YS Vijayamma, the widow of former chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy ((YSR), called an ‘Atmeeya Sammelan’ (remembrance meet) in commemoration of her husband in Hyderabad on September 2, 2021. It has been 12 years since YSR died in a chopper crash in 1999. Political pundits and Telangana leaders were taken aback by Vijayamma’s sudden decision to hold such an event and send invites to leaders from various political parties, retired IAS and IPS officers and media and industry representatives, who were known to be close to the former Congress leader.
No such programme, at least on this scale, was organised in all these years since YSR died. Therefore, observers are pondering over what could be the underlying objective of holding an ‘Atmeeya Sammelan’ now.
Important among those present were former Congress Rajya Sabha member and YSR’s childhood friend K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao, Congress rebel MP from Bhongiri Lok Sabha seat Komatireddy Venkata Reddy, Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president N. Raghuveera Reddy and former BJP MP AP Jitender Reddy.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s (KCR) ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the BJP chose to stay away from the programme and have refrained from commenting on it.
Jitters in Congress camp
The Telangana Congress leadership has viewed Vijayamma’s move with suspicion and had even warned its leaders against participating in the event. Of course, the party’s fears are not unfounded.
After the Congress-led UPA-II bifurcated Andhra Pradesh into two states (Andhra and Telangana) in 2014, the party faced a severe existential crisis due to mass defections to Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress.
The Congress suspects that the ‘Atmeeya Sammelan’ is the BJP’s ploy to cut into its traditional vote bank — Reddys, Scheduled Caste, Christians and Muslims. Former Congress MP Madhu Yashki openly said that Vijayamma and late YSR’s daughter, Yeduguri Sandinti Sharmila, is playing into the hands of the BJP.
The Congress is apprehensive about getting close to Sharmila’s party, YSR Telangana Party, because it fears yet another mass exodus of its leaders, the way it happened in 2014 when hordes of partymen, who were elected on Congress tickets, moved to the TRS, said Yashki.
Raka Sudhakar, a Hyderabad-based RSS ideologue, however, has a different take on the matter. “It is not the BJP, but KCR’s handiwork to split the opposition votes with Sharmila’s help. This will eventually prevent the growth of the BJP,” he argued.
Can YSR’s legacy help Sharmila?
Vijayamma probably believes that by reigniting people’s love for her late husband, YCR, she can secure the political future of her daughter, Sharmila, in Telangana…just the way Jagan benefited in Andhra Pradesh and came to power in 2019.
Despite Vijayamma’s best effort, politically dominant Reddys’ migration from Congress to Sharmila’s YSR Telangana Party seems unlikely. Congress Telangana president A. Reventh Reddy is a strong force and the Reddys are likely to stay with Congress as long as he is the party chief.
Besides, the Reddys view Sharmila and her party as a weak alternative to the Congress.
It is a fact that Sharmila’s political outfit has failed to gain much traction in Telangana, even as her brother, Jagan Reddy, rose to become the CM of Andhra Pradesh. The people of Telangana view Sharmila as an outsider (Andhra), an idea that has worked against her. And, the legacy of her father, a staunch integrationist, apparently has not done any good for lifting her reputation and popularity in Telangana.
“Vijayamma failed in her attempts to mobilize support for Sharmila’s party. Most leaders who attended the ‘Atmeeya Sammelan’ were a spent force, except for Congress MP Komatireddy Venkata Reddy,” Raka told The Federal.
Family feuds in the open
Vijayamma wittingly or unwittingly brought out differences in the family when she failed to ensure the presence of her son, Andhra Chief Minister Jagan Reddy, at the ‘Atmeeya Sammelan’. For records, Vijayamma is the honourary president of YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh while her son is the president.
Jagan obviously found it awkward to share the dais with his sister, Sharmila, after she openly accused him and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao of failing to resolve the inter-state disputes over sharing of river waters.
Sharmila went on to say that she won’t mind fighting her brother for “getting Telangana’s due share in river waters”.
YSR, Jagan’s father, had taken up the Potireddypadu head regulator project upstream Srisailam reservoir on the Krishna river to draw waters for the water-starved Rayalaseema region. His initiative drew massive protests from KCR’s party then. Jagan followed in his father’s footsteps and took forward YSR’s mission by undertaking a scheme for the diversion of Krishna river waters for Rayalaseema by increasing the discharge capacity of the Potireddipadu head regulator.
This action of Jagan fuelled a fresh bout of inter-state dispute with Telangana. Sharmila’s proclaimed vow to correct the “wrong” being done by the Andhra government with respect to utilisation of Krishna waters, obviously ran counter to Jagan’s proclaimed agenda and the so-called YSR legacy.
The sibling rivalry between Jagan and Sharmila became evident when Jagan’s close aid and YSR Congress general secretary, Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy, went on record to say that Sharmila floated a new party against the wish of Jagan Reddy. The brother-sister even avoided face-to-face contact while paying tributes at YSR’s Samadhi at Idupulapaya on his birth anniversary recently.
Further, in a striking departure from her usual practice, Sharmila took to Twitter to convey ‘Raksha Bandhan’ greetings to her brother Jagan this year. Earlier, she would personally go to Jagan and tie him a rakhi.
Sharmila too has reasons to complain. The 47-year-old ran Jagan Reddy’s party from the front when he was jailed in money-laundering case. She even launched a marathon 3000km walkathon and galvanized party workers in the run-up to the elections in 2014, wishing Jagan to become the CM.
After Jagan came to power in 2019, Sharmila went out of active politics, which fuelled speculations that she was denied her due in power-sharing. Subsequently, Sharmila floated the YSRTP in Telangana with her mother’s blessings. “There is no space for power sharing in the Jagan’s style of politics,” observes a former MLC of the ruling YSRC. “It may be true that Sharmila has strived hard to let Jagan become the CM. But giving Sharmila her due share of power would mean creating a parallel power centre, which Jagan never liked,” said the former MLC.
Another instance that brought the family feud to the fore is the lone legal battle being waged by Y.S. Suneetha Reddy, Jagan’s cousin, against the Andhra government. She moved the court ‘exposing’ Jagan government’s alleged failure to deliver justice in the murder of her father Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy.