP.
Incidentally, a majority of them are rich and influential leaders from the Reddy caste whose sole aim is to defeat KCR in the 2023 Assembly elections.
They now think the BJP under the present leadership is not in a position to take on the mighty KCR and wants a leadership change. This was expressed in a rather crude way by the party’s national executive member AP Jitender Reddy in a tweet on June 19.
The tweet, with an embedded video that shows a man kicking an inert yak to make it jump on to the cargo bed of a truck, carries a caption: “This treatment is what’s required for BJP Telangana leadership.”
The tweet was tagged to senior leaders Amit Shah, Sunil Bansal, BL Santosh and party offices in New Delhi and Hyderabad.
The Reddys are an influential community in Telangana with a share of 4 to 5 per cent in the state’s population. Though they look smaller demographically, their grip over state politics is enormous.
They have been the single largest community in the Assembly. For instance, in 1983, in the combined state of Andhra Pradesh, there were 34 Reddy MLAs from all parties. After the formation of Telangana, their number has gone up.
Even KCR could not ignore the need to cajole Reddys. In 2014 there were 42 MLAs in the Assembly of 119 seats. In 2018, though the number fell to 40, still they are the biggest caste group in the House.
“They want to capture the leadership of the party. Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy and DK Aruna (also Reddy) are in the fray. They are not opposed to Eatala Rajender, a BC leader, as BJP state president because his wife is from the Reddy community. The BJP may not commit the mistake of appointing any leader who joined the party recently as state president. It will trigger discontent among the youth,” a party source said.
Meanwhile, senior leader Dr G Vijayaramarao expressed solidarity with Bandi Sanjay. He said this was not the way to change the president for the upcoming assembly elections in Telangana.
Expressing displeasure over the possible change, he tweeted: “It will be a disastrous step, become suicidal for Telangana BJP high command to decide to opt-out Bandi Sanjay.”
The BJP seems to have found a way out in Kishan Reddy, who is an out-and-out a BJP man and a Reddy by caste. It is not known how the newcomers would react to it if Kishan Reddy is appointed the state unit chief.