Ever since Andhra Pradesh came into existence in 1956, the state has always been under ‘Reddy Raj’. It did not take much longer for the Reddys, a dominant land-owning caste in Telugu states, to recapture power whenever they were toppled by rivals.
Even after the bifurcation of the state in 2014, which resulted in the emergence of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the successor state of Andhra Pradesh, the Reddys could wrest power from it in just five years with YS Jaganmohan Reddy of YSR Congress at the helm.
Even Indira Gandhi, when she was at the height of her dictatorial power, could not rein-in the Reddys. Her experiment to contain the Reddys’ pincer-like grip over Andhra Pradesh politics in 1972, by promoting PV Narasimha Rao as chief minister, fizzled out leading to presidential rule in 1973.
Unfortunately for the Reddys, the state of Telangana slipped out of their hands in 2014. For the first time, they are neither in power nor in opposition. The Congress, which dominated the state for 60 years, has suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) twice. A YSR-Congress-like regional party has not taken birth in Telangana to fall back upon. The only option for Reddys in Congress is to migrate to either K Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS, or BJP and make do with subordinate positions.
The Reddys have been an influential and affluent community in Telangana. Coupled with their counterpart in Rayalaseema, they controlled the politics of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh for six decades. Most of the time, the Rayalaseema Reddys provided durable leadership to the community. But, the bifurcation dealt a heavy blow to the community in Telangana, which now finds itself leaderless and in disarray. Having lost hope in Congress, many leaders have started quitting the party, mostly to join TRS and a few to BJP.
Enter Reddy scion Sharmila
This is the background against which YS Sharmila, daughter of late YS Rajasekhara Reddy and sister of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy emerged like a bolt from the blue on the scene, proclaiming that ‘Rajanna Rajyam’ is the solution for all problems of Telangana.
In fact, YSR, who had never been sympathetic to the cause of Telangana, crushed the movement and silenced KCR, even though he was a Congress ally. KCR had to wait for years to re-launch the movement and he could do it only after the demise of the YSR in a helicopter crash.
Telangana appears to be slowly transforming itself into a single-party state with minimal presence of Opposition parties on the lines of Odisha. The TRS, the protagonist of the separate state movement, commands absolute majority with a strength of 103 in a house of 119 seats.
TDP has been driven out of the state as an unwanted Andhra party, while Jagan preferred a graceful retreat. BJP is still far away to make its existence felt. The Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS), a party floated against the alleged dynastic tendencies of TRS by Professor Kodandaram has not taken off. So, Sharmila, who has the backing of enormous social, political and financial capital, might be under the impression that she can carve out a space in Telangana politics as the daughter of YSR in Telangana. Theories, however, abound about her sponsors.
Reddys’ caste consolidation reached its peak in Andhra and Telangana regions during the YSR regime. By the time YSR took reins of the party in 2004, the Kammas were a formidable force, thanks to the brazen caste politics of Chandrababu Naidu of TDP.
Having faced the suffocating effect of Kamma’s stranglehold on the politics for 10 years, YSR as chief minister, wanted to counter it by promoting Reddys in every sphere of social life, and Hyderabad as the capital is the principal beneficiary of his policies. So, addressing the beneficiaries of YSR by Sharmila means nothing but trying to woo the Reddys of Telangana. Jagan’s success in Andhra Pradesh is certain to illuminate the path Sharmila is paving in Telangana.
Favourable factors for Sharmila
Sharmila has two factors in her favour, namely the influential Reddys, and aspirational rich middle class from all castes who are politically ambitious and ready to invest huge money in politics. These two factors would help propel the new party if she could craft it into a viable political platform.
A decade-long separate state movement has awakened the Telangana society politically. Hoping that they could be sharing the power in the separate state, OBC, SC, and STs joined the movement and made it universal. This has made the social justice movements that rocked Andhra Pradesh in the form of Mandal Movement and Dalit Movements, redundant. But to their disappointment, TRS, with limited political space, emerged as the single party, decimating all other parties. TRS is not able to accommodate the growing ranks of the aspirational middle class. A new party with proven leadership and enough social and financial muscle is the need of the hour. This is exactly what Sharmila appears to be addressing.
Rough road ahead
So far so good. TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao has allowed Sharmila to travel to Khammam and hold a public meeting even amid COVID-19 restrictions, a rare gesture from a man known for his hatred towards Andhra politicians.
Though Sharmila was emphatic that she is Telangana Bidda (daughter of Telangana) as she was born in Hyderabad, married to a Telanganite, and begot the children in Hyderabad, her equal insistence on Rajanna Rajyam is likely to militate against the launching of YSR-Congress- like party in Telangana.
In her provocative speech in Khammam on April 9, Sharmila has certainly made the first attempt to rub the TRS boss on the wrong side by talking about failures of the TRS government and her intention of staging a three-day fast in support of the jobless in Telangana from April 15. Still, KCR has been silent. He might be thinking that YSR’s daughter may not be allowed to travel too far in Telangana where the regional sentiment still lingers. His silence can’t be misread as a signal to launch new parties in Telangana.
The success of YSR daughter’s party depends on the stand KCR would take and Sharmila’s strategy to counter it.