Eyes on Andhra Pradesh poll, Congress asks ex-leaders to return ‘home’, looks to induct YS Sharmila

South First had previously reported that the Congress was looking at Sharmila as an asset, but in Andhra Pradesh and not in Telangana, where she tried to establish herself.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Dec 28, 2023 | 10:00 AMUpdatedDec 28, 2023 | 7:57 PM

Andhra Pradesh Congress leaders attend a meeting with the party's central leadership in New Delhi on Wednesday, 27 December, 2023.

Following its spectacular victory in neighbouring Telangana, the Indian National Congress (INC) is looking to rebuild itself in Andhra Pradesh.

Having lost voters, leaders, cadres and party structure following the bifurcation of erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh, Congress has practically become non-existent in the State’s political canvas.

With Andhra Pradesh assembly elections slated to be held alongside Lok Sabha polls 2024, Congress is looking to revive its presence in the Telugu State.

The party is banking on the legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family and morale boost from its Telangana victory to fuel its resurgence in Andhra Pradesh. The first step towards it was appointment of an AICC In-charge for the State.

Earlier this week, the party appointed Manickam Tagore B, an MP from Tamil Nadu, as the AICC In-charge for the State. Tagore was previously the In-charge for Telangana before being moved to Goa. His role in putting the Telangana state unit in order seems to have contributed to his appointment as In-charge of Andhra Pradesh.

Also read: Congress sees ‘value’ in Sharmila — but in AP, not Telangana

On the path to rebuilding

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and party leader Rahul Gandhi conducted a meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday to strategise for the upcoming assembly and Lok Sabha polls in Andhra Pradesh.

Sources from the meeting suggested that the Congress leadership inquired about YS Sharmila’s potential entry into the party, and it was a big yes from the Andhra leaders.

South First had previously reported that Congress saw value in YS Sharmila – daughter of Late Congress Stalwart and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhara Reddy – not in Telangana, where is wanted to build her political capital, but in Andhra Pradesh.

According to sources, Andhra Pradesh Congress chief Gidugu Rudra Raju submitted a report on the activities conducted during his one-year tenure. He also urged the Congress leadership to participate in public rallies scheduled from January.

Congress also hopes to cash in on the goodwill the Nehru-Gandhi family enjoys in Andhra Pradesh.

Congress MP and senior leader Rahul Gandhi is slated to attend a meeting in Visakhapatnam against the privatisation of a steel plant. AICC General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is expected to meet Amaravati farmers to support their demand to retain Amaravati as the state capital.

Meanwhile, AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge will be addressing a public meeting in southern Andhra Pradesh for the development of the region.

The YS Sharmila gamble

Sources indicate that Rahul Gandhi and Mallikharjuna Kharge sought the opinion of Andhra leaders regarding YS Sharmila’s induction into the party for the state.

Barring one or two, a majority of the leaders reportedly supported this move, believing it would benefit the party.

YS Sharmila founded the YSRTP in Telangana in 2021 following reported fallout with her brother, Andhra Chief Minister and YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.

Initially, she announced her intention to contest elections in Telangana, but alliance or merger talks stalled due to the insistence of many Telangana Congress leaders, who feared that her joining could be exploited by BRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao for regional advantage.

However, she extended her support to the Congress at the last minute to avoid split of anti-incumbency votes.

Sharmila is expected to meet the Gandhis later this week, and an official announcement is likely to follow after the discussion.

Also read: YS Sharmila-led YSRTP opts out of Telangana Assembly polls

‘Ghar wapsi’ call to ex-leaders

The Congress brass, during the meeting, also acknowledged the shortage of leaders in Andhra Pradesh, since many left the party in 2013 -14 following its favourable stance for the creation of Telangana.

In response, leaders from Andhra Pradesh agreed to identify and approach leaders who they believe still align with the Congress ideology, and urge them to return to the party.

Sources also said all leaders acknowledged that the recent success in Karnataka and Telangana assembly elections had caught the attention to Andhra Pradesh Congress.

AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge posted on X, “Everyone believes that the ground situation has drastically changed after the government formation in Karnataka and Telangana. Every leader and worker is committed to working hard and re-establishing the bond that the people of Andhra Pradesh once shared with the Congress party.”

The last time Congress held power in Andhra Pradesh was in 2009, securing 156 of the 294 Assembly seats and managing 33 MPs out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

However, after YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s death in a helicopter crash and the party’s support for bifurcation, there was a significant decline in performance and presence.

In 2014, it secured zero seats with 2.8 percent of votes, and in 2019, it garnered only 1.2 percent of the votes, which was less than the number of NOTA (None of the Above) option choices.