YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) chief YS Sharmila’s padayatra, Praja Prasthanam, draws attentive audience everywhere for two obvious reasons: one, she is the daughter the late YS Rajasekhar Reddy, a popular Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh, and sister of incumbent Andhra chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy; two, she comes from an upper caste and aggressive Reddy family.
The oddity is her attraction. Ignoring the fact that her family had opposed the formation of Telangana, people are equally receptive to her as they are to any ruling BRS star. This appears to be the reason for her frontal attack on Telangana chief minister KCR, his son and minister KT Ramarao, daughter and MLC Kavitha and Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) MLAs of the constituencies she passes through.
Her constant refrain is that Telangana looks like Afghanistan and KCR resembles the Taliban. The 49-year-old mother of two seems to have realized that she can outsmart other critics of KCR only by becoming louder and unsparing.
The sister of the Andhra Pradesh chief minister taking on the Telangana chief minister on Telangana soil for alleged misrule presents a curious spectacle for the rural masses of Telangana.
She is unsparing in her criticism of corruption, especially of MLAs. Her yatra, started in October 2021, has covered more than 3,000 km across the state but was stopped twice as it created a law and order problem.
Her attacks on BRS MLAs who she says have amassed wealth through land grab and other illegal means are so fierce that she has encountered the backlash with equal ferocity. But this has guaranteed her headlines quite frequently.
One such clash with the followers of BRS MLA Banoth Shankar Naik led to her arrest on Sunday near Mahabubabad town. First, BRS workers tried to obstruct her yatra by staging a dharna protesting the derogatory language she used about the MLA.
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A party worker lodged a complaint against her under the SC and ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act. Police cancelled the permission accorded to the padayatra. She was sent back to Hyderabad. But the police handled the sister of the Andhra chief minister with utmost care compared to other critics of KCR with low social status.
Clash with MLAs
A similar incident occurred on November 28, 2022 in Narsampet constituency where she attacked BRS MLA Peddi Sudarshan Reddy for his allegedly ill-gotten wealth. Her contention was how a former tractor driver could earn properties worth crores of rupees as an MLA if he was not corrupt.
Irate followers of the MLA set Sharmila’s vehicle on fire and tried to attack her physically. Sensing major trouble, police withdrew permission given to the yatra and drove her safely back to Hyderabad.
The next day, on November 29, 2022, she tried to lay siege to Pragati Bhavan, the chief minister’s residence, to protest against the attack on her vehicle and the convoy by BRS workers. But the police did not allow her to approach the Pragati Bhavan. As she refused to alight from the car, the police had to tow away the vehicle while she remained in the vehicle. The scene went viral on social media.
In between she lashed out at Panchayat Raj Minister Errabelli Dayakar when she was travelling through his constituency Palakurti. Describing Errabelli as a land grabber, she alleged that the minister was responsible for the suicides of gram sarpanches in the state.
In every constituency, people listened to her attentively while she kept on listing the corrupt deeds of their MLAs which has, as expected, provoked anger and bitter reaction. This looks like her strategy to make herself visible in the state.
According to political commentator Kadimpalli Sudhakar Goud, the people are watching Sharmila with curiosity because she is talking about corruption of their MLAs which are in the public realm and ignored by other parties.
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But Goud is sceptical about Sharmila’s impact on the election outcome. “The voters know pretty well why Jagan’s sister has entered the vibrant Telangana state eight years after the state’s formation to set up ‘YSR Raj’. It’s the sheer lust for power that brought her to Telangana,” he said.
Sharmila has been active in politics though she never contested elections nor held any position in the YSR Congress. But she and her mother YS Vijayamma led the party when Jagan was in judicial custody for 16 months till August 2013 in a disproportionate assets case.
Sharmila looks more interested in self-promotion rather than positioning herself as a leader of a mass organisation. Except promising ‘Rajanna Rajyam’, she has not made public her strategy on how she moves closer to various sections of Telangana society which she thinks are ignored by KCR.
No new idea
Telangana has travelled too far from the so called ‘Rajanna Rajyam’ which opposed Telangana in the early 2000s. She is not able to offer anything new than what is being offered by the BRS government.
She launched the YSRTP on July 8, 2021 on the occasion of her father’s birth anniversary. Till now, the party has no organization. She appointed a jumbo executive with more than 100 members immediately but scrapped all committees to appoint constituency coordinators.
In fact, a couple of Telangana intellectuals she interacted with advised her to give primacy to BC, SC and STs in district committees. This did not happen. Instead she dissolved all committees making herself the sole face of the party.
“Given her trajectory, it’s clear that Sharmila is not interested in a mass party. Her activities revolve around publicity. She is successful to the extent that she finds herself in the news always because of arrests, controversial statements, and clashes with BRS workers. This may serve in one way or another her limited purpose of entering the Assembly. But that would take YSRTP nowhere as a political party,” said Inukonda Tirumali, a political scientist and a former Delhi University Professor.
Alliance with BJP?
Political pundits believe that it is the internal feud in the YSR family that forced her to migrate to Telangana and being the ‘daughter-in-law of the state’ has become her qualification to launch a Telangana party.
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With enormous social capital generated from caste, cash and connections, she wants to gain entry into the Telangana Assembly. She has chosen Palair constituency in Khammam district for her debut election later in 2023.
Speculation is rife that she will end up benefiting the BRS by splitting the anti-KCR vote. Some observers foresee a BJP-YSRCP alliance at the time of elections as she is expected to attract some Reddy votes from Congress which still enjoys Reddy backing. Others dub her inconsequential and advise her to do something beneficial to Rayalaseema, the region of her father and forefathers which has been the victim of seven decades of political apathy and droughts.