On 9 February, the area outside Lotus Pond in Hyderabad was abuzz with political activities. The grapevine suggests that YS Sharmila Reddy, daughter of late former chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) and sister of current Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh YS Jagan Mohan Reddy (JMR) intends to launch a new regional party to bring 'Rajanna rajayam' in Telangana.
Rajanna rajayam is a reference to YSR's rule in undivided Andhra Pradesh.
Needless to say that the new entrant in Telangana politics will be banking on YSR's legacy of welfare policies that continue to have beneficiaries in the state, but she must balance its weight carefully.
She has to tackle both sentiments " that her father was opposed to the bifurcation of undivided Andhra Pradesh that led to Telangana's existence and that her brother is the sitting chief minister of a neighbouring state with which Telangana shares contentious issues on irrigation. How will the daughter and the sister reconcile to emerge as a mother of the youngest state of India?
Her critics may think it is easy to disregard Sharmila as an outsider and a novice, but they would be underestimating their opponent.
Sharmila was the face of the YSRCP in 2013 when post-YSR's death JMR was put in jail. She kept the party afloat and undertook a 3000-kilometre-long padayatra across Andhra Pradesh to console the families who were affected by her father's untimely demise and the subsequent political chaos.
As recently as 2019, Sharmila forayed into public life with an arduous 1,500-kilometre bus yatra across the most crucial constituencies for the party in Andhra Pradesh. With the win set by the brilliance of Prashant Kishor's I-PAC and JMR's 3,600-kilometre iconic and Herculean padayatra; Sharmila's declaration of "Praja Theerpu, Bye Bye Babu" resounded with a 70 percent victorious strike rate in the constituencies that seemed impossible to win.
The people who saw Sharmila on the ground recall her as a fearless woman leader with a sharp command on words, and who resembles the legendary YSR himself. She is his daughter in every way. But, the question remains: can Sharmila successfully emerge as a factor in Telangana politics?
The Politics in Telangana
The early Assembly elections of 2018 resulted in Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) emerging as the winner with 88 seats while the Indian National Congress (Congress) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) securing 19 and 7 seats, respectively.
As per the Samagra Kutumba Survey undertaken by the Government of Telangana, the community structure in Telangana reveals dominance of Backward Category (BC) communities (51 percent), followed by Open Category communities (21 percent) " Reddys (7 percent), the influential landowning community Velama (4 percent), among others " Scheduled Castes (18 percent) and Scheduled Tribes (10 percent).
Political Pundits estimate that anti-incumbency and Reddy votes drifting from the ruling TRS will get consolidated by the BJP, however, a simple look at the election data between 2014 and 2018 shows that Reddy candidates from the TRS have performed better than all other candidates from the same caste and that the Congress' fall in popularity has benefitted the TRS.
Hence, the first challenge for Sharmila's new party will be to establish itself as the 'authentic Reddy alternative' because as per the last election it is apparent that no matter who the Reddys vote for, in all cases, the TRS emerges as the winner.
The Reddy Alternative: The current scenario
Prima facie, the BJP has India's Deputy Home Minister G Kishen Reddy to cultivate the Reddy support while the Congress enjoys the patronage of leaders such as Kunduru Jana Reddy, N Uttam Kumar Reddy and Komatireddy brothers.
Congress MP Revanth Reddy has proclaimed in news reports that YSR's benevolent policies are remembered as Congress policies. In 2014, YSRCP did win 6.5 lakh votes in the state, however, Congress won six out of 12 seats that had a victory margin less than that of YSRCP candidate's votes. Congress will have to find a way to snatch the Reddy and anti-incumbency votes before they make their way to the BJP.
Next, Sharmila must think of the significant 19 SC and 12 ST seats in Telangana. In 2014, YSRCP won 1.05 lakh SC votes and 1.7 lakh ST votes. In 2018 however, TRS saw a significant expansion in the votes from the SC communities, whereas, the BJP saw an 83 percent decline in the total SC vote share. In the case of the ST community votes, Congress has seen an overall 71 percent increase in the total vote share.
The second challenge, then, of the yet-to-be-'christened' party is to tap into the ST community which is the natural ally of the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh.
The latest successful performance of the BJP in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation election has resulted in an alliance between two unlikely parties TRS and AIMIM. The idea, one can only assume, is to thwart the BJP at all costs.
Strong leaders that can't be accommodated in TRS could be looking to expand their careers with other parties, and the BJP is emerging as one such alternative platform. BJP MP Dharmapuri Arvind has already reacted to Sharmila's entry saying that the state does not want Rajanna rajayam but Rama rajayam. With all forces looking towards similar winning arithmetic, it will be crucial for Sharmila to significantly tap into the Reddy+SC+ST votes to emerge as a factor in Telangana politics.
True Rajanna rajayam
Although media houses are reporting that the two siblings have disagreed on the idea of expanding YSRCP to Telangana, the party has made it very clear that they have a difference of opinion and not a difference between them.
Sharmila cannot, in fact, be starting a YSRCP chapter in the state as YSR himself was against the bifurcation. While reports suggest that Sharmila has not contacted JMR with respect to her plan about the next moves, hundreds of YSR Congress Party workers were gathered outside the family house on 9 February in a show of support.
Though opponents could argue that the pointed absence of JMR from the event is symbolic, the fact remains that any political opponent should be wary of Sharmila and JMR taking over the two states. YSR's dream of Rajanna rajayam over the land that was combined Andhra Pradesh now appears as a possibility. If any sister-brother duo in the country is likely to achieve great political heights, it's this one.
The biggest question
The biggest question is how will she begin? The last election YSRCP contested in the state was seven years ago. Who will be the party's cadre when the erstwhile cadre in Telangana has shifted to TRS? Will they leave and join her?
There is no doubt that the nascent party will need experienced candidates with significant ground presence as a way to boost electoral winnability and bolster the much required 'insider' tag.
Rumours suggest that she is planning to take up padayatra in Telangana after launching the party.
YS Rajashekar Reddy started his padayatra in 2003 from Chevella of Rangareddy district in Telangana, and with it came the thumping majority in 2004. Will she start from Chevella to maintain the sentiment? Or, will she follow the path of Chandra Shekhar, president of the Janata Party who took a padayatra with the explicit purpose of educating and acquainting himself with the condition of rural India? Or, will she continue her own style, which remains to date unmatched by any other woman leader in the country?
Apart from Mamata Banerjee, Sharmila will be the only woman to be declared as the president of a new party (of course, not to miss out on Shwetha Shetty who launched the National Women's Party in 2019 and the chief ministerial candidate Pushpam Priya from the Plurals Party in Bihar).
Sharmila will need to approach her electorate patiently and garner the support as an 'insider' even if she may already be a 'household name'. Notwithstanding the disposition that Telugu people have always shown towards political dynasties and larger than life legacies, it's apparent that, as of today, in the fight between Rajanna rajayam and Rama rajayam, the land still belongs to TRS' K Chandrasekhara Rao.