A New Leader For Andhra’s BJP Unit?
In the good old days, when Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu was a trusted ally of the BJP, a joke was in circulation – that it was always Naidu who appointed the state BJP president and even ratified the BJP candidates in constituencies he allotted to the saffron party in the elections.
The enormous clout Naidu enjoyed had polarised the state BJP into pro-Naidu and anti-Naidu factions. And those who tend to analyse politics in terms of caste would say that the BJP got split into Kamma versus others.
The ‘other’ is constituted mostly of coastal Kapus and Rayalaseema Reddys. The presence of former union ministers Daggubati Purandeswari, Kavuri Sambasivarao, both Kammas, did not alter the colour of the faction.
The anti-Kamma faction of the BJP had embarrassed the then chief minister Naidu so much by raising regionally inflammable issues like Rayalaseema and North Andhra that he had to silence them using his influence in the BJP. The group used to allege that BJP had Naidu’s coverts among its ranks which was hindering the expansion of the party.
Much to the chagrin of Naidu, the faction consisted of leaders like Somu Veerraju, Akula Satyanarayana, D Purandeswari, Kavuri Sambasivarao, Ankal Reddy and Shanta Reddy among others. They had openly urged the BJP to have truck with Jaganmohan Reddy.
They revolted against Naidu while the BJP remained an ally of the TDP and a partner of the TDP government. They even held a Rayalaseema Convention at Kurnool which demanded setting up of a second state capital and a High Court in the region.
Since a union minister from Andhra Pradesh played the bridge between Naidu and the central BJP, Chandrababu Naidu’s writ ran large even in the affairs of the saffron party. He could successfully neutralise the group.
Much water has flown in the Krishna since. Jagan’s YSR Congress moved closer to the BJP. The rift between PM Modi and Naidu widened and finally, Naidu had to declare war on Modi.
Naidu, who became persona non grata in New Delhi came out of the BJP alliance. A BJP and YSRC alliance is now on the cards. This again has led to new a kind of polarisation within the Andhra BJP - the pro-Jagan and anti-Jagan lobbies.
The pro-Jagan group has either fallen silent on the Amaravati issue or argued that capital location is a state matter and that the Centre has no role whatsoever. The other group is a virulent opponent of the scrapping of Amaravati as the capital and the concept of three capitals.
This group is led by state unit president Kanna Lakshminarayana, whose replacement looks imminent in the face of his stand vis-à-vis Amaravati.
Now, the same old joke is recycled and shared in the changed context among political circles.
Who will appoint the next Andhra BJP president?
According to the joke, now it is the turn of chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy. Sources say Jagan is peeved at Kanna’s open campaign against the three-capital concept. Kanna, a recent BJP convert, is attacking Jagan both politically and communally, thinking that it might please the Delhi bosses.
Besides joining chorus with the farmers of “Save Amaravati” agitation, Kanna is also arguing that the sentiments of Hindus are not being respected by Jagan’s government.
The core committee of the state BJP under the chairmanship of Kanna, recently adopted a resolution calling Jagan’s government, like the one led by Naidu earlier, as being full of land scams. The scrapping of Amaravati has made Kanna, a native of Guntur town, naturally a staunch critic of chief minister Jagan, despite the fact that he was about to quit BJP to join YSRC in 2018 when the central leadership finally made up its mind to appoint him the state unit president.
Kanna was appointed state president when the leadership was deluding itself about emerging as a third force after 2019 in the state. But things have gone haywire with the BJP drawing a blank in the 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
Consequently, the central leadership appears to have evolved a separate policy for Andhra Pradesh. Having realised that transforming to a third force is a pie in the sky, the BJP wants to rein in its aspiration and benefit from the indirect support from the state. It is this logic that had earlier forced the BJP to have an alliance with TDP and ensured the local party did not embarrass Chandrababu Naidu. Now analysts say the BJP is trying to extend the same protocol to Jagan as well.
The conflicting stand on Amaravati bears testimony to this. While the state unit under Kanna opposes Jagan on capital shifting, G Kishan Reddy, MoS Home, and deputy of Amit Shah chipped in to clarifiy that the Centre has no role in the location of the capital.
Buttressing this point of view, the party’s national spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member GVL Narasimha Rao quite often visits the state to reiterate that the Centre has no issues with the scrapping of Amaravati and that it is the prerogative of the state government.
Unlike the past BJP presidents, Kanna is a leader with a mass base. In fact, the BJP for the first time is being led by a street-smart politician such as Kanna. A former Congress leader, he was one of the key members of YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s cabinet. Later, neither K Rosaiah nor N Kirankumar Reddy dared to drop him from the cabinet, even though he was also in the race for the post of the chief minister.
Above all, he is one of the most influential Kapu leaders in the state. His muscle and money power is also well acknowledged, a quality rare among AP’s home-gown BJP leaders. However, Kanna’s hostility towards Jaganmohan Reddy does not fit into the BJP logic.
The saffron party does not want to invest its resources on a long-term project of becoming a ruling party in Andhra Pradesh. It is content with having an alliance with one or the other anti-Congress party in the state. Now, the Modi-Shah duo, unlike its predecessors, has an alternative to TDP to fall back upon.
The party can extract more from young Jaganmohan Reddy who is facing a trial in CBI disproportionate assets cases than political veteran Chandrababu Naidu.
The BJP is all set to appoint a new president for its state unit against this backdrop in tune with its national agenda. Kanna’s sympathisers claim the YSRC is batting for Somu Veerraju, a former MLC as the new BJP president.
The other names doing the rounds are D Purandeswari and MLC PVN Madhav and P Manikyala Rao, all of whom are considered politically weak and inconsequential.