On 26 June, Telangana's Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) witnessed the biggest high-profile exodus it had faced in recent times with 35 of its former legislators joining the Congress. Among those who joined the grand old party were Jupalli Krishna Rao and Ponguleti Srinivasa Reddy.
While Krishna Rao had left the Congress to join the BRS (which was Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) then) in 2011, during the peak of the agitation for Telangana state formation, Ponguleti contested and won on a YSR Congress Party ticket in 2014 Lok Sabha elections to later join the BRS.
While the Congress celebrated its former leaders returning to the fold, the TRS supremo and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao was on a trip to Maharashtra's Solapur to expand his party beyond the confines of its home state – Telangana. Rao, who is popularly called KCR, did not issue a statement on the exodus of the leaders who he had already expelled from the BRS in April, following their verbal protests against his government.
The nonchalance of the BRS leader notwithstanding, should KCR worry about the optics of Krishna Rao and Srinivasa Reddy's exit? In Telangana's political circles a comparison between the political trajectory of KCR and Telugu Desam Party leader N Chandrababu Naidu was doing the rounds as the 12 leaders joined the Congress.
Is Mamata Banerjee's 2019 'Advice' to Chandrababu Naidu Applicable to KCR?
In 2019, when Chandrababu Naidu was busy travelling across the country to forge an alliance of Opposition parties to rally against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Andhra Pradesh political circles were abuzz with an 'advice' that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly gave Naidu.
It was said that Banerjee privately told Naidu to stop his political tour and return to his state. "Mamata is believed to have told Babu to first set the house (Andhra Pradesh) in order before taking on the role of bringing the Opposition together. She was dismissive of him as she predicted that he would lose the Assembly elections in AP," a senior journalist told The Quint.
Naidu did end up losing the Assembly election as his political opponent Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power with a thumping majority in the state in 2019. Reddy's YSR Congress Party also swept the Lok Sabha seats in the state.
In 2023, as Telangana is gearing up for Assembly elections before it plunges, with the rest of the country, into the Lok Sabha election mode, does KCR have to fear losing ground in Telangana? According to political watchers, the two-time Telangana CM may not face a rout similar to what befell Naidu even though the 2023 Assembly polls will not be a cakewalk for the BRS. Here's why.
Congress & BJP Stronger Than Before, But BRS Has Its House in Order
BRS' political opponents in the state – the Congress and BJP – have been gearing up in advance for 2023 elections.
In the Congress camp, the state leadership has the support of the party's election strategist Sunil Kanugolu, who was instrumental in helping Congress to victory in Karnataka this year. KPCC President A Revanth Reddy too has the support of the national leadership, it is widely understood. Of late, the older leaders in the Congress camp who were miffed with Revanth Reddy's leadership also seem to have expressed willingness to work together.
For instance, it is believed senior Congress leader Komatireddy Venkat Reddy has been trying to bring his brother Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, who had joined the BJP in 2022, back to the Congress.
Meanwhile, the BJP is confident of making a dent as the state leadership is still buoyed by the party's performance in Telangana in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP had dealt a moral blow by winning four out of the 17 seats, routing even KCR's daughter K Kavitha. The party is hopeful that the recent probes by central agencies including the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax Department into the financial dealings of several BRS leaders including K Kavitha will help them make corruption a major poll plank.
However, the BRS has some prime advantages – the party still has good ground presence and there are very few disgruntled leaders among its rungs.
In essence, KCR runs a tight ship and there has been no signs of him losing grip over most leaders of the party. This, when neither the Congress nor the BJP can claim to have the unity that the BRS boasts of. Besides, anti-incumbency has not yet surfaced against the BRS even in the run up to its third electoral battle.
Recently, rumblings within the Congress had surfaced when a section of the party leaders welcomed YSR Telangana Party leader YS Sharmila to join their camp. In the BJP, two leaders who had recently joined the party – Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy and Eatela Rajender – have been defiantly boycotting some meetings held by the party's state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar. However, if the two parties were to sort out their internal differences and fight the BRS, then the pink party will have to put up a brave front after shying away from its national ambitions.