Hyderabad: The heat is soaring in Telangana, and not only in terms of the mercury. Matching the high day-time temperature in the state — which has already touched 40°C, even though it’s just the beginning of summer — Opposition parties are all geared up to turn on the political heat too.
From the BJP and the Congress to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) of Y.S. Sharmila, the daughter of former Andhra CM Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, several parties have a series of padayatras and public meetings planned with an aim to get election-ready.
While the political dominance of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) left room for little Opposition in the state in the 2018 assembly elections, the BJP has been making its presence felt in Telangana over the past two-three years.
The growing presence of the party in Telangana has won the party’s state president, Bandi Sanjay, appreciation from Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The state BJP chief, a fierce critic of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, is set to begin the second leg of his padayatra — titled the ‘Praja Sangrama (people’s war) Yatra’, covering 300 kilometres — on 14 April, to coincide with B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. Sanjay completed the first part of the journey last year, covering 438 kilometres in 36 days.
Party sources told ThePrint that Sanjay is likely to be accompanied by Shah on the first day of his upcoming walk.
Meanwhile, riding high on its victory in the Punjab assembly elections last month, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is all set to make an entry into Telangana.
The AAP has also chosen 14 April as the day for Delhi MLA and former minister Somnath Bharti to embark on a walk in the state. Party sources told ThePrint that Delhi CM and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal is likely to participate in the launch of the padayatra.
“There are buyers everywhere for Arvind Kejriwal’s governance. The AAP has recently proved that in Punjab and other states too. With our padayatra, we aim to reach every village and every nook and corner of Telangana, to reach people who are unhappy with the ruling government,” Bharti told ThePrint.
“BJP announced a padayatra in Telangana after AAP did so. They are fearful that AAP may take up the (political) space in state,” he added.
Meanwhile, Congress state chief Revanth Reddy is also scheduled to continue with his ongoing public outreach programme — “Mana ooru, mana poru”, loosely translating to “Our village, our fight” — under which the MP holds public meetings in different constituencies.
Reddy, who launched this programme in February, to highlight the ruling party’s “unfulfilled election promises”, has assured 2 lakh government jobs if the Congress is voted to power.
Y.S. Sharmila, who launched the YSRTP in July last year, has also been on a padayatra for more than a month-and-a-half, to expand her support base in the state.
The heightened Opposition action comes in the midst of speculation about early assembly elections in the state — Telangana is scheduled to hold assembly elections next year. The CM has, however, not only dismissed the possibility of early elections, but also written off the Opposition padayatras as an old ploy.
Padayatras for political gain
Padayatras are not a new concept to the Telugu states — Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which was carved out of the former in 2014.
The late Andhra CM Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was one of the first leaders in the state to embark on a padayatra in 2003.
The former CM covered a distance of about 1,500 km, over a 60-day period, to get to know more about issues faced by farmers. The journey is credited as one of the reasons that helped him unseat the then CM Chandrababu Naidu in the 2004 assembly elections.
Since then, many have followed in YSR’s footsteps — both in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — undertaking padayatras to reach out to the public and ensure political gains.
In 2013, former Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu undertook a mega 2,800-km walk across the state. When Andhra was bifurcated in 2014, Naidu became its CM.
Andhra CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, YSR’s son, walked 3,648 km in 341 days ahead of the 2019 assembly elections. What followed was a thumping victory for him in the polls, enabling him to start his first tenure as Andhra CM.
YSR’s daughter Y.S. Sharmila is no stranger to padayatras either. After participating in a few walks while campaigning for her brother in 2019, Sharmila launched the YSRTP. She is currently undertaking her ‘Praja Prasthanam (people’s governance)’ padayatra.
The walk is aimed at helping her achieve her goal of bringing her father’s ideal, “rajanna rajyam (the rule of YSR)”, to Telangana.
“She has already completed 44 days of her padayatra (as on Sunday) and will continue the same in April too. Her focus will be covering Khammam district this month. She usually walks around 16 kilometres in a day,” said a YSRTP leader on condition of anonymity.
Political observers claim, however, that padayatras no longer have the charm, or public outreach, they once did.
“When YSR started his padayatra, and completed it despite the harsh summer, there was a novelty factor. He was the lone leader to do so then and there was a machinery to propagate his views across the regions of Andhra Pradesh. He was able to consolidate anti-TDP votes in favour of the Congress and allies due to that novelty,” political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy told ThePrint.
He added: “Over the years, with more politicians walking the similar path, people assume it to be antics than a means to highlight a public agenda. And doing it in summer months is a tactic to demonstrate the pain they are inflicting on themselves for a ‘public cause’.”
TRS takes different route
The issues being raised in all the present padayatras and other public outreach programmes being organised by political parties in Telangana are similar. Be it Sharmila or Revanth Reddy or Bandi Sanjay, their focus remains farmers’ issues, unemployment, and pensions.
In a press meet last month, KCR termed padayatras an old and tired concept, indicating that he would never embark on one.
The ruling TRS, which has been up in arms against the Centre over issues of paddy procurement, is set to hold a five-pronged protest in April, the party’s working president and Telangana IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao said Saturday.
The programme, which will begin at the mandal level, to finally reach Parliament, will see protests at all mandal headquarters in the state on 4 April.
Rao added that, on 6 April, TRS workers will conduct “rasta roko (roadblocks)” on national highways leading to Mumbai, Nagpur, Bengaluru, and Vijayawada. Lakhs of farmers will protest at all district headquarters, except in Hyderabad, on 7 April. On 8 April, farmers will hoist black flags across 12,769 panchayats in the state. Rallies will also be held.
On 11 April, TRS ministers and public representatives will hold protests outside Parliament and party MPs will also voice their opposition in the House.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)