Sharmila on the horns of dilemma: To be with YSR legacy or Telangana sentiment?

Y S Sharmila, sister of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, is gearing up for the launch of her new political party in Telangana on July 8, coinciding with the birth anniversary of her father late Dr Y S Rajasekhar Reddy, former chief minister of combined Andhra Pradesh.

She has named her party – YSR Telangana Party, ostensibly to cash in on the image and goodwill of the departed leader, who left an indelible mark on the people of both the Telugu states with his welfare schemes.

Needless to say, Sharmila is following the footsteps of her brother in claiming the legacy of YSR. Jagan floated YSR Congress party in March 2011 and rode to power in Andhra Pradesh eight years later. Now, Sharmila hopes to repeat the show in Telangana.

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On record, Sharmila’s new outfit would be called Yuva Sakthi Rythurajyam Telagana Party (YSRTP), which sounds similar to Jagan’s Yuvaja Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP). The party colours of YSRTP are also similar to that of YSRCP with tinges of blue, white and light green.

Sharmila would formally launch the party at a meeting of 1,000 delegates to be held at JRC Convention Centre at Film Nagar in Hyderabad. Arrangements are being made to enable another lakh of people from all the districts of Telangana witness the event virtually.

If noted political strategist Prashant Kishor was the man behind the success of Jagan Mohan Reddy, it is learnt that Prashant’s close aide Priya Rajendran, daughter of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLA R Rajendran, is going to be the political strategist for Sharmila, guiding the latter in her political journey.

On February 8, when Sharmila first announced her intentions to launch a new political party, she declared that she would herald a Rajanna Rajyam in Telangana, a welfare state envisaged by her late father Rajasekhar Reddy, who was fondly called Rajanna.

Thereafter, she invoked her father’s name at every public talk or statement, recalling the schemes launched by him like Arogya Sri, fee reimbursement scheme, free power to agriculture and taking up of irrigation projects in the name of Jalayagnam etc.

However, Sharmila soon began to feel the heat of Telangana politics. She has realised that it is not so simple to attract the voters of the state by invoking her YSR’s name and his welfare schemes, but she has to raise her voice to protect the interests of Telangana.

Reason is simple: Telangana sentiment is much stronger than YSR’s image and nobody knows it better than Telangana Rashtra Samithi president and chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who exploited it to the hilt to come to power.

Whenever there are elections in the state, KCR takes out this weapon to decimate the political rivals. Even the Congress, which should have got the credit for granting separate statehood to Telangana in 2014 has not been able to cash in on the Telangana sentiment as much as KCR has done.

That is precisely why the TRS chief took out this weapon of Telangana sentiment all over again by kicking up the controversy over alleged unauthorised construction of Rayalaseema Lift Irrigation Scheme (RLIS) on the backwaters of Srisailam reservoir on Krishna River.

There are a couple of reasons for this revival of Telangana sentiment: first, the elections to Huzurabad assembly seat, which has fallen vacant due to resignation of former state health minister Eatala Rajender, are due in a few months.

Secondly, Sharmila is all set to launch a new political party and whatever little impact it can make on the state politics, it may affect the TRS in the coming elections. By whipping up the Telangana sentiment, KCR wants to neutralise both Eatala and Sharmila.

All said and done, Sharmila is basically from Kadapa district in Rayalaseema. Though she claims to be the daughter-in-law of Telangana, her roots are in Andhra Pradesh as she was born and brought up there. Her father YSR was a strong opponent of formation of Telangana state and while her brother Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP, of which she was a part till a couple of years ago, had taken a firm stand against bifurcation of combined state in 2014.

Though the Jagan Mohan Reddy government started the works on Rayalaseema lift scheme last year itself, the KCR government has not raised much hue and cry all these days, except writing to Krishna River Management Board (KRMB) a few times against the project.

“A Telangana farmer moved the National Green Tribunal and got the works stalled, but not the Telangana government. It was only after the NGT gave its judgement did the government impleaded in the case,” pointed out newly-appointed Telangana Congress president A Revanth Reddy.

But for the last few weeks, Telangana ministers like V Prashant Reddy, V Srinivas Goud, Nirajan Reddy and G Jagadish Reddy started attacking the Andhra Pradesh government for going ahead with Rayalaseema lift scheme.

The ministers even used choicest epithets against late Y S Rajasekhar Reddy for being responsible for the present water dispute by expanding the capacity of Pothireddypadu head regulator on Srisailam backwaters to double the water drawls from Krishna River at the cost of Telangana projects like Bhima, Kalwakurthy, Nettempadu etc. They went to the extent of describing YSR as a “demon” and “a betrayer of Telangana,” besides accusing Jagan of looting the Telangana waters.

On the other hand, the Andhra Pradesh ministers, too, launched a counter attack on the Telangana government for proposing unauthorised lift schemes on Krishna River, besides resorting to excess hydel power generation at Srisailam and Nagarjunsagar, thereby draining out water from the reservoirs affecting the irrigation interests of Rayalaseema. Jagan even complained to the Centre against the alleged highhanded attitude of the Telangana government.

Naturally, the Krishna water dispute between the two states landed Sharmila in a hot soup even before she launched her political party in Telangana. Since she is banking on the image of YSR, she cannot remain silent when the Telangana ministers are attacking him. At the same time, she cannot counter them because it amounts to defending her birthplace – Rayalaseema.

All that Sharmila has done for now is to issue a simple statement that her party would not let go a single drop of Telangana waters. “We will not hesitate to fight against any one,” she said.

Her statement in support of Telangana incurred the wrath of Andhra farmers, who laid siege to her Lotus Pond office protesting her stand the other day. But she has not made any elaborate statement as to whether she is supporting the construction of Rayalaseema lift irrigation scheme by Andhra or the new lift schemes proposed by Telangana.

Unless Sharmila comes out with a clear stand on such contentious issues between the two states, she cannot win over the people of Telangana. After all, she cannot expect to hoodwink the voters with welfare schemes and empty promises.

Srinivasa Rao is Senior Journalist based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.

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