Hyderabad: For Telugu political parties, all roads seem to be leading to Telangana’s Khammam region ahead of the 2023 assembly elections in the state.
For instance, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu held a public meeting in Khammam last week, ostensibly in the hope of reviving the outfit in Telangana. Then, earlier this month, Y.S. Sharmila — who is the sister of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and the founder of the newly minted YSR Telangana Party — laid the foundation stone for her political party’s office in Khammam. She also announced that she would contest the election from Khammam district’s Palair assembly constituency.
Declaring herself as the “daughter of Palair”, she pointed out how her late father, former Andhra CM YS Rajashekhara Reddy (YSR), had worked for the development of the region and constructed 20,000 houses and repaired the reservoir here.
Khammam is of equal importance to other parties too. The ruling K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR)-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS; earlier called Telangana Rashtra Samithi or TRS) is working on a ‘Mission Khammam,’ according to senior party leaders. The Congress, which is struggling to stay afloat in Telangana, has also taken Khammam, once its stronghold, quite seriously.
Political analyst Nageshwar Rao terms Khammam region as a “microcosm” for regional political parties, all of which are hopeful about their prospects and “have set their eyes on it”.
So, what’s special about Khammam? Situated on the Andhra-Telangana border, Khammam shares many cultural and social commonalities with the neighbouring state. A significant share of its population also belongs to the Kamma community, which is socially and politically influential in current Andhra Pradesh.
Khammam, notably, was one of the 10 districts that the Telangana government bifurcated in 2016, leading to some of its parts being absorbed into other districts. Similarly, some areas were merged into Khammam from other districts. However, it has not lost its political significance.
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‘If sky is Andhra, land is Telangana’
On 2 June 2014, the new state of Telangana officially came into being, carved out of Andhra Pradesh. This followed a decades-old movement for separate statehood due to grievances about the allocation of resources and development from the state government, among other things.
YSR, who died in 2009, was never in favour of bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. Naidu too had maintained a neutral stand at the time of the agitation and served as CM of Andhra Pradesh from 2014-2019. So, how are parties like the YSR Telangana Party and TDP expecting any support in Telangana’s Khammam?
Political experts point out how Khammam is not quite like other Telangana districts.
“Given the Andhra influence on Khammam region, it was never in strong support of the separate state movement or the erstwhile TRS, compared to other districts in Telangana,” Nageshwar Rao has said. As a result, even support for Chief Minister KCR, who played a major role in the agitation for a separate Telangana state, at his BRS/TRS is at best lukewarm here.
“When the TRS won 63 (of 119 seats) in 2014, KCR realised that there were some gaps and he filled those gaps by getting leaders from other parties such as Tummala Nageswara Rao from the TDP. He did similar management in other areas too,” Nageshwara Rao added.
Significantly, after the bifurcation, the YSRCP, led by Sharmila’s brother and YSR’s son Y.S, Jagan Mohan Reddy, won three Assembly seats in Khammam and one Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 elections.
“There was a saying in the Khammam region before the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh — in Khammam, if the sky is Andhra, then the land is Telangana. This indicates how much of a mixed bag Khammam is unlike other districts in the state. There is a lot of Andhra’s social and cultural influence and characteristics in the region,” senior political analyst Telakapalli Ravi told ThePrint.
As mentioned earlier, the region also has a significant ‘Kamma’ community population and Chandrababu Naidu hails from this community, explaining why he may have chosen Khammam as the desired location to host a public meeting ahead of polls.
Former Congress & Left stronghold
Before the TDP came into the picture in Khammam in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, the fight in the region was primarily between the Congress and the Left parties.
That equation, however, has changed.
In the 2018 elections, the Congress contested in alliance with Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), CPI and Telangana Jana Samithi. Of the 10 seats in undivided Khammam district, the TDP won two. The Congress, meanwhile, won six seats in Khammam, forming a major chunk of its overall tally of 19 in Telangana.
However, a dozen Congress legislators jumped to other parties, mainly the ruling BRS, ripping the party off its principal opposition status. One crucial seat for the Congress in Khammam is Madhira constituency, which is held by party’s senior leader Bhatti Vikramarka.
“The Congress believes that people, earlier, won on its ticket and then jumped to other parties, indicating that party still has support in that region,” said Nageshwar Rao. “When it comes to the Left parties, although they’re decimated in state and cannot win anything by themselves, it will be interesting to watch whom they will ally with especially after their tie up with the ruling BRS in the recent Munugode bypoll. Their alliance with any party adds flavour to that party, Left is like an Orange flavour to a cool drink,” he added.
Last month, the ruling BRS tied up with the Left parties for the Munugode bypoll in the state’s Nalgonda district, which is close to Khammam. The party won with just a 10,000-odd majority. Experts believe that it was purely possible because of the about 15,000 vote base the Left parties had in the area.
“So, if the BRS wants an alliance with the Left parties, it must first happen in Khammam before anywhere else in the state. Only if it works out in Khammam, it will in the other districts,” Nageshwar Rao said.
BJP’s ‘poaching’ strategy
Khammam stalwart Tummala Nageswara Rao, who has formerly been an MLA for over two decades, also hails from Chandrababu Naidu’s community.
He won on a BRS ticket in a by-poll in 2016 from Khammam region, but lost in the subsequent elections. The buzz is strong in political circles that Rao may join back TDP amidst an uncertain status in BRS, ahead of the 2023 polls.
But, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also hopeful of poaching any discontented leader from rival parties.
“The BJP’s strategy is always banking on other’s weaknesses to strengthen itself. They personally have no strength in the state. So, if the BRS once again wants to tie-up with the Left parties in this region and if they demand a seat, then Tummala might have to sacrifice,” Nageshwar Rao said.
The BJP had won two crucial by-polls, one in 2020 and 2021, over the BRS, and both the times the winning candidates were those who joined from other parties including the ruling party.
As for Sharmila, the only way to gain strength is banking on the late YSR’s significance and clout.
(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)
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