HYDERABAD: They have a Ram but he cannot be the chosen one here. Laxman is very keen, but the party is not sure he is the one either. Since there is no Bharat in modern politics — someone refusing to sit on the throne — the Telangana unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not closed to even considering poaching a political Shatru to fill in the state president’s post.
Dr. K. Laxman, president of Telangana BJP, has not inspired enough confidence in any of the political stakeholders — party top leadership, the RSS, party leaders and cadre, or the general public — to strongly substantiate his case for a re-nomination. Sadly, the party does not have too many options either. The party rank and file want a younger leader to head the party, someone who inspires public confidence and can challenge and match Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao.
The cadre has openly told several senior national leaders that the party needs a new leadership with fresh ideas and a massive shake-up to the organisation.
Dr. Laxman and current state leadership, most youngsters in the party feel, is not aggressive and capable enough to build the party and acquire a winning momentum. They say that results of elections fought by the party in last few years prove their case for replacement.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, BJP candidates lost deposits in 103 out of 119 seats. The party won just one seat, Ghosha Mahal, where the victory was scripted by Thakur Raja Singh, the candidate himself.
In the Lok Sabha polls held a few months later, BJP won four seats and lost Mahabubnagar, a potential fifth, narrowly. The BJP’s win in LS was technically equivalent of around 25 Assembly seats. Nobody explains the turnaround as a feat of the state BJP leadership. It was plainly the Modi factor at work, anticipating and fearing which, the TRS preponed the Assembly elections.
A senior BJP national leader said that none of the four BJP leaders elected to Lok Sabha are likely to succeed Dr Laxman, if the party decides to decline him a second term. The senior most amongst them, G. Kishan Reddy, MP, Secunderabad, is currently serving as minister of state for home affairs and cannot simultaneously hold another post, nor is he interested.
Two MPs — Arvind Dharmapuri (Nizamabad) and Bandi Sanjay Kumar (Karimnagar) — fit some boxes in the check list — they are young, aggressive and can raise resources locally. Soyam Bapu Rao (Adilabad MP), whose win was a surprise, hardly had enough money to fight his own election, is a non-starter. But Mr Dharmapuri is not keen on a state role and is trying for either a ministerial berth or a national party role, according to party sources in Delhi. Mr Bandi Sanjay is considered too young, and wishes to focus on his constituency.
Dr Laxman has put in his hat in the ring for a second term, after reportedly cutting a truce about domestic turf with Mr Kishan Reddy – Mr Reddy is backing incumbent president Laxman’s claim for a second term; in turn, Laxman will back Reddy as chief ministerial candidate in next Assembly elections.
If Dr Laxman had hoped to use the LS performance to bolster his claim, the recent Huzurnagar byelection result punctured his chances badly. The result was a huge disaster and almost sealed his chances. The BJP got less than 2,700 votes, despite boasting of over 4,500 party workers in the area.
The party membership drive in Telangana, as national BJP leadership has realised, was a failure. State leader played havoc with membership drive. Facilitated by a missed call mechanism across the country by a software tool, it was not used in the state. The Telangana BJP unit choose to reinvent the wheel and awarded a contract to a local vendor to develop a new software. The exercise ended in disaster.
The party has been looking around within its ranks, without ruling out those who defected not so long ago, for a chief. A frontrunner is former Congress minister, D.K. Aruna, a firebrand leader, who has reportedly assured the party leadership that she can bankroll a wallet of over `100 crore with support of some Telugu industrialists. However, two of the three biggies backing her are of Andhra origin. A.P. Jithender Reddy is another name doing rounds for the race. The former TRS MP, who defected when he realised he would not be given a ticket in the pink party, has the ability to mobilise resources, but lacks the chutzpah and charisma the BJP needs.
The RSS, however, is strongly against outsiders or recent defectors, but it has also given a thumb down to current office bearers.
The two Telugu speaking biggies of the Sangh – Ram Madhav and P Muralidhar Rao – who don’t see eye-to-eye – have been concentrating on other states more.
Mr Madhav, who played a crucial role in candidate selection in Telangana for the Lok Sabha polls, but does not make the cut for Telangana politics — hails originally from East Godavari region of Andhra.
Mr Muralidhar Rao, who oversaw the Karnataka elections, is focussed on national-level politics. His last key role in Telangana, handling candidate selection for Assembly polls, turned disastrous, after which he has been staying away. He is happy currently backing Dr Laxman’s bid.
Despite RSS opposition to outsiders being entrusted with a top job, lack of options has BJP is looking around. Names of two current TRS ministers – Etela Rajender, health minister, and Malla Reddy, labour minister – both of whom, the BJP sources say, are likely to be sacked within a fortnight from the KCR government, are doing rounds. But they would not fit the ‘capable of challenging-KCR’ criteria.
A BJP national leader said that party president Amit Shah wants a change in state leadership but does not want to impose a name from Delhi. He has asked the local leaders for nominations.
Local BJP leaders are making lists, in which Congress leaders A. Revanth Reddy and Konda Vishweshwar Reddy are at the top. When contacted, both leaders denied being aware of the issue.
While Mr Vishweshwar Reddy responded with a terse monosyllabic no, Mr Revanth Reddy, who said he was neither in touch with BJP nor keen to shift parties, called it “fake news.”
However, a senior national BJP leader confirmed that the BJP was in talks with Mr Revanth Reddy, who, however, does not want to lose his hard won Lok Sabha seat with over 50 months term remaining. “He has the fire power. We are trying to get him to shift, but he is trying to become PCC chief,” the BJP leader said.
Who would be an ideal leader on the BJP’s wishlist to lead them to power?
“Harish Rao, without a doubt. But we won’t make a move. He is not keen on any options outside the TRS right now. It does seem that blood is thicker than water,” the leader added.
Thankfully, Dr Laxman might be thinking. At least for now....