New Delhi: If there is one place where the Congress victory in Karnataka seems to have cast a shadow on the BJP’s prospects, it is the southern state of Telangana, due to go to polls this year-end.
Ever since the Karnataka defeat, internal feuds over the leadership of the Telangana BJP unit have spilled into public view. There also seems to be a deepening divide over “new entrants” from other parties and the old guard.
Off the record, party leaders admit that the BJP is now finding it increasingly tough to attract as well as retain defectors from the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) and the Congress.
Compounding these challenges is a dearth of sufficient grassroots cadres to take on the ruling K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR)-led BRS government, BJP sources said.
While Telangana BJP leaders reportedly showed their shared commitment to ousting the KCR government during the state BJP executive meeting Monday, recent events indicate a lack of consensus on the strategy to achieve this objective.
Last week, a group of leaders led by Huzurabad MLA Rajender Eatala — a former confidant of KCR — approached Union Home Minister Amit Shah to express their grievances, including their dissatisfaction with state party chief Sanjay Bandi, known for his communal statements and abrasive style.
Most members of this group, including Eatala, were turncoats who had joined the BJP only after the 2018 assembly elections.
BJP sources told ThePrint that Eatala had apprised Shah about the party’s challenges in Telangana, including the hesitation of dissidents and fence-sitters to join the BJP.
They claimed Eatala had said that this reluctance stemmed from the BJP’s Karnataka loss, and that some leaders now wanted to wait for the BRS to announce its decision on tickets before making any moves.
“Rajender not only briefed the home minister on the state’s situation but also expressed concerns about the party losing momentum and its inability to capitalise on anti-incumbency against K. Chandrashekar Rao,” a Telangana BJP leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
This leader further claimed that Eatala had criticised the BJP state unit’s failure to address the “bread-and-butter issues of the people”, complained about the “autocratic” behaviour of Sanjay Bandi, and highlighted that inductees to the BJP from other parties were being excluded from decision-making.
In response to these complaints, sources said, Amit Shah asked Eatala to focus on reuniting leaders to maintain momentum in the state before the election. Shah also reportedly gave instructions to make efforts to poach disgruntled leaders from parties like the BRS.
Sources added that the party is forming a campaign committee in Telangana, and giving Eatala the job of helming it to bring peace to the state unit before the election.
“Shah assured Rajender that the party would consider engaging (new) leaders in the upcoming days for campaign strategy and management in the state,” a second Telangana BJP leader said.
For now, it does not appear as if Sanjay Bandi — a pick of the high command— will be replaced with another state chief, party sources told ThePrint, adding that even Amit Shah had hinted at this.
“The party is unwilling to take that risk as it may expose further fissures, especially since the state is already in election mode,” said the first Telangana BJP leader.
“However, the party aims to bridge gaps between different factions by placating Rajender and involving him in the campaign committee or management committee,” the leader added.
Asked about rifts in the Telangana unit, BJP MP and OBC Morcha head K. Laxman told ThePrint that differences could be ironed out.
“The party is united in its aim to defeat the KCR government. Like in a big family, differences of opinion exist in the party, but it does not mean that a few members are against the party and leaving,” he said. “Everybody’s aim is to defeat KCR, who has become highly unpopular in the state.”
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Spats out in the open
The BJP faces a slew of challenges as it gears up to put up a competitive fight against the BRS for Telangana’s 119 seats, including public criticism from within its ranks.
During a visit to Delhi last week, former MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy told mediapersons that more effort should be made to fight against the BRS and that leaders must gear up to challenge the KCR government together.
He also hinted that many people believe that the BJP has been unable to capitalise on anti-incumbency in the state.
Konda, who was in the Congress and the BRS before joining the BJP in 2018, is among the leaders urging the high command for Bandi’s replacement as state president, according to sources.
In an interview with a local channel, Konda also criticised the BJP for the delay in the arrest of KCR’s daughter, K. Kavitha. However, he later retracted his statement, clarifying that parties do not make arrests and it is the decision of central agencies after a call from the party high command.
Kavitha, a BRS leader, has been subjected to questioning by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the so-called Delhi liquor scam.
Speaking to ThePrint, a BJP leader from the so-called “Rajender Eatala camp” said that they had communicated their concerns to the home minister, who had advised them to exercise patience for the time being.
This leader claimed that under Sanjay Bandi’s leadership, the Telangana BJP was focusing on ideological rather than substantive issues, which could cost the party.
“Bandi believes that the Telangana election can be won by emphasising the Hindutva issue. This month, (Assam CM) Himanta Biswa Sarma visited the state to raise ideological issues, which may have limited success in minority-dominated areas,” the leader said. “However, across the state, without a strong cadre and addressing issues of corruption, mismanagement of funds, and unemployment, we cannot defeat the BRS.”
“After their victory, the morale of Congress is boosted, and they have the potential to divide the anti-incumbency vote if our decisions are not taken wisely,” he added.
Significantly, one of the reasons often cited for the BJP’s loss in Karnataka is the campaign’s disproportionate emphasis on ideology rather than local issues.
Meanwhile, amid reports that BJP “dissidents” were planning to walk out — along with an open invitation from state Congress chief Revanth Reddy to join the party— Eatala Rajender was quick to issue a clarification.
Taking to Twitter last week, he said that it was not his practice to switch parties. He added that only the BJP led by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and J.P. Nadda could end “KCR’s dictatorial rule”.
would be able to do this. The BJP leaders in the state of Telangana are united and constantly strive to proudly form BJP's government in Telangana. It is not my practice to switch parties, and it is inappropriate to publish such news without consulting me.
— Eatala Rajender (@Eatala_Rajender) May 18, 2023
When asked about the rumours of disgruntled leaders wanting to leave the Telangana BJP, former MLA Komatireddy Raj Gopal Reddy — who is purportedly part of the Rajender Eatala camp — said this was not the case.
“There is no question of quitting the party,” he said. “The Congress has approached me with an invitation but I am not leaving and will defeat KCR in the assembly polls.”
Ever since Sanjay Bandi assumed leadership of the BJP state unit in March 2020, he has courted controversy with his communally charged remarks and confrontational style.
However, he has the blessings of the BJP high command and is unlikely to be shifted from his post, party sources said.
“It is true that there is friction between the new entrants and party president Sanjay Bandi regarding the affairs of the state. However, Sanjay is favoured by the BJP high command. During the last BJP executive meeting, Prime Minister Modi praised Sanjay Bandi for his tireless efforts in moulding the BJP as the opposition party in the state,” a senior Telangana BJP leader said.
This leader acknowledged that Bandi’s style could come across as abrasive.
“His style of functioning, always ready to grab media attention by ridiculing others, cannot be called gracious. Even Union minister G. Kishan Reddy and Rajya Sabha MP K. Laxman do not appreciate Bandi’s style of functioning,” he claimed.
“However, the high command favours his aggression. The only way forward is to bring Eatala into the campaign committee for the smooth running of affairs before the polls,” the leader added.
One of the latest controversies involving Bandi erupted on 8 March, International Women’s Day. When reporters asked him a question about K. Kavitha and the liquor scam allegations, he responded: “They asked me whether Kavita could be arrested. If not, what will they do? Will they kiss her?”
Weeks later, the Telangana Police detained Bandi, alleging his involvement in an SSC examination paper leak case, leading to an outcry from the BJP against the BRS government, which they termed “undemocratic”.
However, a section of the BJP was also offended by Bandi’s remarks on Kavitha.
In March, Nizamabad BJP MP Dharmapuri Arvind held a press conference in Delhi to condemn Bandi’s remarks.
“Being the state president of a national party, he should have behaved more responsibly. I do not support his actions,” Arvind said. “Whatever he has said is in his individual capacity, and the party has nothing to do with it.”
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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