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Focus on dominant Kapus & OBCs, pitch to end dynastic rule — BJP’s Andhra mantra

PM Modi's visit to unveil statue of Alluri Sitarama Raju & Rajya Sabha nomination of K.V. Vijayendra Prasad have raised pitch of BJP's renewed campaign in state, 2 years from elections.

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Hyderabad: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in its renewed campaign to gain ground in Andhra Pradesh, is focussing on wooing the influential Kapu community as well as backward castes, and attacking the leading regional parties — the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) — over “dynastic politics”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Andhra to unveil a statue of revolutionary hero Alluri Sitarama Raju and his announcement of nominating screenwriter K.V. Vijayendra Prasad to the Rajya Sabha have raised the pitch of the party’s campaign in the state.

The BJP has a considerable presence in the other Telugu-speaking state, Telangana, courtesy of its gains in the 2020 Hyderabad municipal poll and victory in the 2021 Huzurabad assembly byelection. The party, which has four Lok Sabha MPs from the state, is now aiming for power in 2023.

In contrast, the mission isn’t at such an advanced stage in Andhra, which goes to the polls in 2024. The BJP, however, is making a renewed push to grow its influence in the state, as part of the larger goal of expanding its footprint in South India.

An acclaimed director and screenwriter, Vijayendra Prasad wrote the script of the blockbuster Baahubali franchise. His son, S. S. Rajamouli, directed Baahubali as well as the hit Telugu film ‘RRR’, about a fictional friendship between Raju and fellow revolutionary Komaram Bheem. Both Raju and Bheem had fought for the cause of tribal people from regions that are now in Andhra and Telangana.

On Telangana Formation Day (2 June), Union Home Minister Amit Shah had made a passing reference to eminent personalities, including Raju, in the context of resistance to the rule of the Nizams of Hyderabad.

Modi then unveiled the 30-ft bronze statue at Bhimavaram on the occasion of Alluri’s 125th birth anniversary this Monday. The gesture also comes in the centenary year of the Rampa Rebellion led by Raju.

“The unveiling of the statue of Raju will help the BJP’s outreach in Visakhapatnam and the twin Godavari districts, where tribal people constitute 4 per cent to 10 per cent of the population,” said a senior BJP state leader.

Also Read: Behind unveiling of Alluri Sitarama Raju’s statue by Modi, BJP’s ‘twin strategy’ to woo Andhra

Focus on Kapu vote, Pawan Kalyan alliance 

In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP played second fiddle to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) for  years till 2018. It won two Lok Sabha seats and four assembly seats in alliance with the TDP in 2014, but drew a blank in the 2019 general election.

For the time being, the BJP’s mission is to become the principal opposition, replacing the TDP. The party is backing actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party, which draws its strength from the Kapu community. Primarily an agrarian community, the Kapus are believed to constitute about 20 per cent of Andhra’s total population, according to another BJP leader. The community wields influence in over 39 assembly constituencies, especially in East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur districts.

Other prominent communities include the Reddys, who account for only 5 per cent of the population, and the Kammas accounting for 10 per cent, according to the BJP leader. While the Congress and the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) largely draw their strength from the Reddys, the Kammas are the backbone of the TDP.

In such a scenario, the BJP is looking to make inroads in the backward caste vote bank. State BJP president Somu Veerraju is a Kapu — a backward community — and so is his Telangana counterpart Bandi Sanjay. Veerraju’s predecessor Kanna Lakshminarayana is also from the same community.

“One of the reasons for our failure in Andhra is that we have been dependent on alliances. First, we invested with TDP and there is still ambiguity (on rapprochement). At the Centre, we are cordial with the YSRCP but fighting in the state,” said the BJP leader quoted above. “Pawan Kalyan is exploring options to join hands with the TDP. What will be the options left for us? The confusion is damaging.”

In June, BJP chief J.P. Nadda had told the party leadership in Andhra to build the organisation first rather than worry about political alliances.

A political commentator feels that the BJP has to do a lot before being counted as a major force in Andhra. Prof. Peteti Premanandam, head of Andhra University’s political science department, told ThePrint, “If Pawan Kalyan, the TDP and the BJP join hands, then only will they be able to damage the YSRCP. Jagan is working on the same lines as Modi when it comes to welfare programmes for the poor. He has launched at least 20 schemes for the poor, women and youth.”

Also Read: Performance matters, not my age, says 72-yr-old TDP chief Naidu as he aims to reclaim Andhra

Dynastic politics pitch

Ahead of the 2021 Tirupati Lok Sabha bypoll, the BJP tried its tested Hindutva card by launching a yatra, but was only able to secure 57,000 votes compared to more than 6 lakh for the YSRCP. Unlike Telangana with its history of rule by the Nizams, the second BJP leader argued, the BJP’s rhetoric on ‘appeasement politics’ is unlikely to yield any tangible result in Andhra.

With Muslims not present in significant numbers, party leaders and analysts say the BJP is unlikely to gain substantively from this strategy, barring some impact in pockets of Rayalaseema (one of the state’s two major regions, comprising eight southwestern districts).

“It needs a narrative of corruption and dynastic politics, besides robust organisation, to bring popular sentiments against the YSRCP. Our effort will only get traction when we are able to get proven leaders from the TDP or the YSRCP,” said the first BJP leader quoted above.

“We had made a road map to strengthen 45,000 booths and 9,000 shakti kendras. The party has asked its state unit to tap beneficiaries in constituencies. Visits of central ministers to districts have been made a regular practice. Initially, we got a 2-3 per cent vote share in Telangana, which then rose to 20 per cent. The Telangana script can be replicated in Andhra.”

Premanandam, too, asserted that Hindutva politics would not deliver the goods in Andhra, unlike in Hindi-speaking states. “Polarisation is difficult. Regional identity is more significant than polarisation in Andhra. People still remember Modi’s speech at Tirupati promising special status to Andhra (in 2014). Things can change if the BJP announces a package and grants clearance for a railway project and other pending infra projects,” he said.

The BJP is seen as having suffered serious damage for failing to keep its promise to grant special status to Andhra. This was seen in the 2014 and 2019 state polls when its vote share was  2.18 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively. In the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, NOTA (1.5 per cent of votes) fared better than the BJP (0.96 per cent).

Given the poll results, the road ahead is a long one for the BJP in the absence of a cadre on the ground and emotive issues. The party is now looking to raise the pitch against dynastic rule — a theme that was discussed at the Hyderabad national executive meeting that ended on 3 July.

“Jagan has opened the state exchequer for the church… and for populist schemes. The neglect of temples will be highlighted. Both (TDP N. chief Chandrababu) Naidu and Jagan are dynasty promoters. Jagan is slowly becoming a symbol of corruption. Our resolve to end the dynasty regime will open our way in the state,” claimed BJP national secretary and Andhra co-in-charge Sunil Deodhar.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Angry protestors torch Andhra minister, MLA’s homes, won’t have district renamed after Ambedkar


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