Bypoll revives infighting in Telangana Congress

Cong MLAs protest - The Federal
Uttam Kumar Reddy (second from left) along with Congress MLAs during a protest inside the Assembly. Photo: PTI File

An already demoralised Congress unit in Telangana is now caught in a fresh bout of infighting over the choice of candidate for the upcoming bypoll to Huzurnagar Assembly constituency.

The party’s decision to field N Padmavathi Reddy, wife of the Telangana PCC president N Uttam Kumar Reddy, has triggered resentment among a section of the party leaders. This comes in the backdrop of a clamour to replace Uttam as PCC chief.

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The ongoing feud between Uttam and the party’s working president Revanth Reddy, who is a serious contender to the lead the party in Telangana.

Revanth has openly opposed Padmavathi’s candidature, saying such a move would blunt the Opposition’s campaign against the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) for perpetuating family rule.

Recently, Revanth had urged the AICC leadership to serve a show-cause notice to the PCC chief for taking a unilateral decision to recommend his wife’s name for Huzurnagar constituency in Nalgonda district.

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The byepoll was necessitated after Uttam vacated the seat after winning the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat in the April 11 general elections. His wife had unsuccessfully contested from Kodad Assembly seat in the same district in the December 2018 Assembly polls.

Crucial battle

In the normal circumstances, bypoll for a single Assembly seat holds little significance for any party. However, for Congress, which is caught in an existential crisis following widespread desertions, retaining the seat has now become a matter of prestige. The bypoll, to be held on October 21, is a test for unity in the party. Moreover, Uttam had won the seat thrice in the past.

“It has become a must-win election for us. Otherwise, it will be a further loss of face,” a senior party leader said.

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Such is the plight of Congress in Telangana that it has lost the status of the main Opposition in the state after 12 of its 19 MLAs defected to the TRS and sought merger with the ruling party.

Though there was a talk of change of guard in the state unit, the central leadership is yet to take a final decision. The key contender for the post, Revanth Reddy, recently met the party president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi, triggering speculation over imminent change. However, the decision has been reportedly put on hold.

The choice of Revanth, who had defected to the Congress from Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 2017 ahead of the Assembly elections in Telangana, had ruffled many feathers in the faction-ridden party unit.

A majority of the OBC leaders in the party have been demanding that the PCC chief post be given to them.

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When Revanth was made one of the working presidents of the party ahead of the December 2018 Assembly elections, there was furore in the state Congress with several seniors including V Hanumantha Rao, Renuka Choudary, D Aruna and K Venkat Reddy raising objections over his elevation. He is seen as an outsider by a section of leaders in the party.

Known for his aggressive brand of politics and fiery speeches targeting the TRS chief and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, the 50-year-old MP from Malkajgiri in the city is seen by many in the party as an ideal choice to rejuvenate the Congress. He is related to former Congress Union Minister late S Jaipal Reddy.

Despite his credentials as an effective public speaker and organiser, Revanth’s political career is tainted by his involvement in the ‘cash-for-vote’ scam that rocked the state in 2015.

Revanth, who was then with the TDP, is the prime accused in the case involving bribing a nominated member to vote in favour of the TDP candidate in the elections to the Telangana Legislative Council.

Writing on the wall

A section of the state Congress leaders argue that their alliance with the TDP, which is widely seen as an ‘enemy of Telangana’, had cost the party dearly in the last Assembly elections.

However, there is also a growing realisation in the party that it needs a leader who can infuse energy and dynamism and boost the morale of the cadre at a time when the state has almost become Congress-free.

The writing on the wall was clear for the grand old party soon after the Assembly elections as it suffered steady desertions from its camp.

Several factors have contributed to the present existential crisis of Congress. Despite granting statehood for Telangana during the UPA-II in 2014, it failed to capitalise on it but allowed KCR to walk away with all the credit and reap electoral benefits by positioning himself as the architect of the new state.

The party could win just two Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 elections while the TRS walked away with 12. It was a poor show in the Assembly polls as well with the opposition party managing to win 21 seats.

The absence of a strong and charismatic regional leader with a state-wide appeal had a telling effect. The party had, over years, failed to nurture strong regional leaders who could take independent decisions and stand up to the emergence of a formidable regional player. Added to the party’s woes were fierce infighting and groupism and lack of a cohesive strategy.

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