Former Andhra Pradesh BJP state president Kanna Lakshminarayana quit the party and joined the TDP on 23 February.
The development comes after much vacillation from the leader who, prior to the 2019 Assembly elections, had publicly announced that he was considering joining the YSRCP when he met YS Jagan Mohan Reddy during his padayatra at Pedakurapadu, only to be cajoled by BJP national leaders Amit Shah and Ram Madhav against such a move.
With the main Opposition TDP recently shifting into election mode with party scion Nara Lokesh’s Yuva Galam padayatra, Lakshminarayana’s decision acquires much importance.
So will this political development have any electoral implications?
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Consolidation of Kapu votes?
Kanna Lakshminarayana belongs to the politically and numerically strong Kapu community.
Political pundits from Andhra Pradesh have already opined that Lakshminarayana will bring crucial Kapu votes along with him, thus bolstering the TDP’s dalliances with another Kapu leader, Pawan Kalyan, and his Jana Sena Party (JSP).
The JSP, incidentally, is officially in an alliance with the BJP.
After quitting, Lakshminarayana criticised the BJP for not giving the importance due to Pawan Kalyan and his JSP. In a TV interview he said that while internally they were told by the BJP national leaders that they would be fighting the elections alone, in public they were asked to maintain pretentions of an alliance with the JSP.
“Even in the political resolution at the end the party’s plenary in Bhimavaram there was only talk of working together with like-minded parties. Strangely, there was no mention of the official alliance partner JSP,” he said.
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Lakshminarayana hails from Guntur district which has a substantial Kapu population, along with Krishna and the delta districts of East and West Godavari. It is unclear whether this community can be considered a monolith when it comes to voting behaviour.
Even at the height of his popularity, film star K Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) could garner only 16.3 percent of the vote in 2009, winning 18 seats. In 2019, JSP got a mere 5.6 percent of the vote, winning only 1 seat, with Pawan Kalyan himself losing in the two seats he contested from —both with substantial Kapu presence.
What this suggests is that the Kapus, who, according to various estimates, constitute anywhere between 15-20 percent of the population, have not backed the JSP even as much as they did his eldest brother Chiranjeevi.
So, the question whether Lakshminarayana will help consolidate the restive Kapu voters, at least in the delta districts, is moot.
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Why did Kanna Lakshminarayana join TDP, & not the JSP?
While there were rumours that Kanna Lakshminarayana would join the JSP after his tete-a-tete with the party’s leader Nadendla Manohar recently, his decision to join the TDP instead could be because of an understanding during the BJP-JSP alliance formation that neither party would woo and accommodate leaders from the other.
Other reasons for this could be the stature and desperation of Lakshminarayana. For a leader of his standing, joining the TDP will bring more benefits than the fledgling JSP.
Moreover, it has been close to 10 years since Lakshminarayana, who was a minister in the Cabinet of Kiran Kumar Reddy of the Congress, the last chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, enjoyed any political power in office.
His dalliances with multiple parties since can be understood as attempts to remain politically relevant. In other words, for Lakshminarayana, the TDP has more to offer than what he could offer the JSP.
Also read: The race for the Kapu votes is hotting up
And the BJP strategy?
Social engineering has been a crucial part of the BJP’s successful political strategy, along with religious polarisation.
In fact, the alliance with the JSP can be understood as a tactic to attract the powerful Kapu community, since traditional loyalties of the other two powerful communities — the Reddys and the Kammas — lie with the YSRCP and the TDP, respectively.
But with respect to religious polarisation, it makes more sense for the BJP to have a Christian leader like YS Jagan Mohan Reddy at the helm than N Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP. Somu Veerraju’s elevation as the state party chief coincided with the implementation of this strategy, which doesn’t seem to be working so far.
This could be a related reason for Lakshminarayana, who cited personal differences with Veerraju but was careful not to express disaffection against the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to quit the party.
Moreover, this could also indicate a lack of clarity on the part of the BJP as it is trying to maintain a delicate equidistance from both the YSRCP and the TDP at the state level, fully knowing that the MPs elected from either party will most likely support the NDA at the Centre on crucial issues anyway.
This long-term play by the BJP to eventually displace the TDP or the YSRCP in the state as a viable political alternative does not sit well with desperate politicians like Lakshminarayana.
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Kanna Lakshminarayana had nowhere else to go
The BJP’s twin strategies don’t seem to be working as well as they are in the neighbouring state of Telangana. This, despite Pawan Kalyan himself taking up the mantle of Hindutva against the ruling government — and later to accuse the BJP of going soft on Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy.
So, for politicians like Lakshminarayana, remaining in the BJP makes little sense.
Finally, it is difficult to say if Lakshminarayana’s move to the TDP, which seems to be closing ranks with the JSP, will help consolidate the much-coveted Kapu voting in their favour in the 2024 Assembly elections.
In fact, this Kapu strategy could also backfire and lead to an anti-Kapu consolidation in favour of the YSRCP, especially in the delta districts, given the Kapu community’s high propensity to violence there.