A year ago, Telangana Congress leader and national spokesperson of All India Congress Committee Sravan Dasoju said, “With Revanth Reddy becoming the TPCC President, the party will become aggressive and assertive.” On 5 August, dealing a blow to the Congress, Dasoju resigned from the party calling Revanth Reddy “autocratic and authoritarian.”
“He is running the TPCC (Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee) as a franchise of AICC (All India Congress Committee)… He is handling the party as if it is (his) private property,” Dasoju, who is known for his eloquence, said at a press meet held in Hyderabad on Friday, 5 August. He further claimed that the TPCC president is "sidelining Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, and Backward Class leaders."
Congress Crisis Not Entirely About Caste
While Dasoju, a BC leader, trained his guns against Revanth Reddy citing caste fault lines in the party, just days ago a prominent MLA of the Reddy caste too had resigned from Telangana Congress. Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, Munugode MLA of the Congress, resigned on 2 August. He is expected to join the Bharatiya Janata Party and has even met Home Minister Amit Shah.
As two Congress leaders from two ends of the caste spectrum have tendered their resignations, it is clear that the rebellion against Revanth Reddy is not just a fight along caste lines. In the Telugu speaking states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the Congress after all has always been a Reddy bastion, even though in its heydays it had managed to draw support from historically marginalised communities.
Now, the Congress in Telangana is crumbling because some leaders have sought better political prospects in other parties which have winning chances, even as others are thoroughly disappointed with Revanth Reddy’s iron-fisted management of the party, which has traditionally had a fluid structure. Moreover, decisions influenced by the Congress' election strategist Sunil Kanugolu too have not gone down well with several leaders of the party.
Party Under a Tough President
A senior Congress leader told The Quint, “Congress’ party structure is such that it has to accommodate everyone. It has to accommodate both a rebel and a loyalist. It has to accommodate a newcomer and the older leaders. There is little room to manoeuvre and it becomes very difficult when the party has to get its rungs in line to reach a consensus.”
Revanth Reddy, who was a leader of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), joined the Congress in 2017 and within five years rose to the coveted post of TPCC president, to the chagrin of many. To top that, Reddy’s method of management has been to crush disgruntlement within the party, sometimes openly.
For instance, when the Opposition’s presidential candidate Yashwant Sinha visited Hyderabad in July, the TPCC under Reddy decided not to welcome him; probably because a huge welcome party was already being organised by the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). Defying the TPCC’s orders, senior Congress leader V Hanumantha Rao, however, visited Sinha at Begumpet airport. Both Reddy and Rao held press meets where they lashed out at each other and outed the growing rift within the Congress.
While Hanumantha Rao is a senior leader who has somewhat lost his hold within the party over the past decade, Revanth Reddy has also not been able to keep Congress’ winners close to him.
Komatireddy brothers – Rajagopal Reddy, an MLA and Venkat Reddy, an MP – never warmed up to the new TPCC president. “They are rich and have clout of their own. They have following on the ground,” the senior Congress leader, who has been quoted earlier in the story, said.
Now, the Bharatiya Janata Party has succeeded in wooing Rajagopal Reddy and it is speculated that Venkat Reddy too may join his brother’s footsteps. On Friday, Venkat Reddy, however, held a press conference and refuted the rumour that he too may join the BJP. But he minced no words when he lashed out at Revanth Reddy. “Why is Shravan Dasoju leaving the party? He (Revanth Reddy) should answer,” Venkat Reddy told mediapersons in New Delhi.
To add to Congress' woes, Revanth Reddy is not the only one the Telangana leaders have a problem with. Congress’ election strategist, the elusive Sunil Kanugolu too has ruffled quite a few feathers.
Congress and an Election Strategist
Dasoju did drop a hint on the other cause of Congress’ trouble in Telangana. “There is Revanth Reddy and then there is AICC in-charge Manickam Tagore and then even above him is Sunil Kanugolu,” he said. Kanugolu, a former aide of poll strategist Prashant Kishor, is currently part of Telangana’s election task force. The future of Telangana Congress leaders is hinged on Kanugolu's election predictions, Dasoju hinted.
Recently, Revanth Reddy had welcomed Vijaya Reddy, the daughter of P Janardhan Reddy into the party. It is believed, she was roped in to win the Khairatabad Assembly constituency, which Dasoju had lost to TRS’ Danam Nagender. It is believed this induction was based on Kanugolu’s election strategy. “Congress is relying on misleading surveys,” Dasoju said.
Another Congress leader said, “When Prashant Kishor was deciding strategy for the DMK in Tamil Nadu before 2021 Assembly elections, some Congress leaders in the south had raised objections about it. They were not satisfied with the way DMK, a political ally, was dealing with the Congress. The same leaders are in support of Sunil Kanugolu while others like Dasoju are not.”
Election tactics are different from political tactics, the leader rued. “There should be some balance between what Congress leaders have in mind and what the strategist thinks is best for the party. The strategist is not above the party or what it stands for,” he added.
It is not clear whether Dasoju will join any other political party, even though the BJP in Telangana has left its doors open for almost all. “I am not joining anyone else. I am leaving the Congress with a heavy heart,” Dasoju said.
With election for Telangana Assembly nearing, Congress’ internal divisions, meanwhile, could hurt its prospects even more. The party which has already lost 12 MLAs to the TRS in 2019, could get wiped out if the remaining leaders too join other parties or lose morale.
The Congress’ loss could benefit the BJP the most as the saffron party is set to give the ruling TRS a tough fight in 2023. “All people’s leaders are welcome to join the BJP. Be it from Congress or from TRS we will nurture all,” a BJP leader told The Quint.