Telangana to see competition of ‘padyatras’ by opposition leaders

Hyderabad: It’s still more than two years for Assembly elections in Telangana but the leaders of opposition parties are gearing up to undertake ‘padyatras’ or walkathons to mobilise people’s support for taking on the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president Bandi Sanjay will be the first opposition leader to embark on the foot march. Trying to project BJP as the viable alternative to TRS, he will be launching the ‘padyatra’ from Hyderabad on August 9.

The MP from Karimnagar plans to cover a distance of 750 kms before winding up the ‘padyatra’ on October 2 at Huzurabad Assembly constituency, which is due for bypolls.

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The newly-appointed president of Congress’ Telangana unit A. Revanth Reddy too plans to undertake ‘padyatra’. The firebrand leader, who is looking to revive the fortunes of the party in its former stronghold, will be announcing the details of his foot march after getting a nod from the party’s central leadership.

Y.S. Sharmila, the latest entrant into Telangana politics, too plans to launch a ‘padyatra’ in 100 days. The daughter of late chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, is hoping to recreate the magic of her father, who had started the tradition of ‘padyatras’ in state politics.

The starting point of Bandi Sanjay’s ‘padyatra’ will be Bhagya Lakshmi temple abutting the historic Charminar. Political analysts say the choice of the temple is another attempt by BJP to highlight its saffron agenda while trying to expose the alleged failures of the TRS government.

The controversial temple abutting historic Charminar in the communally sensitive old city was the focal point of BJP’s aggressive campaign in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls late last year. It was from this temple that BJP had launched its poll campaign. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had also visited the temple while campaigning for the party in GHMC polls.

BJP’s campaign involving several central leaders paid rich dividends to the party as it put up an impressive performance to improve its tally in the 150-member GHMC to 48 from just four seats it won in the 2016 polls.

This helped BJP to deny TRS a clear majority and emerge as the second biggest party, a position earlier enjoyed by its arch rival All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

The dates for ‘padyatra’ were also selected with a clear strategy. It begins on August 9, the Quit India Movement anniversary and ends on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

“Our fight is to ensure a democratic Telangana,” said Sanjay who alleged that KCR is ruling Telangana like a dictator. He plans more walkathons in the run up to the 2023 polls.

Under Sanjay, a fiery speaker, BJP has already achieved a few successes. The saffron party dealt a blow to TRS by wresting Dubbak Assembly seat in the bye-election, followed by an impressive show in GHMC polls. The saffron party’s victory march was halted by TRS recently which wrested a seat of Legislative Council and retained Nagarjuna Sagar Assembly seat. Sanjay through his ‘padyatra’ will be trying to send the message that only BJP can provide an alternative to TRS.

Revanth Reddy, whose appointment as Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC), infused new enthusiasm among Congress cadres is eager to take TRS head-on. He has decided to undertake ‘padyatra’ to start building on the perceived anti-incumbency.

A bitter critic of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao and his family, Revanth is likely to go all out to cash in on the support he enjoys among people, especially youth. However, in view of the groupism and internal differences in the party, he is treading cautiously by not announcing the ‘padyatra’ dates. “I can’t take the decision on my own. This has to be a collective decision,” he recently said.

Revanth Reddy is keen to carry everyone along in view of his earlier experience. He had undertaken 10-day ‘padyatra’ in February this year opposing the new farm laws by the Centre.

After addressing a rally of farmers in Nagarkurnool district on February 7, the Malkajgiri MP had launched ‘Rythu Bharosa Yatra’ on the spur of the moment. Encouraged by the public response, he continued to foot march. After covering a distance of 130 km, he addressed a public meeting at Tukkuguda near Hyderabad.

However, as Revanth Reddy had not taken permission from the party leadership, most of the leaders skipped the meet on the direction of then TPCC president Uttam Kumar Reddy.

Revanth Reddy is likely to use ‘padyatra’ to consolidate his position within the party as some sections of the party are still not happy with his appointment by ignoring several senior leaders. Analysts say he will also be using ‘padyatra’ to enhance his image as a leader who can take on KCR.

Reeling under defeat in two successive Assembly elections and series of defections, the Congress party desperately needs a programme like ‘padyatra’ to show that it is still a force to reckon with. By leading two huge protest programmes over fuel price hike over last one week, Revanth Reddy has already demonstrated that the party can bank on him to rebuild the organisation.

Telangana will also witness a ‘padyatra’ by Sharmila who launched YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) on July 8. She vowed to bring back ‘Rajanna Rajyam’ in Telangana.

‘Rajanna Rajyam’ is referred to the welfare rule of her late father. Popularly known as YSR, he implemented several pro-poor schemes in the united Andhra Pradesh.

YSR family is known for undertaking ‘padyatras’ and succeeding in capturing power. In fact it was YSR who started the tradition of ‘padyatras’ in 2003. By covering a distance of 1,470 kms across 11 districts in two months, he succeeded in highlighting people’s issues especially the problems faced by farmers.

The famous ‘padyatra’ catapulted Congress to power after a gap of 10 years, ending the rule of Telugu Desam Party’s N. Chandrababu Naidu. It also helped YSR establish himself as a mass leader.

Since then the politicians including YSR’s rivals have been following in his footsteps. In fact, after YSR’s death in a helicopter crash on September 2, 2009, his son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had launched ‘Odarpu yatra’ to console families of those who died of shock due to YSR’s death. The Congress leadership had asked him to stop the walkathon as this was seen as a move to garner public sympathy to stake claim to the chief minister’s post.

Chandrababu Naidu also undertook ‘padyatra’ before 2014 election and led TDP to form the first government in Andhra Pradesh after bifurcation.

It was Jagan who made history with the longest ‘padyatra’ in 2018-19 to lead his YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) to a landslide victory in Andhra Pradesh.

Jagan covered a distance of 3,648 kms, walking through 134 of 175 Assembly constituencies.

His sister Sharmila is now gearing up to embark on ‘padyatra’ in Telangana. She plans to begin the walkathon from Chevella in Rangareddy district, from where YSR had started his 2003 ‘padyatra’. Later, he launched all major government and party programmes from the same place as it was considered auspicious by him.

Sharmila believes that YSR lives in the heart of Telangana people and is confident of winning their support to bring back ‘Rajanna Rajyam’.

However, this will not be her first political walkathon. When Jagan was in jail in disproportionate assets case in 2012-13, she had undertaken ‘padyatra’ to mobilise public support for him. She had covered 3,112 km across the then undivided Andhra Pradesh.

By undertaking the ‘padyatra’ in her new political avatar, she hopes to repeat what her father and brother have achieved.

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