Is the unrest in the Telangana unit of the BJP reaching a tipping point?
After the BJP bit the dust in neighbouring Karnataka in the Assembly elections, those who joined the saffron party in recent times appear to be having doubts regarding the growth curve of the party in Telangana — as well as their personal growth in the party.
For instance, there are indications that the likes of legislator Eatala Rajender — who joined the party from the TRS (now BRS) — and former MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy — who joined from the Congress — are finding the habitat too suffocating.
As they do not have moorings in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP whose members dominate and control the party, they feel like fish out of water in the saffron outfit.
Several leaders from Congress and, to some extent, from the BRS, have joined the BJP over the last four-and-a-half years.
Also read: Will Karnataka verdict impact Telangana elections?
Tough for non-RSS people?
To be specific, those who crossed the fence to the BJP in search of greener pastures after 2018, quickly discovered that it was not easy to make their way into the core of the party which is essentially made up of those steeped in the RSS tradition.
Take, for instance, Huzurabad MLA Eatala Rajender. After he fell from grace in the BRS and was hounded out of the state Cabinet by Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, he joined the ranks of the BJP and won the ensuing by-election.
He won the polls more with the force of his personality than the perceived mojo of the BJP. Yet, as he could demolish and humiliate the BRS in the by-election, he was given importance in the saffron fold.
It was also mostly because he belongs to the Backward Classes (BCs) which the saffron party wanted to woo this time around to sail through choppy political waters and win the coming elections.
He was made the chairman of what is called the “Joinings Committee” to engineer defections into the party. The party came under fire for encouraging defections so brazenly. And then the buck stopped for Rajender.
Soon arrived the by-election for Munugodu where the BJP hired a Congress legislator Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy to contest on its behalf after making him resign as MLA.
The BRS, which took the by-election more seriously than it had taken the one that featured Eatala Rajender, smote a mortal blow on him, as well as the narrative that the stars of the BJP were on the ascendency in Telangana.
Also read: After Karnataka, Congress hopes for a comeback in Telangana
Change of guard on the cards?
Now, the leaders from the non-RSS stock and those who joined the BJP after 2018 (it was when the last Assembly elections in Telangana were held) want a change of guard at the state unit of the party.
They have been increasing pressure on the party’s central leadership, albeit subtly, on this count; but, so far, the party does not seem to have taken the murmurs of protests seriously.
Rajagopal Reddy, with scales of illusion falling off from his eyes that he would be treated with awe in the BJP, is, according to those close to him, wondering whether it was time for him to do a prodigal son and return to the Congress — though his bete noir A Revanth Reddy is still there as state unit chief, calling the shots.
The Karnataka verdict kindled hopes of former Congress leaders that it was time for them to return home as the BJP to them appears to have outlived its utility and that it has now run aground, at least where Telangana is concerned.
The party leaders also see a not-so-bright future for Modi and the BJP at the national level and wonder whether it was time for them to pack their bags and baggage and return to the Congress.
What Rajagopal said
On Thursday, 18 May, Rajagopal Reddy insisted that he would remain with the BJP, though “some people” in Congress whom he knew were asking him to return home.
Speaking to media persons in Delhi, the BJP leader said the reports that he was disillusioned with the BJP were hogwash and that he would continue to remain in BJP and strengthen the hands of the prime minister.
He said the argument that Congress would win in Telangana because it emerged victorious in the Karnataka Assembly elections did not hold water.
“The politics in Karnataka are different and the factors that influence voting in Telangana are different,” he said and put forth a counter-argument the BJP lost in Karnataka though it had won in Gujarat and several other states.
The BJP leader said that he joined the BJP to fight against the “KCR dictatorship”.
If he was interested in only bagging contracts, he would have joined the BRS long ago since the party had invited him umpteen times to join it.
He also took a swipe at those who were saying the Congress return to power in Telangana.
“There are four groups in the party. There is ‘blackmailer’ Revanth Reddy at the helm and three other leaders all trying to promote themselves at the expense of others. I know Revanth Reddy. How can I work under someone who came to the Congress a few years ago, after being with the TDP for 20 years?” he asked, recalling the campaign against him that he had joined the BJP so as to get infrastructure contracts worth ₹18,000 crore.
Also read: Surveys show BRS is going to sweep the polls, says confident KCR
Hindutva not reaping benefits in Telangana
Then there is Eatala Rajender, the ex-BRS leader, who is now being propped by the lateral entrants into the BJP to head the party in the state.
These lateral entrants have been gunning for incumbent state unit president and Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar, a man who has come up the RSS organisational ladder .
They believe that the Hindutva card is not likely to reap a rich harvest of votes in Telangana, as it did not in Karnataka; and as Bandi Sanjay is known as a hardcore Hindutva activist, continuing with him at helm would be counterproductive.
On the contrary, they want Eatala Rajender to be handed the reins of the party as he not only has a following among the BCs but has the necessary expertise in keeping factions together.
They recalled how efficient he was as a minister and party leader when he was in the BRS which, they believe, in fact led to the situation where KCR had felt the risk-reward ratio would remain skewed against him if he allowed Rajendar to continue in the party.
As Delhi got the whiff of the nail-biting war of nerves that had been raging between the two factions in the party in Telangana, Union Home Minister Amit Shah this week summoned Eatala Rajender.
Though it is not clear what had transpired between the two, the faction owing allegiance to Rajender is laying low indicating that their attempts for a change of guard may not have cut any ice with Amit Shah.
Related: Bandi Sanjay is accused No 1 in Class X paper leak case
‘Nothing to tell you’
When South First reached out to Eatala Rajender to ask about his Delhi visit and its outcome, he sounded a little despondent and at the same time was not forthcoming in divulging what transpired at the meeting with Shah.
“There is nothing I could tell you of my meeting with Shah,” was his reticent reply, indicating that he may have been snubbed.
Though it is too premature to hazard a guess on the possibility of Rajender coming out of the party, his supporters say there were options before him — should he choose to look at them.
When former MP Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy and former minister Jupalli Krishna Rao were discussing what they should do next after they were suspended from the BRS, Eatala met them and held a marathon discussion.
It was clear that Rajender wanted to project himself as a leader taller than Sanjay.
Sanjay vs Rajender
In fact, Sanjay did not know that Eatla Rajender was holding talks with the duo in Khammam.
When a reporter asked him about the meeting, he expressed surprise but pulled himself together and said that Eatala was doing what he was supposed to do, fishing for leaders to strengthen the BJP.
One of Eatla Rajender’s supporters in North Telangana, who does not want his name quoted, told South First, “We have brought to the notice of the top leadership that a change of guard would augur well for the party as Hindutva will not jell in Telangana. If the party leadership listens to us, it will do good to the party. If it does not, then it will have to suffer.”
Bandi Sanjay also did not look alarmed when Eatala Rajender went to Delhi. To a question during a media interaction, he said any party leader could meet the central leadership and that there was nothing wrong with it.
His supporters claim that just because someone from Telangana suggests to the party to abandon the Hindutva ideology, why would it do so?
Hindutva will continue to be the party’s core strength. The party cannot set aside Bandi Sanjay who is a dyed-in-the-wool RSS worker and replace him with one who is essentially from the far-left background.