BJP’s Peninsular Pitch | In Andhra, Party Bets on Brand Modi, Pawan Kalyan’s Star Pull, Rival Rifts

BJP’s Peninsular Pitch
From just seven states in 2014 to 17 states in 2022, the BJP footprint has grown beyond traditional strongholds to conquer new forts like the Northeast. But the Wall of Vindhyas has been a tough one to crack so far. In this special series on BJP’s Peninsular Pitch, News18 takes a look at the saffron party’s renewed push for electoral success in southern India.

In Part 3 of the series, we take a look at the BJP’s blueprint for Andhra Pradesh, a tougher terrain than Telangana, as it campaigns to emerge as the principal alternative to YSRCP and TDP.

Playing second fiddle to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh until 2018 — the year the Nara Chandrababu Naidu-headed outfit quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — the Bharatiya Janata Party is pushing hard to build up its organisation in the state.

Leaders from the party believe that it has come a long way in the southern state, claiming the next Assembly polls in 2024 will see a triangular contest.

From not depending on a prominent regional party to stopping infighting, the BJP is trying to ensure that it emerges as the principal alternative to local heavyweights like the ruling Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) and TDP.

Pawan Kalyan — An Ally Crucial to BJP’s Andhra Plan

News18.com has learnt that the BJP is planning to team up with actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan in Andhra.

It aims, as part of its strategy, to bring on board a robust regional player ahead of the next polls. Not relying too much on the existing cadre that consists of a large number of TDP sympathisers, the BJP stitched up an alliance with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party. Riding on Kalyan’s popularity in the state, the BJP hopes to shed the ‘outsider’ tag.

The BJP and Pawan Kalyan need to move together. We are trying to have a joint plan of action

While Kalyan may have been closer to the Opposition and rumours about him jumping ship keep surfacing repeatedly, the BJP believes that the alliance with him is not short-term.

Speaking to News18.com, V Muraleedharan, BJP in-charge for Andhra Pradesh, said Pawan Kalyan is part of the NDA, but accepted that there is need for better coordination with him.

“The BJP and Kalyan need to move together. I keep in touch with him on a regular basis and we are trying to have a joint plan of action and it is being discussed. When it is ready, we will go together,” the BJP leader said.

Muraleedharan is also Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and engages closely with all parties, including the YSRCP in Parliament to get business done smoothly.

“Floor coordination is different from politics in Andhra. I won’t mix both. I keep floor coordination in Parliament separate from Andhra politics. I don’t mince my words against the government when I go to the state,” clarified the BJP leader.

In 2019, there was an attempt to harm Brand Modi but we won’t let it happen again

In addition to forming alliances with the regional parties, the BJP has taken to the streets to mount pressure on the YSRCP government on pending projects. The issue of projects that are still in limbo from the time of Chandrababu Naidu and YS Rajasekhara Reddy has been taken up by the BJP in the state and it is taking out yatras to gather support.

Exuding confidence in the emergence of the BJP as a force in the state, Sunil Deodhar, the party’s national secretary and co-incharge in Andhra, said, “It may take months or years but we will emerge as an alternative to the politics of corruption and politics of appeasement in this state.”

Banking on Brand Modi

Betting big on his popularity, BJP leaders believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the face of the party in the state.

“In 2019, there was an attempt to harm Brand Modi but we won’t let it happen again,” stated GVL Narasimha Rao, BJP’s Rajya Sabha member.

PM Modi’s image has improved nationally and people have realised we are fighting both the TDP and YSRCP tooth and nail

While many leaders agree that the acceptance of the saffron party as a serious contender in the state is yet to happen, the party has taken to the streets to fight on issues that may hurt the electoral chances of the YSRCP and TDP equally.

“PM Modi’s image has improved nationally and people have realised we are fighting both the TDP and YSRCP tooth and nail. The negativity against us has gone down and we have been able to expose YSRCP and TDP’s fake propaganda against us,” said Deodhar.

Once a citadel of the Congress, Andhra Pradesh’s politics changed once NT Rama Rao entered and it hasn’t been the same, at least, for the grand old party. BJP leaders recall that such was the penetration of the Congress that even post Emergency, Andhra saw the party return to power. With the Congress now a minor player, the saffron party has its hopes up.

Milestones in AP Politics and Learnings from the Past

According to GVL Narasimha Rao, there are three milestones relevant to the state, including the year 1983 when NT Rama Rao formed the TDP and won the elections in a short span. Then came 1994 when Rama Rao’s son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu dethroned him and formed the government in an alliance with the BJP. And there is 2014, when Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh.

“There was a concentrated development of Hyderabad for the past four decades. Be it hospitals, educational institutions, industries, or other infrastructure development projects, the episode has taught every politician a lesson worth learning,” said Rao.

Caste Algorithm and How to Fight It

While the BJP claims to be a party that wants all castes to be fairly included in its strategy, the Reddy and Kamma communities — despite constituting about 12% of the state’s population — have dominated its power corridors.

While the Congress and YSRCP are considered predominantly Reddy parties, the TDP has a largely Kamma vote bank.

Deodhar said that the BJP is working on people-centric issues that are above caste politics. “YSRCP in its cabinet expansion did not give representation to four castes — Kshatriyas, Kammas, Baniyas, and Brahmins. There is not even a single minister from any of these castes in Jagan’s cabinet,” Deodhar said while analysing the cabinet rejig, an issue that is likely to be raked up in the next elections.

He maintained that the BJP is an all-inclusive party that has given real empowerment to OBCs and SCs by giving them top-most places in the government and in the party, unlike Jagan’s YSRCP.

ALSO READ | BJP Leaders Claim Stones Hurled at Shobha Yatra in Andhra’s Nellore, Call for ‘Bulldozer Justice’

According to the party’s rough estimates, there are approximately 4%-5% Kammas, 5%-6% Reddys, 25% Kapus, 2-3% Kshatriyas, 3%-4% Baniyas, an 2% Brahmins in the state population. OBCs and SCs together are close to 50% of the voters.

GVL Narasimha Rao alleged that the act of appointing five deputy CMs in Andhra Pradesh has been done to please certain castes and have little to do with the power they can enjoy while being on the post.

While the BJP says its politics is all-inclusive, its leaders in the state maintain that aspirational groups are kept in mind when preparing strategy.

Andhra Pradesh — A Tougher Terrain Than Telangana

Telangana gave four Members of Parliament to the BJP but the magic is yet to be replicated in Andhra. The party’s top leaders call their performance in Andhra in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls dismal despite the Modi wave sweeping the country yet again.

Ask Deodhar and he blames the “vicious campaign” against the saffron party by both the TDP and YSRCP. The Congress was decimated due to its decision of bifurcating Andhra Pradesh, believes the BJP.

“The regional parties own the media and ran a vicious campaign against us regarding the demands for giving special status to Andhra. When the PM had given a special package to the TDP government in lieu of special status and they had thanked him by calling a special session of the assembly, there was no need to buckle under the pressure mounted by the YSRCP regarding the issue and severing ties with the BJP,” said Rao.

The leaders believe that the campaign against the BJP has been decimated and people are aware that it was a political conspiracy. “Even today, whenever they see the BJP expanding, other parties start raking up the issue, especially the TDP. The TDP also used this issue against the ruling YSRCP that too is not raking up this issue lest it will be targeted by the TDP for failing to secure the special status,” added Rao.

Dynasty, Corruption and Conversion

For the BJP, the issues that it is fighting on against the ruling YSRCP are corruption, conversion, attacks on temples, and poor financial health of the state. The saffron party believes that as both the TDP and YSRCP have proved themselves to be parties led by a family, it is the BJP that is making people aware of an effective leadership.

The BJP leaders say the YSRCP is “rotten and corrupt” and has business interests in sand mining and liquor trade. “This corruption has been centralised and is done at a macro level,” alleged a senior BJP leader.

Party representatives say that there have been a lot of attacks on temples, deity statues were desecrated, and yet no action was taken against the perpetrators. “There were 140 statues desecrated, yet no one was arrested, while someone threw stones at a church and 40 were arrested. We are the only ones on the streets against this appeasement politics,” claimed Deodhar.

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The senior leaders believe that the conversion of the backward castes to Christianity is also an issue that the BJP has flagged in the state. However, it is the issue of attacks on temples that has occupied its energies recently.

The BJP claims that the farmers, industrialists and government servants are in financial distress in the state.

“The state government takes loans to give freebies. Central schemes do not reach beneficiaries as the state does not part with its share in the scheme, like drip irrigation. Power tariff hike is a big issue and so is power cuts. Payments to contractors who had built roads are still pending as the state doesn’t have resources, and state roads are in a shambles,” Deodhar said.

Anti-Appeasement Movement

Another big issue that the party has planned to take up is the alleged appeasement of Muslims by the YSRCP government. While rivals blame the BJP for polarisation, it alleged a role of the PFI and SDPI in the state.

“Incidents are growing and an environment is building up. Look at communal clashes in Andhra’s Kurnool district. There are around 5% Muslims in the state and we are the only ones raising a voice. I have raised this issue in Parliament as well. Jagan’s is an anti-Hindu government and it is not us that are doing discrimination on the basis of religion,” said Rao.

Silent on Amaravati

The BJP maintains that the state has the right to decide on its capital but having three capitals would mean “three episodes of corruption”. The party has taken up the cause of farmers who have not been given plots in developed areas in lieu of the land acquired from them.

It is also preparing a list of pending projects that were announced by former CMs and are yet to be completed by their successors.

No Alliance With TDP

Senior party leaders say that TDP MPs have attended a meeting called by Sonia Gandhi and that there is no scope of having an alliance with the Chandrababu Naidu’s party. However, there are many in the BJP who want the TDP as an ally.

Unse sangharsha chalta hai (we keep fighting them); there are a few people who have their vested interests but they won’t be able to succeed in their designs,” said a senior party leader.

Cracks in YSRCP and TDP, Gains for BJP

The BJP maintains that it is inviting everyone and welcoming with open arms whosoever agrees with the party’s ideology. Counting on infighting in the YSRCP, the BJP believes around 50 YSRCP MLAs may quit just ahead of the Assembly polls.

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