Dramatic visuals of Y.S. Sharmila sitting defiantly in her car being towed away by Telangana Police have brought to the fore yet another dimension to the conundrum of politics in the two Telugu states.
Even as the ruling TRS and opposition BJP are slugging it out, and the Congress desperately trying to remain relevant, the entry of Sharmila with her fledgeling YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) seems to be queering the pitch for Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao or KCR as he is popularly known.
Daughter of former united Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Dr Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, and sister of Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the chief minister of the residuary state, after reportedly falling out with her brother, Sharmila has set out to carve an independent political future in the youngest state of India.
Setting out in October 2021 on a 4000-kilometre long padayatra of Telangana, Sharmila has been on a collision course with the ruling TRS and its chief minister KCR who succeeded in achieving statehood and retaining power for the second time on the anti-outsider, read as anti-Andhra, plank.
Initially, Sharmila’s entry in Telangana politics was seen by some quarters as having KCR’s tacit approval in an apparent bid to split the Reddy community vote, affecting the Congress in particular, and indirectly strengthening the TRS’ position in the polls.
But as she criss-crossed Telangana state, touching more than 65 Assembly constituencies and 3500 kms, Sharmila’s distinctly anti-TRS stance coupled with the positive response she garnered during the walkathon, seemed to have unnerved the ruling party which is aiming for a third shot at power in the Assembly elections due in 2023.
Last week’s face-off began when Sharmila was arrested on her way to protest an attack on her padayatra by TRS workers in Warangal district.
With the state’s governor Tamilisai Sounderarajan condemning the developments and BJP leaders supporting Sharmila, TRS leaders like KCR’s daughter Kavitha have dubbed Sharmila as a BJP plant in the state. Sharmila on her part has refuted these charges.
Ironically, even as it simultaneously plans to emerge as the national alternative to the ruling BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls by transforming into the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS), Telangana’s ruling party is now facing stormy weather in its own backyard.
Political observers say that Sharmila’s presence has pushed the TRS into a dilemma of sorts. Apart from its development agenda, the party relies on the anti-Andhra plank to mop up votes. Painting Sharmila as an outsider is a double-edged sword that can hurt the TRS as it prepares to go national.
“On one hand they want to contest in other states, but TRS leaders like Harish Rao and Kavitha are asking how outsiders can come into Telangana. It will expose their duplicity,” a senior journalist explained.
For the moment, Sharmila appears prepared for a long-haul battle. A padayatra veteran of sorts, she has campaigned for her brother in the past.
For the ruling TRS party, Sharmila’s arrival on the scene couldn’t have been more inopportune. Recent developments in the Delhi liquor policy scam have shifted the focus to Telangana with chief minister and TRS supremo KCR’s daughter K. Kavitha’s name figuring in the Enforcement Directorate’s remand report on Wednesday. The issue further hotted up after the CBI issued summons to the TRS MLC on Friday.
While the truth is yet to unravel, the TRS is locked in a political slugfest over the issue with the BJP which is making a concerted push to unseat KCR in the Assembly elections due in 2023.
In such a situation, Y.S. Sharmila and her YSRTP could well be the X-factor that scripts the outcome of Telangana politics over the next year or so.