Since the launch of the YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) in July 2021, it took a little over a year for YS Sharmila to get the limelight she has been craving in Telangana, all thanks to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
Sharmila, the daughter of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, was arrested on 29 November from Telangana's capital Hyderabad, while she was protesting the TRS cadre's alleged attack on her public event held the previous day in Warangal.
While the Congress termed the political spectacle – which saw Sharmila's car being towed while she was sitting behind the wheel – an attempt by the TRS to sabotage the BJP's much-publicised meeting at Bhainsa held on the same day, TRS leaders called Sharmila a BJP stooge, who has been plotting to arrest the pink party's fortunes in the state.
The TRS has been in power for two consecutive terms in Telangana since 2014.
But who could Sharmila harm or benefit in the 2023 Assembly polls, in which she plans to field candidates "across all constituencies in Telangana"?
Sharmila's arrest and the subsequent bail hearing, which took place late Tuesday night, were televised widely in Telugu media, casting a shadow on the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) public meeting, attended by Union Minister G Kishan Reddy, at Bhainsa.
The BJP was granted permission to hold the Bhainsa meeting only after the party won a legal battle in Telangana High Court.
Even as the scales had tipped in the TRS' favour on Tuesday – thanks to Sharmila – in the long run, she is most likely to affect the Congress', and not the BJP's prospects, in the southern state. Here's why.
Evangelist Anil Kumar & Christian Votes
Sharmila is not just the daughter of YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), who died in 2009 in a freak helicopter crash while he was still the AP CM, she is also the sister of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the current CM of Andhra Pradesh. In a way, she has a legacy to claim in Telangana's neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh.
Sharmila's family hails from Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh.
But in Telangana, it could be her husband's influence that could come to aid her political prospects. Sharmila is married to Anil Kumar, a popular evangelist who started the evangelical mission 'Anil World Evangelism'.
Until his father-in-law YSR's death, Kumar used to hold huge prayer meetings that went by the name 'Jesus Christ Blessings' in Hyderabad.
Christians account for 1.37 percent of Telangana's population as per the 2011 census.
"Sharmila is a Christian and she has the backing of her husband. Her calculation is that she would attract Christian votes in the state. These votes, which would not have gone to the BJP anyway, were the Congress' votes."A senior Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity
The leader, who was close to YSR, further explained, "YSR was a Congressman, and his achievements were also the Congress' achievements. So, it is not YSR's legacy alone that is going to help Sharmila."
YSR was known for winning Andhra Pradesh back – from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) – for the Congress in 2004. His popular welfare measures, which still hold a benchmark in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, had won him a second term in the CM's office in 2009.
Incidentally, Anil Kumar, popularly known as Brother Anil Kumar, also addressed the media after Sharmila's arrest. "It is atrocious. It seems the police acted after it was sanctioned by the higher ups, maybe the (Telangana) CM's office," he told reporters in Hyderabad.
This was the first political event that Anil Kumar had addressed in months, after he held a meeting with SC, ST, and BC leaders in Andhra Pradesh in March 2022. The meeting in March was considered to be an attempt to bridge the differences between BCs and his brother-in-law's YSR Congress Party government in Andhra Pradesh.
While BJP may not care much for the Christian votes in Telangana, for both the Congress and the TRS, the votes could be of importance.
SC, BC, and Reddy Votes
Moreover, Sharmila is expected to attract the votes of Scheduled Caste voters who identify as Christians privately. "A large percentage of Christians in Telangana are Scheduled Castes. The Dalit Christian votes could swing her way even if it’s by a small percentage," a Congress leader said.
Dalit Christians have been traditional Congress voters in Telangana, even as the TRS has been wooing this voting block ever since the party attained power in the state.
Sharmila could also get the support of Reddy voters as she is a Reddy woman married to a Brahmin man, a Congress leader said. With Anil Kumar having a say among Backward Class Christians, she could also get a small percentage of BC votes that the Congress has been eyeing for long.
For the TRS, however, Sharmila is more of a boon than a bane. "She is a nuisance and has been holding public meetings badmouthing TRS leaders. But when she splits votes, she'll affect the Congress more than the TRS," a TRS leader said.
A Congress leader explained, "For both the BJP and the TRS, the Congress votes going to a third player could be helpful. Sharmila could be that third player."
But according to political analysts, Sharmila is yet to make any mark. "So far, she has been inconsequential. She has an untested party which did not field candidates in one of the most fiercely fought bypolls in Telangana – Munugode," political analyst K Nageswar told The Quint. Apart from not fielding candidates in Munugode, Sharmila had also predicted the TRS' victory.
In essence, it appears that Sharmila could be a stumbling block for the Congress more than any other party, even though she consistently makes barbed statements against the TRS.
However, the Congress is also relieved that she has not attracted the support of any of its prominent leaders. Moreover, as Sharmila hails from AP, she may not make a mark in Telangana where the regional sentiments are still fierce.
"In fact, we think she will stir Telangana regional sentiment and that could help the TRS," a TRS leader quipped.