Is there any political space left in Telangana for Sharmila?

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Hyderabad: Last week, a new regional party was born on the Telangana political firmament. Y S Sharmila, sister of YSR Congress party president and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, formally launched Yuva Sakthi Rythu Telangana Party (YSRTP), amidst a lot of fanfare.

The name of the new political party suggests Sharmila is planning to cash in on the image of her father late Y S Rajasekhar Reddy and also the Telangana sentiment that always attracts the voters.

No doubt, YSR made an indelible impact on the people during his five-and-a-quarter year rule in the undivided Andhra Pradesh, including in Telangana region. By claiming that she would bring back “Rajanna Rajyam” (a welfare state projected by YSR), Sharmila will invoke her father’s name while taking on her political opponents.

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Similarly, by making “Telangana” an integral part of her party’s name, Sharmila has sent a clear message that her focus would be only on the development of Telangana. And she also made it clear that she would go to any extent to fight for the interests of Telangana.

The question is whether there is any political vacuum in Telangana that can be filled by a new regional party. The answer would have been yes, had the question been asked a couple of years ago.

Telangana Rashtra Samithi led by K Chandrasekhar Rao returned to power for a second term in the assembly elections held in December 2018 by winning 88 seats in the 119-member assembly – a steep increase of 25 seats compared to his first term. The TRS which secured nearly 47 percent of the total votes polled completely decimated the Congress (19 seats with 28.4 percent vote share) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (1 seat with 7 percent vote share).

Thus, the two national parties proved no match to the TRS, a regional party (in fact, they used to describe it as a sub-regional party before bifurcation). Though both the parties showed signs of recovery in the 2019 general elections by winning seven of 17 Lok Sabha seats in the state – BJP four and Congress three seats, they failed to sustain their strength subsequently.

In a matter of a few months, the strength of the Congress in the assembly shrunk further with 12 of its 19 MLAs defecting en masse to the TRS. It also conceded Huzurnagar assembly seat to the TRS in the by-elections, which were necessitated by the resignation of sitting MLA and then PCC president Capt N Uttam Kumar Reddy on his election to Lok Sabha from Nalgonda.

Thus, the Congress, which should have been in the driver’s seat for granting the statehood to Telangana, plunged into a miserable position by losing even its leader of the opposition status in the assembly. In the subsequent local body elections, too, the party could not put up any fight against the TRS, which captured all the zilla parishads and majority of the mandal parishads.

So was the case with the BJP, which lost its deposit in the Huzurnagar by-elections and failed to make any impact in the local body elections.

An attempt to float a political alternative to the TRS was made before 2018 assembly elections by M Kodandaram, retired Osmania University professor who spearheaded the movement for separate Telangana state between 2009 and 2014 in the capacity of chairman of Telangana political Joint Action Committee (TJAC).

Kodandaram, who commanded a lot of respect and acceptability among the people, launched a regional party in the name of Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) in April 2018 but failed to project it as a potential alternative to the TRS. He had neither resources nor strategies to take on KCR and fight the elections independently.

It joined the Maha Kootami or grand alliance comprising the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party and the CPI, but was allotted only eight seats. It lost deposits in all the eight. In the subsequent elections, too, the TJS proved to be a damp squib.

Thus, by the second half of 2019, the TRS emerged as an invincible political force in Telangana and the so-called national parties were reduced to insignificance. It was during this period one could see a political vacuum in the state and a scope for a new regional party to fill that space. But there were no such indications of any alternative to the TRS.

In the last one year, there have been signs of this vacuum vanishing gradually. By wresting the Dubbak assembly seat from the TRS in the by-elections held in November 2020, the BJP suddenly emerged as a powerful force in Telangana and in the elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation held a month later the BJP virtually gave the TRS a run for its money. It won 48 out of 150 divisions in the GHMC, restricting the TRS to only 56 divisions.

The TRS bounced back with the victory in the by-elections to Nagarjuna Sagar assembly seat in April this year, but the BJP continues to put up an aggressive posture in the state. With former minister Eatala Rajender quitting the TRS and joining the BJP ranks, the saffron party hopes to win the ensuing by-elections to Huzurabad and improve its strength in the north Telangana. The proposed padayatra of state BJP President Bandi Sanjay is expected to increase its vote bank in the state.

On the other hand, the Congress, too, which had been in a beleaguered state has suddenly become active in the last few weeks, with its firebrand M P from Malkajgiri A Revanth Reddy being appointed as the new PCC chief.

Right from the day one, Revanth has given the much-needed aggression to the party by mobilising the leaders and cadres to streets to fight against the alleged anti-people policies of the state and the central governments. Revanth’s mass appeal and his oratorical skills have proved to be a perfect match for the TRS supremo.

Under these circumstances, one wonders where Sharmila’s new political party fits in the state political scenario. She has already been forced to go on the defensive on the Krishna river water disputes between Telangana and Andhra, as the TRS leaders began making an aggressive attack on her father YSR.

Except recalling the welfare schemes of YSR, Sharmila doesn’t have much to harp on, while criticising the TRS and KCR. She has not come up with any alternative agenda for the development of Telangana.

Maybe, Sharmila will unveil her plans during the course of her padayatra, which she proposes to launch in another 100 days. But with little political space left in Telangana in the wake of the Congress and the BJP filling it up most, it remains to be seen what impact she will have on the electorate in the next two years.

A Srinivasa Rao is Senior Journalist based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.