The date is set. On July 8, 2021, YS Sharmila Reddy will officially float a political party in Telangana on the birth anniversary of her late father and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, YS Rajasekhara Reddy. For someone who has largely remained behind the towering shadows of YSR, and her brother, Jagan Mohan Reddy, 47-year-old Sharmila’s political ambitions have stunned many.
Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress claim Sharmila is being used by Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader and chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao to split the anti-incumbency votes ahead of the 2023 assembly elections in the state. Many within the TRS, however, have called her “the B-team of BJP”, specifically roped in to cut into the Reddy community and Christian vote bank. While the TRS is the principal political force in Telangana, the Congress has lost ground and the BJP is looking to find a political foothold in what it perceives as the largely empty opposition space.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has distanced himself from his sister’s political plans, though she doesn’t appear to pose any threat to him right now with her gaze focused on Telangana. However, Sharmila’s move has been backed by her mother, YS Vijayalakshmi, who said she was happy her daughter had chosen to serve the people of Telangana. The daughter had the same guts as her father, Vijayalakshmi added. Sharmila’s evangelist husband, Bro Anil Kumar, has also come out in her support. “Wishing my wife the very best in this new chapter of life. Go make the change! Fulfill the aspirations of the people of Telangana!!” he tweeted on April 9 along with a photograph of the couple.
While her opponents are busy decoding her strategy, observers say a political novice like Sharmila has a series of odds stacked against her. “Anti-Andhra sentiments are still strong and Sharmila will find it difficult to counter this since her father had vehemently opposed the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. She will have to shed her outsider tag in order to make inroads into Telangana,” says professor E Venkatesu, department of political science, University of Hyderabad.
Another big challenge for her would be to clear her stand on the longstanding water disputes between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, amid allegations that her brother and Andhra CM Jagan Mohan Reddy is illegally constructing irrigation projects on the Krishna river.
During her first public meeting in Khammam, once considered the citadel of YSR, an emotionally charged Sharmila gave a point-by-point rebuttal of all the questions raised by her opponents.
“TRS, BJP and Congress have failed the people of Telangana. They have nothing more to offer. Today many are questioning my identity, but here is my message for them— I am the daughter of this soil, I was raised here, my children were born here, I love this state more than anything. I won’t let anyone snatch away anything that belongs to this state, not even a single drop of water,” she said.
“Singham eppudu single gaane vasthundi (meaning a lion always comes alone, a dialogue from superstar Rajinikanth’s popular 2007 film Sivaji). My party will not work under any party. I am an arrow that has been released by the people of Telangana.”
In the same breath, Sharmila also made it clear that she’s here for the long run and will settle down only after becoming the chief minister and bringing back ‘Rajanna Rajyam’ (YSR’s golden rule).
Who will get hurt?
BJP leader Krishna Saagar Rao says Sharmila is a non-entity as far as Telangana is concerned. “Since Jagan didn’t offer her any role in YSRCP, she has come to Telangana seeking political employment, but she will make zero impact here,” he said.
Political observers believe Sharmila could have a debilitating impact on the Congress, which is locked in a bitter battle with the BJP to retain its number 2 spot, after the saffron party’s stupendous performance in the Dubbaka bypoll and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections late last year.
“If Sharmila is able to find her foothold in Telangana, then she is likely to bag the support of the influential Reddy community, which has been out of power for so long. In which case, the already- weakened Congress will be in a complete shambles,” said professor E Venkatesu.
The Reddy community only accounts for 7% of Telangana’s 39.9 million population, but it is the most powerful sect in the state owing to its social status and wealth. At least seven members of this community have become chief ministers including the likes of Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, Marri Chenna Reddy, YS Rajasekhara Reddy and Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy. But the Reddy juggernaut came to a screeching halt after K Chandrashekar Rao, who hails from another upper caste community, Velma, came to power post the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014.
Many prominent leaders of this community have already deserted the Congress due to its diminishing presence and multiple internal rifts. The latest leader to part ways is former MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy, who is gearing up to launch his own political outfit. In the past, powerful leaders like Sabitha Indra Reddy and DK Aruna who were part of YSR’s cabinet, ditched the grand old party and switched to the TRS and BJP respectively.
Political analyst Prof K Nageshwar, however, points out that Sharmila will have the power to dislodge the Reddy and minority vote bank only when she becomes a powerful force to reckon with.
“It’s too early to predict her electoral fortunes. Even (film star) Vijayashanti had floated a regional party in 2005 but ended up merging with the TRS later. Superstar Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena is still struggling for survival in Telangana,” he said. “There seems to be no political vacuum for a new regional party’s growth in Telangana since the TRS, Congress and BJP have left space for none.”
Only time will tell whether Telangana’s voters are ready to give space to another regional party or not, but Sharmila’s decent group of followers believe she will be a game changer in the near future
“She is a natural leader just like how YSR was; we have seen her taken on different roles to bring Jagan to power in Andhra Pradesh,” said Nathaniel, who hails from Vizag. “Now it’s her time to shine.”