YS Sharmila-Telangana
YS Sharmila entered Telangana politics by launching YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) in 2021

How YS Sharmila has emerged as a serious player in Telangana politics

On May 28, 2010, violence had erupted at Mahabubabad Railway station in the then Warangal district when YS Jaganmohan Reddy had arrived there on a week-long Odarpu (Consolation) yatra. Odarpu yatra was meant to console the families of those who had died of shock after YS Rajasekhara Reddy was killed in a helicopter crash in September 2009.

As Jagan had opposed the formation of Telangana state, pro-Telangana activists, who felt he was diverting people’s attention from the statehood agitation, had pelted stones at the railway station to prevent the train he was traveling in from entering the district.

The police had opened fire. Gunmen of Congress leaders, waiting at the railway station, also resorted to firing. A person was killed. Abandoning the yatra, Jagan had to beat a hasty retreat under police protection. That was the beginning of the end of politics for Jagan, then Congress MP from Kadapa, in Telangana.

Though Jagan’s party, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress (YSRC), did win an MP seat and three assembly constituencies in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they all joined the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti or TRS (now Bharat Rashtra Samithi), bringing YSRC’s chapter in Telangana to a close. Then, YSRC was branded as the anti-Telangana Andhra Party, like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

YS Sharmila enters Telangana politics

However, Jagan’s sibling, YS Sharmila, entered Telangana politics by launching YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) in 2021 — twelve years after she was denied a share in power in Andhra Pradesh — and embarked on a padayatra.

Though she was allowed to launch the party, and walk for about 3,500 km across the state, miscreants attacked her vehicle and attempted to set it on fire at Narsampet in the same Warangal district on November 28.

Unfazed, Sharmila wanted to stage a protest in front of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s residence in Hyderabad on November 29, with the damaged vehicles. Police thwarted her attempt midway and tried to arrest her.

She resisted the arrest and refused to get out of the car she was driving, which led to a high drama.

Also read: Riding on YSR wave, Sharmila plots a comeback in Telangana

Having failed to persuade her to alight the vehicle, police towed the vehicle to SR Nagar Police station while Sharmila remained in the car. This incident, which was widely condemned, made Sharmila the star of the day in the eyes of the people. Finally, the windows were forced open and she was taken into custody. Cases were booked U/S 143 341 290 506 509 336 382 r/w 149 of CRPC. But she was released on bail and allowed to resume her padayatra.

2010 vs 2022

There is a difference between the two attacks. While there was a widespread anti-Andhra sentiment in Telangana in 2010, now there is a considerable dilution of the sentiment due to the changing political environment in the state and the eight years of KCR’s rule.

The attack on her vehicle took place after YSRTP leader intensified her tirade against KCR and alleged corruption in Kaleshwaram project that is being projected as the pride of Telangana by the TRS government.

Recently, Sharmila presented documents to buttress her allegation of corruption in the Kaleshwaram project execution to the CBI and other central leaders in Delhi. She is pressing for a CBI investigation into it. The way the police arrested her helped her achieve what she could not do in 222 days. Now, many consider Sharmila to be a serious player in Telangana politics.

The audacity of YS Sharmila

Sharmila hails from a family with enormous clout in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. She is a combination of three explosive ingredients needed in the contemporary politics of the state: Caste (Reddy), money and good will left behind by his father YS Rajasekhara Reddy.
Stating that she was the daughter-in-law of the state and has every right to enter Telangana politics, she sought to nip the possible incitement of anti-Andhra feeling against her in the bud.

Having seen her tenacity when she continued Odarpu Yatra in 2015 after cessation of his brother’s, it was initially thought, she may not be allowed to launch the party in the first place.

But she proved her detractors wrong and launched the party. Instead of wasting time in dharnas and protests against the KCR’s government, she chose to interact with the people on the lines of what her father did in 2003 and her brother Jagan in 2018 by embarking on a padayatra.

In India, no woman has so far launched a new political party. They have become leaders in the already existing political parties. Though a few women are leading separate political parties, they are mostly split-away factions of the parent organizations.

A woman launching a political outfit is altogether a new development and Sharmila broke the record when she launched YSR Telangana Party, promising ‘Rajanna Rajyam’ (golden era) in Telangana. From day one, she has chosen to talk about how Chief Minister KCR and his family betrayed the aspirations of Telangana movement and cornered the benefits.

Political space for new aspirants

The political influence she commands, the money power she wields and her caste background helped her propel the party without any hiccup. This caste-cash-courage to take on KCR is bound to rekindle hopes of political participation among the aspirational sections across all castes in the Telangana society.

Also read: Why statehood movement heads feel ‘national leader’ KCR should support them

Given her resources, these sections are likely to gravitate towards Sharmila’s party as it is bound to provide new opportunities for political participation. “The political space available in the existing political parties to the aspirational middle class is not commensurate with the growing political ambition among these sections. So, they are waiting for the arrival of a new political party,” a political observer commented.

Telangana has seen several socio-political movements in the past two decades. These mobilizations have politicized the society to the levels unknown in the history of Telugu states. “Every social group is expecting political participation in one form or the other in the new state. The disappearance of TDP, which once had a reasonable base among these sections, has also contributed to the expansion of these forces,” he added.

The number of aspirants vying to enter the electoral politics in the state is so high that TRS, the party responsible for separate state movement, is finding it difficult to accommodate them to their satisfaction.

Congress is in bad shape to meet their demand. The party, Telangana Jana Samiti, floated by Professor Kodandaram is a non-starter. Janasena of movie star Pawan Kalyan is not in the reckoning. North Indian Social justice parties such as the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have never been owned up by Telugu people. The only available option for this new middle-class is the BJP.

Also read: TDP looks to edge into Telangana as KCR opens gates to go national

This is the background against which Sharmila has taken a plunge into politics, and her leadership and the secular space her party is expected to offer might look more bankable than that of Hindutva BJP for lower castes and Muslims.

The anti-KCR Alliance

The events of the past two days that led to Sharmila’s arrest on Tuesday has triggered a debate in the state on the possible shape of things to come. Noted commentator Telakapalli Ravi says that given the social base of Congress and Sharmila, the latter is expected to cut into the vote base of the grand old party in several pockets in the state. “Though it is too early to guess on her future moves, the sections supporting her and the media highlighting her campaign are pro-TDP and BJP. It shows the path she is likely to tread,” Ravi says.

Nandiraju Radhakrishna, a veteran journalist, does not rule out the formation of an alliance among the anti-KCR forces. “The TDP is planning to revive the party. Irrespective of the fact that she has been critical of the party, the state BJP has chosen to condemn her arrest. Deviating from the practice of remaining silent, Governor Tamilisai also expressed displeasure in a communiqué over the way Sharmila had been arrested. All these are a pointer to a possible formation of a front against TRS,” Radhakrishna said.

A BJP insider admitted that since the saffron party is not uniformly strong in all sub-regions of Telangana, the chances of Sharmila’s party emerging as a force in certain parts cannot be ruled out. “An alliance of all the anti-KCR parties to complement one another looks a certainty. But it is too early to comment upon,” he adds, on condition of anonymity.

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