In a boost to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Congress leader Vanteru Pratap Reddy, who had contested against Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for the Gajwel constituency in December last year, defected to the ruling party in the state on Friday.
Vanteru was inducted into the TRS in the presence of TRS Working President KT Rama Rao and Medak MP Kotha Prabhakar Reddy, besides other senior leaders. KTR garlanded him with a TRS scarf amid cheers from several supporters of the leader from Gajwel who had gathered at Telangana Bhavan, the headquarters of the party in Hyderabad.
Speaking at the event, Vanteru said, "KCR has swept the state in December because his welfare schemes went directly to the people, whether it was the Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bhima or the projects supplying water. This was reflected in the votes that he received."
"I worked for the farmers in Gajwel constituency, have faced lathi charges and even gone to jail for them. Despite this, the farmers voted for the CM. Therefore, I felt that maybe the decision I took was wrong because the people of Gajwel had spoken. That's why I decided to join the TRS," he added.
Vanteru also said that he was invited repeatedly at many points in the past but he had refused. However, he added that he had reconsidered his decision and he would work for the party and perform whatever duties were assigned to him.
In the run up to the polls, Vanteru had alleged that the police had been repeatedly harassing and foisting cases against him on the directions of the CM. On November 27, tension prevailed at Pratap Reddyâ€™s residence in Kompally in Hyderabad, after he threatened self-immolation alleging police harassment.
He even sat on a hunger strike at the Gajwel Returning Officerâ€™s office, appealing that the Election Commission step up their vigil and curb the liquor flow and bribery by the TRS. He also had alleged threat to his life.
However, on Friday, ahead of his induction, Vanteru spoke to local reporters and was all praise for KCR's welfare schemes and said he was joining the TRS on KTR's invite. Sources say that he could be given an MLC seat or made the chairman of a corporation in the state.
Speaking after inducting Vanteru, KTR said, "What Pratap said is true. We have asked him repeatedly over the last 10 years and he has finally joined us. We extend him a warm welcome."
KTR also highlighted various development projects taken up by KCR in Gajwel constituency.
"We should repeat the performance of the Assembly elections in the Lok Sabha election. We should win 16 out of the 17 seats in Telangana for sure," KTR said. The TRS already has an understanding to leave the Hyderabad MP seat vacant for AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi.
He also lashed out at the Congress and BJP and said that all their attempts to dethrone the TRS had failed.
"Congress and BJP are ruining the country. A Federal Front should come up and it will strengthen the states. We have already started work on this. Even if Congress and BJP join hands, they cannot get a majority in the Parliament," he said, emphasising that regional parties would play a crucial role in 2019.
He also lashed out at Andhra Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and spoke about his meeting with Jagan.
â€śWe were never against Andhraâ€™s development. We may have been divided as states, but we are always been united as people. There might have been statements made during the agitation for a separate state, but since bifurcation, our stand has been clear,â€ť KTR said.
Vanteru Pratap Reddy is a local strongman in Gajwel and in 2014, despite being in the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), a party considered against the formation of Telangana, Vanteru got 34.48% of the vote share against the Chief Minister's 44.42%.
The Congress leader's defection is similar to that of former Gajwel MLA Narsa Reddy, who had lost on a Congress ticket and defected to the TRS in 2014. However, last year, ahead of the elections, he had returned to the Congress fold and put his weight behind Pratap Reddy.
Sidelining Harish Rao or wiping out opposition?
It was KCR's nephew and Siddipet MLA T Harish Rao who campaigned for the TRS chief and ensured his victory in Gajwel. The former Irrigation Minister of Telangana was tasked with ensuring a win for the party in several constituencies but Siddipet and Gajwel were a crucial part of it.
On Friday, he was absent from the stage during Vanteruâ€™s induction, which is being seen by some observers as a double whammy for Harish Rao, as just last month KCR appointed his son, KTR, as the Working President of the TRS.
Harish has been in the party since its inception, always accompanying KCR, while KTR returned from the United States during the Telangana movement and rose swiftly through the TRS ranks.
This has often triggered speculation that all is not well between the first family of the TRS and with Vanteru's induction, it remains to be seen if the suspected rift widens further, as it could be interpreted as a move to sideline Harish further.
However, others say that the move could just be aimed at wiping out opposition in KCRâ€™s home ground.
Speaking to TNM, senior journalist and political analyst K Nageshwar said, â€śTo sideline Harish Rao, KCR does not need Vanteru. If KCR wants to sideline someone in the party, he can do it. No one will question him. Harish Rao is not indispensable in Gajwel. Anyone can take care of the constituency.â€ť
â€śHe wants to gather as much support as he can and doesnâ€™t want any opposition. This is true not only in Gajwel, but everywhere in the state. Tomorrow, if Congress leader Revanth Reddy (considered a bitter critic) wants to join also, KCR will take him,â€ť Nageshwar quips.