It was on 7 November that the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi completed its Telangana leg.
“Work together so we can win elections in Telangana and form our government,” was Rahul Gandhi’s parting words to leaders of the party on the final day of the yatra in the state.
The Congress put together a feel-good video of its Telangana leaders cooking bamboo chicken with Rahul Gandhi and enjoying a freewheeling conversation.
What the video didn’t show, however, was how several leaders had raised concerns about all not being well in Telangana Congress then and there, right in front of Rahul Gandhi.
One prominent leader, during the interaction, even had a word of advice for “younger brother” and state party chief Revanth Reddy — “there is no I or me or mine in the party. Congress is all of us” — but it seems the very public display of disaffection did little to persuade Rahul Gandhi to resolve the issue.
Only as a team we can succeed
Only as a team we can win @RahulGandhi‘s chit chat with leaders of Telangana over some bamboo chicken. #BharatJodoYatra https://t.co/IxOggqoTOl pic.twitter.com/OfdyfX7XhZ
— Bharat Jodo (@bharatjodo) November 12, 2022
Cut to 17 December, the infighting in the state unit of the Congress has become a public spectacle with leaders split into groups of “original” and “migrant” partymen.
Related: Congress rebels rise, revolt against Revanth Reddy
The old guard of the Telangana Congress is in fight mode and want to spare none — not Telangana Congress President Revanth Reddy, not party general secretary and state in-charge Manickam Tagore, not the party’s poll strategist and task force member Sunil Kanugolu, and certainly not leaders who quit the TDP and joined the Congress over the years.
The old guard’s revolt against Revanth Reddy comes weeks before he is scheduled to begin a statewide yatra to prep the ground for the Telangana Assembly elections late next year.
It is open war in Telangana Congress
The Telangana Congress old guard — led by Lok Sabha MP and former TPCC President N Uttam Kumar Reddy, Congress Legislature Party Chief Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, former MP and campaign committee chairperson Madhu Yaskhi Goud, and MLA T Jayaparaksh Reddy, among others — has gone public with its demand to “Save Congress”, accusing newcomers of attempting a “takeover” and forcing original Congressmen out of the party.
It is a war and nobody is making any secret about, much to the embarrassment of the Congress.
On the face of it, the outburst of the old guard may seem a direct result of party’s 10 December appointment of 134 district presidents, vice-presidents and general secretaries, along with a 40-member Executive Committee headed by Revanth Reddy, and an 18-member Political Affairs Committee (PAC) headed by Manickam Tagore.
But the bitterness between “native” and “migrant” Congress leaders has been brewing since 2017, when Revanth Reddy joined the Congress from TDP. His elevation as president of Telangana Congress in 2021 only escalated matters.
For the old guard that had been waiting for an opportunity to deride the “arrogant” Revanth Reddy, the Munugode bypoll drubbing was the perfect stick to beat him with. The infighting in Telangana Congress had been brushed under the carpet in the run-up to Munugode.
“Revanth was appointed president citing the fact that the Congress was losing one election after another under the previous leadership and there was a need to revive the party. We have lost two Assembly bypolls under him now. We lost our deposit in Munugode despite him taking all the credit for having campaigned ‘single-handedly’. On top of it, is his arrogant attitude towards seniors in the party and his condescending tone of conversing,” a senior Telangana Congress leader who was part of the “rebel” meeting on Saturday, 17 December, at Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka’s residence told South First.
AICC leaders, on the other hand, cite Revanth Reddy’s fiery oratory skills, popularity among youth, support base within his community, vocal opposition to Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and the BRS as reasons for having made him president of the state Congress within four years of joining the party.
Sunil Kanugolu in the line of fire
On Saturday, Uttar Kumar Reddy fired the first salvo when he accused state unit of the party of prioritising “newcomers'” from TDP over “native Congress leaders” in appointments to posts.
While he refrained from naming Revanth Reddy, Uttam Kumar extended no such courtesy to Congress poll strategist and task force member Sunil Kanugolu.
The Lok Sabha MP accused the Sunil Kanugolu-run war room of manufacturing defamatory slogans aimed at the old guard of the Congress.
Uttam Kumar claimed that slanderous posts and slogans against the Congress’ own leaders were recovered from the party war room after Hyderabad police seized devices in a case filed against Sunil Kanugolu’s firm for alleged defamatory content against Telangana Chief Minister KCR.
The anger against Sunil Kanugolu runs deep.
“As senior leaders, we have been elected several times from our constituencies and know them well. Sunil Kanugolu’s survey suggested that the district president in my home district wasn’t working and has to change. Despite me recommending his re-appointment, he opposed it. A strategist should not behave like a faction leader,” a miffed senior leader of Telangana told South First.
The central leadership of Congress doesn’t agree. “Sunil Kanugolu is Rahul Gandhi’s man in Telangana. When senior leaders publicly chide him, they don’t seem to realise that they are making accusations against a man who has been entrusted with responsibilities directly by the central leadership. He is not an outsider,” a senior member of Congress’ national committee told South First.
The old guard in Telangana, however, seems to have decided that Revanth Reddy, Sunil Kanugolu and Manickam Tagore — all “paradropped” into Telangana — are on one side, and they on the other.
Old guard wants Revanth Reddy gone
Without naming Revanth Reddy, Uttar Kumar Reddy implied that the Telangana Congress President was playing favourites by rewarding his supporters and denying space for original Congressmen. In response, on Sunday, 13 Congress leaders aligned to Revanth Reddy submitted their resignations in an act of “sacrifice”.
The old guard of Telangana Congress found that unacceptable too.
“As President, he should have tried to assuage the old guard instead of getting his supporters to resign and threaten,” a senior leader from Telangana said.
Now, the old guard wants Priyanka Gandhi to intervene in the crisis.
“For Sonia Gandhi, Telangana is like a child. Under special circumstance we created Telangana despite being wiped out in Andhra Pradesh. We need to introspect on the party’s situation in Telangana and the central leadership should intervene. Our last hope is Priyanka Gandhi,” Madhu Yaskhi Goud, chairman of the Telangana Congress campaign committee told South First.
What the old guard is implying, but isn’t saying, is that they want Revanth Reddy out.
Always seen as an outsider, his commitment to Congress’ ideology has been called into question multiple times by the faction deeming itself the “original Congress”.
Congress’ Telangana conundrum
“It is painful to see senior leaders make such statements about party colleagues in public. Whatever their concerns are, they should have come to the AICC and attempted to resolve them,” Manickam Tagore told South First, insisting that the issue would be resolved amicably.
Party insiders, however, suggest that the Telangana bickering has turned into a conundrum for the party.
“Uttam Kumar Reddy had suggested 14 names for the Executive Committee of which 13 have been accommodated. The appointments to DCCs and other posts have to strike a balance of caste and gender. Senior leaders cannot be taking offence to everything,” a senior office bearer of Telangana Congress said.
It isn’t just Telangana, the Kerala and Karnataka units of Congress too are riddled with factionalism. But in Karnataka and Telangana, the Congress has much to lose if it cannot get its leaders to work together given that elections are only months away.
Given the anti-incumbency against the BRS, the Congress should have been the primary beneficiary. But with the grand old party tying itself up in knots with infighting, the stage is slowly being set for the BJP to get a toehold in yet another southern state.