Hyderabad: Wary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s attempts to polarise voters and make inroads into the state, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh is contemplating walking the path of religious polarisation to carve out 20% of the Hindu vote share. The development will be interesting to watch, as Hindus in AP mostly vote on caste lines rather than religious ones.
A senior TDP leader who is close to the top brass said that attempts are being made to figure out how to secure a “20% Hindu vote share”. “There is a thinking (in the party) that we should go for Hindu votes, as (YSR Congress Party supremo and AP chief minister) Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has the support of Dalits, Reddys and a majority of Muslims anyway,” the TDP leader, who did not want to be quoted, added.
In the last state and general elections held in 2019, the TDP was dealt its worst electoral defeat. The YSR Congress Party won a staggering 151 (out of 175) assembly seats, and 23 (out of 25) Lok Sabha constituencies. The TDP, which had split from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), got only 23 assembly and two parliamentary seats. This was despite the fact that it secured nearly 40% of the vote share.
“We were as secular as possible, but now we can’t be secular anymore. That is the victory of the BJP, it has managed to polarise politics across India. We are also falling in their trap,” the TDP leader from AP stated, and added that the party has reached out to certain “Swamijis” or priests from major temples in the state. However, the efforts have not yet borne fruit.
In AP, politics has always been about Kamma vs Reddy
In Andhra Pradesh, the TDP is seen as a party run by the Kamma community (one of the dominant castes), which party supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu belongs to. The TDP’s major support bases are the Other Backward Classes (OBC), which form about 37% of the population, apart from Muslims (about 9% in AP) and the Kammas (about 7% or so).
The YSRCP, on the other hand, is a party that draws support from the Reddys (another dominant caste) Dalits, Christians, and sections of the Muslim and Scheduled Tribe communities. In the previous election, the YSRCP’s vote share was about 10% more than the TDP.
Actor-turned-politician, who heads the Jana Sena Party (JSP), was also believed to be one of the reasons behind TDP’s poor performance in 2019’s election.
Kalyan, who was in an alliance with the TDP earlier, is believed to have influence over the numerically strong (about 20%) Kapu community. The votes that the JSP got may have eaten into the TDP’s vote share in many seats in the 2019 elections, playing a part in the party’s poor show.
Kalyan has now allied with the BJP, after tying up with the left parties in the past. For this reason, his political decisions have often been criticised.
The BJP has never tasted success in the state. In fact, in the 2019 state and general elections, it managed to get only 1% of the vote share.
Temple attacks put Jagan’s govt on back foot
The TDP mulling the possibility of polarising the polity comes at a time when the state is witnessing a series of desecrations of temples. Last month, the Lord Ram idol at the famous Ramatheertham in Vizianagaram district was vandalised. Prior to that, three-four such incidents had taken place in the state, which the BJP and right-wing groups have used to target the YSRCP government. Such incidents have continued to take place even this month.
Political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy told The Wire, “What the TDP is trying to do is to occupy a space which even the BJP is trying to get into. They know that if they don’t establish themselves firmly in the general Hindu vote bank, the BJP will eat into their share. There is a possibility that Hindus in Andhra Prades may get disillusioned due to certain incidents, like the statue of Lord Ram getting desecrated days ago.”
Two more temples were attacked on January 3 at Vijaywada. In the latest incidents, the deity of Sita at the Pandit Nehru Bus Station was allegedly vandalised, while an idol of Ketu was vandalised at Sivalayam at Vuyyuru, on the outskirts of Vijayawada.
In the statements made by Naidu after these incidents, a glimpse of the party’s possible new direction is visible. Naidu called Jagan a “betrayer of Hindus”, asking why no one has been arrested for the desecration of the idols so far.
“Jagan Reddy may be a Christian. But if he thinks he can use power to convert Hindus, he is wrong. If people in power resort to religious conversions, it amounts to betrayal,” said Naidu in a statement on January 2. Opposition parties have alleged that Jagan is involved in missionary activities, often without any evidence.
Meanwhile, the YSRCP holds the TDP responsible for the incidents. YSRCP Rajya Sabha MP Y. Vijaysai Reddy and Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy, an advisor to the AP government, have both alleged that Naidu is behind the desecration of temples. They say that the incidents are intended to divert attention from development schemes that the government has launched.
TDP sending out feelers to rejoin the NDA?
More importantly, after its 2019 debacle, the TDP – or rather Naidu to be specific – has sent out feelers to the BJP about rekindling its alliance. The TDP had walked out of the NDA in 2018 after the BJP-run Centre refused to provide special status for Andhra Pradesh (which had been promised to the state after the creation of Telangana in 2014).
The TDP leader quoted above admitted that there has not been any response from the BJP’s top brass so far. “We have been told that Y. Sujana Chaudhry (former TDP Rajya Sabha MP who defected to the BJP) has been trying hard on that front, but local leaders don’t seem to want it. I suspect that they feel that the BJP should try to grow on its own, like it is doing so in Telangana and Hyderabad,” the leader said. He added that a formal decision on a possible alliance will only be taken before the next general elections.