The BJP is officially getting combat-ready to go head-on against the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. The party state president Kambhampati Haribabu, who is considered to be soft with TDP, was asked to step down by the top brass, making way for hardliners to take over the reins.
All the formalities relating to change of guard are expected to be completed soon after the Assembly election in Karnataka, scheduled on May 12.
Hari Babu, hailing from the predominant Kamma community with which TDP has been identified, held the post for four years. A close confident of Venkaiah Naidu, he gave up a teaching position in Andhra University to be elected as Lok Sabha member from Visakhapatnam with TDP’s support.
The BJP high command seemingly keeps in mind social engineering while replacing him in the run up to the elections. According to insiders, the leadership is keen to handpick one of the militant leaders from the numerically strong Kapu community as Haribabu’s successor. MLC Somu Veerraju, former minister Pidikondala Manikyala Rao and Kanna Lakshminarayana, another former minister who defected from the Congress are reportedly under consideration for the party’s top post in the state.
Betting on Kapus
The BJP is understood to capitalize on the traditional Kamma-Kapu rivalry triggered after the murder of Kapu leader Vangaveeti Mohan Ranga by giving preference to Kapus in selection of Haribabu’s successor.
Naidu however, strives hard to neutralise the rivalry between the two communities with doles which include a good number of berths in his cabinet, 5% reservations in jobs and education and establishing Kapu corporation with a corpus of Rs 1,000 crore. In keeping with his election promise, Naidu made a Kapu leader N Chinnarajappa, his Deputy CM. Besides this, plum portfolios were allotted to other Kapu leaders such as Ganta Srinivasa Rao (Human Resource) and P. Narayana (Municipal Administration and CRDA), besides Manikyala Rao (Endowments) from the BJP.
The TDP government fizzled out former Minister Mudragada Padmanabham’s factor with all dexterity and acumen by diluting his agitation for Kapu quota. In addition, Naidu cleverly left the quota ball in Modi’s court by forwarding a resolution passed by the Assembly to the NDA government for the next course of action. As expected, it is hanging fire with the Centre. It failed to make any headway as Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a policy decision against approving quotas crossing the 50% mark, citing Constitutional hurdles.
Therefore, the Kapu quota bill is likely to meet with same fate as the other quota bills concerning Jats and Patels in the northern states did. In this backdrop, the caste card is unlikely to help the BJP gain rich electoral harvests, asserted a senior TDP leader.
To quote a party sympathizer from the media, the state BJP is vertically split between the pro and anti-Chandrababu Naidu groups. The thanksgiving address of BJP’s health minister Kamineni Srinivas in the Assembly after his resignation is quite often quoted by political watchers to measure the extent to which the pro-Chandrababu lobby is at play in the BJP. Srinivas said he was quite fortunate and privileged to work under Naidu who was working for more than 16 hours a day for over-all development of the state. The showering of praise took place at a time when BJP and TDP snapped ties and got ready to cross swords.
The pro-Chandrababu group is represented by M. Venkaiah Naidu, who was the Union Urban Development Minister until he was elevated as Vice President and Hari Babu from the Kamma community. The rival group is headed by Kapu leader Veerraju, who waged a lone battle against the TDP regime against all odds. There is a dominant view in the party that CM Naidu lobbied against Veerraju becoming party state president with the proximity he enjoyed with Venkaiah Naidu.
It is with this reason that Haribabu managed to continue in the saddle for four years in contravention of the party guidelines which seek to ensure replacement of leadership in the party apparatus for every two years at all the levels.
RSS plays role
Veerraju enjoys support from Ravindra Raju, AP’s organizing secretary of the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS leader, according to sources, recommended Veerraju’s name alone twice for appointment as state party president to BJP president Amit Shah. But he was not considered for the post allegedly because of the pro-Chandrababu lobbying within the BJP.
Now, former Endowments Minister Pidikondala Manikyala Rao in the TDP government is said to be ahead of the race in view of his rapport with Ram Madhav, in-charge of Andhra Pradesh from Delhi. He is reportedly being tipped by the pro-TDP group within the BJP as part of renewed attempts to upset Veerraju’s apple-cart.
The BJP relaxed its guidelines and deployed Ram Madhav for AP in the changed political equations for replication of his success story in the north east elections. The party guidelines shall not allow any leader to be in-charge of his native state.
Lakshminarayana, a popular leader from Guntur district with considerable base in the Kapu community, got little chances to play active role in the BJP all these years since his defection.
To scuttle his chances, the rival groups within the BJP complained to the party high command that he is in touch with the YSR Congress in pursuit of greener pastures ahead of the election. Former Union Minister D Purandhareswari, sources said, is also averse to take up the party mantle.
Note: Views expressed are author’s own