War within Congress in Telangana even as party eyes power

The state Congress is a divided house; this has led to infighting among the Reddys in the party

Revanth Reddy Telangana Congress
A suggestion of a possible tie-up with the ruling BRS in Telangana has triggered a storm within the Congress in the state, forcing the high command to intervene. Photo shows Telangana Congress chief Revanth Reddy and other party leaders during 'Yatra for Change' recently in the state. Photo: Twitter/Revanth Reddy

An unexpected storm has rocked the Congress in Telangana, prompting the high command to dispatch Manikrao Thakre, the state in-charge general secretary, to Hyderabad to weather it before it was too late. The problem was triggered by party veteran and MP Komatireddy Venkatareddy’s comments on February 14 on a possible tie-up between the Congress and the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

Talking to the media in New Delhi on February 14, Komatireddy predicted a hung House in the 2023 December elections. Though a possibility, the Congress fears that repeated talk of hung house and a BRS-Congress tie-up could irreparably affect its prospects of a revival.

In Komatireddy’s view, a hung Assembly is unavoidable and the BRS needs the Congress to form the government.

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“If it is a hung house, where would BRS supremo KCR go? He has to take Congress help to form a government. Our party also will have no option but to join hands with BRS, a secular party, to contain BJP,” Komatireddy justified the possible scenario in a way that irked the party leadership.

Revanth Reddy

Coming at a time when PCC president A Revanth Reddy was on a padayatra across the state with the confidence of reviving the party, Komatireddy’s comments touched a raw nerve among Revanth Reddy’s supporters. They perceived this as an attempt to sabotage the leadership of Revanth Reddy, a former TDP leader who joined the Congress in 2017.

A rabble rouser like Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) and BJP President Bandi Sanjaykumar, Revanth Reddy in no time became popular among the youth. His tours and fiery speeches have attracted huge crowds. His ongoing padayatra is a hit. Even the cadres of Left parties which are allied with BRS are joining his padayatra. Despite recent setbacks in byelections, he is largely seen by the high command as the right candidate to lead the party.

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But the state Congress is a divided house. This has led to infighting among the Reddys. Seniors are unhappy with the style of Revanth Reddy, who was appointed PCC president in 2021 bypassing veterans including Komatireddy Venkatareddy.

Komatireddy brothers

This forced the Komatireddy brothers, who think they are equally eligible for the PCC chief’s post, to raise a banner revolt and refuse to work under Revanth Reddy. This hostility with Revanth Reddy forced Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, younger brother of Venkatareddy, to quit the Assembly and the party to join BJP last year, necessitating a by-election in Munugode constituency. In the triangular contest, the BRS wrested the seat.

But a section in the party apprehends that Revanth Reddy is converting the fight between Congress and BRS into an uncompromising caste war which is more harmful to the party.

“In recent past, BRS is softening its stand vis-a-vis Congress. KCR’s daughter and MLC Kavitha did not rule out reaching out to Congress to defeat BJP at the national level. Chief Minister KCR openly acknowledged that Manmohan Singh’s government was far better than Modi’s. He also defended Jawaharlal Nehru from denigration by the BJP. When Himanta Biswa Sarma used abusive language on Rahul Gandhi, it was KCR who first condemned it and demanded Sarma’s dismissal,” a senior functionary of the party told The Federal on condition of anonymity.

Alliance with BRS?

“Friendly talk is KCR’s strategy to confuse the Congress voters. Speculating about alliances is a violation of Rahul Gandhi’s declaration. For his utterances, Komatireddy deserves a disciplinary action,” fumed TPCC senior vice president Dr Mallu Ravi.

Revanth Reddy wants to play a caste card to unite powerful Reddys who have been out of power in Telangana after the creation of a separate state. His role model is YS Rajasekhar Reddy, who succeeded in 2004 in reviving the Congress in the united Andhra Pradesh defeating N Chandrababu Naidu’s alleged Kamma dominance.

The Congress high command seems to have no objection if the caste card can give a new lease of life to the party in Telangana.

Addressing a Reddy conclave last year, Revanth Reddy equated the fight between Congress and BRS as the fight between Reddy and Velama castes. Chief Minister KCR is from Velama, a miniscule but rich and influential caste.

Reddys vs Velamas

“The Velama vs Reddy conflict dates back to Kakatiya Pratapa Rudradeva (1289-1323) who favoured Padma Naikas (Velama) as against the Reddys and this led to the fall of Kakatiaya dynasty.  In Andhra Pradesh, Congress was revived after 10 long years by YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2004. Parties should give reins to Reddys if they want to survive,” Revanth Reddy declared much to the discomfiture of non-Reddy leaders.

But the Congress high command firmly believes that only a robust leader from Reddy caste alone can revive the party in Telangana. So, any talk that undermines Revanth Reddy leadership is unwelcome. Komatireddy’s comments about possible hung assembly and tie up with BRS, almost nine months before the elections, the party thinks, would derail Revanth Reddy’s efforts and help only BRS or BJP.

BJP wades in

Revanth Reddy supporters bayed for Komatireddy’s blood.  BJP president Bandi Sanjay was quick to react by asking people not to vote for Congress as a vote for Congress is a vote for BRS.

Manikrao Thakre held a closed-door meeting with Komatireddy and extinguished the fire. Emerging from the meeting Komatireddy said his prediction was based on surveys and BJP tried to politicise the matter.

But many in the party still feel what Komatireddy said was close to reality and a possibility of BRS and Congress coming close cannot be ruled out.

The question is, will the strategy of Revanth Reddy, who is surrounded by dissidents, help bring the Reddys back to the centre stage of Telangana politics and catapult the Congress back to power after 10 years like how YSR did in 2004?