Amaravati: The BJP in Andhra Pradesh is keen to shed its turncoat culture. The change of guard with Somu Veerraju, a homespun leader from the RSS (Rastriya Swayam Sevak)’s school of thought at the helm reflects on the BJP’s undying urge for a `culture change’ within its organisational apparatus. The saffron party in the state showed up signs of losing its core Hindutva ideology to increasing Congress culture since former minister Kanna Lakshminarayana, a born Congress man, took over its reins in the run up to the general elections in 2014.
When Lakshminarayana decided to quit the Congress and was getting ready to join the Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, the BJP top brass wooed him into the saffron party with an offer to make him the state party president.
Riding high on the crest of Narendra Modi, the BJP in 2014 desperately looked for a popular leader to expand its footprints in Andhra Pradesh and that Kanna became a choice then. Kanna was a four-time MLA and former minister in the Congress from Guntur district. The experiment with a defector at the helm failed in the general elections in 2019. The party secured an abysmally poor vote share of 0.84 percent in that election over 2.2 percent in 2014.
Hoping to grow on divisive politics
The YSR Congress rule with Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy as a known believer in Christianity triggered a religious divide in the state in the last one year in the perception of BJP. The Jaganmohan Reddy government has been vigorously pushing for reservations for Dalit Christians in education and jobs; government announces a monthly honorarium of Rs 5,000 for pastors; close to 40 percent of government advisors appointed in the Jagan Reddy’s government are with Christian background; the Jagan government’s decision to implement 50 percent reservations for Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Hindu temple trust boards comes handy for the converted Christians making their way into Hindu temples like Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) under the garb of Scheduled Castes. All these perceived pro-Christian policies of the YSR Congress government provided a fertile ground for the BJP to grow. But it failed to capitalise on the situation and make inroads under the leadership of an “outsider” with liberal political views.
A paradise for turncoats
The BJP is a political outfit of Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS). But the RSS karyakarthas in the BJP, fed up with the intra-party dominant Congress culture, felt alienated in their own party during Kanna’s period. Lakshminarayana was accused of having used the BJP as a dumping ground with his one-time Congress followers. An RSS sanghchalak told this writer that the state party’s executive was filled with 40 percent of “outsiders” with Kanna’s backing. The dominant Congress culture leaves a huge gap with the homespun leaders with RSS background within the BJP during the Kanna’s period.
It became a daunting task with dim prospects of accomplishment under Kanna’s leadership to lead the party with an aggressive Hindutva line of thinking with his liberal views. Besides, the gap between the turncoats and home-made workers also makes it difficult to help the BJP present itself as a viable alternative to the Jaganmohan Reddy government working with a pro-minorities agenda.
In this backdrop Somu Veerraju, who has been with the BJP since its inception in 1980 with RSS background, is tipped as someone who can fill the bill. Raju came from a Communist family in East Godavari district. Position or no position, he has remained with the party since then. Somu is known as a vocal leader who never minces words and compromises on ideology. It was evident when he aggressively took on the TDP, his party’s ally then, on several issues. And, he never minded crossing the “mitra dharma” for the existence of his party.