YS Sharmila's appointment as the president of Andhra Pradesh Congress and her war of words with her brother and Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has given Andhra Pradesh politics an unexpected and interesting turn ahead of elections.
The rivalry between YSR siblings is in full play ever since Sharmila took over as the president of Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) and it is going to get intense as simultaneous polls to state Assembly and Lok Sabha draw closer.
From day one, Sharmila minced no words to target the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) government headed by her brother. Her attacks were confined to issues like its failure to achieve special category status for the state, "lack of development of state capital and mounting debts".
However, Jagan Mohan Reddy's allegation that the Congress party is trying to divide their family just as it divided Andhra Pradesh triggered a war of words at the personal level.
Sharmila hit back at her brother, blaming him for the split in family and claimed he was a changed person after becoming the chief minister. She even remarked Jagan can't claim to be the political successor of their father late Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy.
Immediately after taking charge as the APCC president on January 21, she fired the first salvo against Jagan Mohan Reddy, asking him if he ever fought for special category status to the state.
She blamed both Jagan Mohan Reddy and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu for the state not getting special category status and accused them of mortgaging the state’s interests.
Sharmila also stated that Chandrababu Naidu did not complete development of Amaravati as the state capital while Jagan promised three capitals but failed to deliver even one.
"There are no funds even to lay the roads. The government employees are not getting their salaries on time. There is no development. There is loot by the mining and sand mafia everywhere,' she said in her first direct attack on Jagan Mohan Reddy.
When Jagan Mohan Reddy reacted to Sharmila's entry by saying Congress is trying to divide their family, she launched a counter attack, blaming him for the split in the family.
Sharmila, who had been maintaining silence despite differences cropping up between them after YSRCP came to power, opened up saying it was Jagan who split the family and the God, their mother Vijayamma and the entire family are a witness to this.
She also stated that she took up yatras for making Jagan the Chief Minister but once he became the CM, he had started behaving differently.
She also alleged that Jagan was not working to fulfill the aspirations of their father YSR.
Sharmila recalled that she undertook a 3,200 km padyatra for the sake of YSRCP. "I also undertook a padyatra for Samaikyandhra (united Andhra). I left my house and children to be on roads, braving hot sun and rain. Whenever required I stood by Jagan Anna to work for his victory but the day when he became chief minister he had changed," she said.
Jagan's aides and supporters unleashed a bitter attack on her. A campaign was also launched against her on social media. She was criticised for using YS with her name even after her marriage with Anil Kumar.
"I am the daughter of YS Rajasekhara Reddy and thus became YS Sharmila," she responded. As both sides are indulging in a slanging match, people are getting their daily dose of the high profile sibling rivalry.
This fight has suddenly catapulted the Congress party to the centre stage of state politics. The party was pushed to the fringes of the political arena in 2014 when it suffered a humiliating defeat due to public anger over bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. The grand old party drew a blank in both Assembly and Lok Sabha for second successive election in 2019 while its vote share plunged to less than two per cent.
Sharmila, who had been avoiding a direct confrontation with her brother ever since floating YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) in 2021, realised that there is no political future for her in Telangana. Her move to merge YSRTP and accept the responsibility given by the Congress leadership seems to have changed the dynamics of Andhra Pradesh politics a couple of months before the polls.
Her entry has apparently given a fresh lease of life to the Congress party in its previous stronghold. Her daily visits to districts and participation in party meetings has suddenly given some visibility to the party, which had virtually disappeared from the political scene.
Until a few weeks ago, it appeared that the state would head for a direct fight between YSRCP and TDP-Jana Sena alliance but Sharmila’s arrival may turn it into a triangular contest.
As Jagan Mohan Reddy is dropping some sitting MLAs and MPs and also changing the constituencies of some others, the dissidents may look towards the Congress. Most of the leaders in YSRCP were earlier in Congress and had defected after Jagan Mohan Reddy floated YSRCP by leading a revolt against Congress following the death of his father and then chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh YSR in a helicopter crash in 2009.
Political analysts say Sharmila also spun a new narrative in the state politics by dubbing all three players as "slaves" of the BJP.
She slammed Jagan Mohan Reddy for deviating from the ideals of their late father YSR, who fought BJP throughout his life.
"The YSRCP has become a slave to the BJP. A party which does not have a single MLA or MP in Andhra Pradesh is ruling the state," said Sharmila.
Analysts say Sharmila brought a new element in the political discourse in the state as both YSRCP Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are seen as friendly parties of BJP while Jana Sena headed by actor Pawan Kalyan is a constituent of BJP-led NDA.
YSRCP extended support to BJP in passing crucial bills in the Parliament and also backed the NDA candidates in the elections for the President and Vice-President of the country.
However, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu had maintained silence over the ties between YSRCP and BJP due to his own political compulsions. As he is also keen to revive the alliance with the BJP, he does not want to queer the pitch for himself with his comments.
Pawan Kalyan, who joined hands with Naidu, is also continuing his efforts to bring BJP on board.
Some see Chandrababu Naidu behind Sharmila's entry to target Jagan Mohan Reddy. YSRCP general secretary Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy, who is also the government advisor, alleged that Sharmila joining the Congress party is Chandrababu Naidu's conspiracy.
Sharmila, however, has denied that she is an "arrow" of Jagan Mohan Reddy's rivals. "I joined the Congress party for the sake of the people of Andhra Pradesh. Both YSRCP and TDP have let them down," she maintained.
She also claims to be working to fulfil the dream of YSR, who wanted to see Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister. She pointed out that while YSR was with the Congress party throughout his life, Jagan deviated from his ideals to join hands with the BJP.
With barely a couple of months to go for polls, the fight between siblings for YSR's political legacy is likely to get intense and bitter.