Telangana: Polls 20 months away, but bickering begins among BJP’s CM aspirants
The rise of state party president is not seen kindly by his rivals and senior leaders in the Telangana BJP

Telangana: Polls 20 months away, but bickering begins among BJP’s CM aspirants

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It’s still nearly 20 months to go for Assembly elections in Telangana, but the race for the chief minister’s post has begun in the Bharatiya Janata Party with the party’s state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar’s loyalists throwing their hat in the ring.

Sanjay was projected as the CM face at a public gathering at Makthal, in Mahabub Nagar district, during the Praja Sangrama Yatra on April 25. AP Jithendra Reddy, former MP and senior party leader, projected Sanjay as the future chief minister at the rally, exuding confidence that the condition of farmers in Telangana would improve in the Sanjay-led BJP government, which he predicted will be formed after state elections in 2023.

Reddy, who went to the Lok Sabha on the TRS ticket in 2014, defected to the BJP ahead of the general elections in 2019.

Stirring the hornet’s nest

Sanjay’s projection as CM candidate has put many in the party at unease, with rival factions opposing his leadership. “The BJP is a national party known for its ideology, discipline and commitment. Selection of the CM candidate will be done by the party national leadership at an appropriate time. It cannot be decided on the streets by some self-seeking individuals or groups,” a senior party leader told The Federal, seeking anonymity.

Sanjay, hailing from the numerically dominant OBC Munnuru Kapu community and a product of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), rose from a municipal councillor in Karimnagar town to become Lok Sabha MP and later the state party president. The 51-year-old took over the state party reins on the back of BJP’s spectacular show in the 2019 general elections in Telangana. With his anointment, someone from outside Hyderabad became the party president after a very long time. Bandaru Dattatreya, K Lakshman, N Indrasena Reddy and G Kishan Reddy, all-based in Hyderabad, had headed the party before and after Telangana state was carved out.

Also read: Governor Tamilisai’s remarks on TRS govt irresponsible: Telangana minister

Given his RSS background and aggressive nature, Sanjay was handpicked by the party top brass. He was thought to be the right choice to lead the BJP to take on the KCR-led TRS government in the run-up to the next elections. As expected, he prepared the party ranks to be aggressive against the TRS government and be ready to face state oppression. The party, until then, was regarded as docile, unable to leverage its potential to dethrone the Congress to become the principal opposition in the state. This was attributed by some sections within the party to the pro-KCR postures adopted by those at the helm.

In-house troubles

The BJP’s win in the Dubbak and Huzurabad by-elections and the inroads it made in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections elevated Sanjay’s stature. He undertook a gruelling walkathon, Praja Sangrama Yatra, in 2021 with an ambitious plan to take the party to every corner of the state and, in the bargain, help him gain popularity and following across the state. He also succeeded in roping Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the Telangana Liberation Day programme at Nirmal on September 17, 2021.

However, his rise was not seen kindly by his rivals and senior leaders in the party. For example, Union minister of culture and tourism and development of the north-eastern region, Kishan Reddy, is much senior to Sanjay. He has served as president of the BJYM, the party’s youth wing, and also was president of state unit before becoming Union minister. Reddy is known for his proximity to Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Another senior leader Etela Rajender, a six-time MLA and three-time minister in the KCR government, raised a banner of revolt against his mentor and switched to the BJP, expecting a more promising career in the saffron party. After his spectacular win in the high profile Huzurabad by-election against the ruling party candidate, Etela expected to be given a much bigger role in the party. But to his chagrin, he has been constrained to play second fiddle to Sanjay. Etela belongs to Mudiraj community, another dominant OBC community, constituting more than 50 per cent of the state population.

Given Etela’s popularity and his anti-KCR track record, many observers expect him to be projected as the CM face by the party top brass in the run-up to the next elections.

Dissident voices

Sanjay has been facing hostile seniors since his elevation as party head. Rival groups have convened at least two rounds of meetings — one in Karimnagar district and the other in Hyderabad district — expressing their resentment against the Sanjay. Raghunandan Rao, a vocal Velama leader and KCR’s relative, openly showed his dissatisfaction with Sanjay’s leadership at a party’s public rally.

Earlier, during the by-election in the Lingojiguda division in the GHMC, a section of BJP leaders from the state capital forged an understanding with the TRS without the knowledge of the state president. Though the TRS did not put a candidate in the by-election, the BJP lost its sitting seat to the Congress.

Caste dynamics    

The maxim — the blood is thicker than water — comes true in the internal caste dynamics of the state BJP. Sanjay is allegedly facing problems from the party leaders of Velamas, a community KCR also belongs to. A senior Velama caste leader from the BJP’s farmer’s wing, the Bharatiya Kisan Morcha, who is close to former Union minister and former Maharashtra governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, allegedly was instrumental in organising dissidents’ meet in Karimnagar.

Velamas, constituting hardly 0.5 per cent of the state’s population, are nevertheless a vocal and dominant ruling class in the state. Though financially sound and rich in resources, the community has been out of power most of the time – with the exception of Jalagam Vengal Rao of the Congress, who was Chief Minister between 1973 and 1978. Otherwise, Reddys dominated Congress politics till matinee idol N T Rama Rao’s entry into the scene with his Telugu Desam Party in the early 1980s. During NTR’s time, his caste (Kammas) ruled the roost. It’s only after KCR came to power in 2014 that the Velama community began growing powerful. This period has seen consolidation of Velamas across the political spectrum, Raka Sudhakar, an analyst, told The Federal.

Caste bonhomie cutting across political lines was witnessed when Vidyasagar Rao, as Maharashtra Governor, mediated a one-to-one meeting between KCR and the then Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to iron out inter-state problems on sharing of Godavari waters that led to the building of the Kaleswaram Lift Irrigation Scheme.

A political observer cited a recent instance in which TRS leader and state Planning Board Deputy Chairman Boyanapalli Vinod Kumar was invited to participate in a closing programme of Itihasa Sankalana Samithi, hosted by RSS. Vinod happens to be a close relative of both KCR and Vidyasagar Rao.

Also read: As tension simmers, KCR gives Centre ’24 hours’ to buy paddy from Telangana

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