The bye-election race for a constituency in Andhra’s Kurnool district is picking up steam, with Election Commission setting August 23 as the date for polls.
Nandyal, a constituency in the state's Rayalaseema area with over 2 lakh voters, has been witnessing a political void ever since the death of its sitting MLA Bhuma Nagi Reddy from a heart attack on March 12 this year.
What has also pushed the poll battle to a higher pitch is that a year before his death, Bhuma Reddy had controversially defected from the YSRCP, on whose ticket he won the election, to the ruling Telugu Desam Party. The matter had reached the High Court, as the YSRCP alleged that the Speaker was refusing to take up complaints against Bhuma Reddy and 19 other MLAs who had similarly defected.
The EC has announced that the deadline for filing nominations for the bye-poll is August 5, and the last date for withdrawing candidature is August 9. The counting of votes will be held on August 28.
A prestige issue
The Nandyal bye-poll has gained prominence as it comes at a crucial moment, after three years of the TDP government in the state.
Political analysts feel that the results of Nandyal could also mirror the results of the general election, when the state goes to the polls in 2019.
Nandyal has also been a stronghold of the YSRCP, and a win for the TDP here will make a big political statement.
While the ruling TDP party is campaigning on its achievements over the last three years, the opposition is armed to point out its failures.
Bhuma Reddy, who passed away at the age of 53 years, entered politics in 1987, after his father was murdered in an ongoing faction war that plagued Kurnool district.
In 1991, his brother suffered a heart attack and passed away. Following this, he was elected as an MLA from Allagadda, a neighbouring constituency to Nandyal.
The Nandyal seat is historically significant, as it was from here that former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had contested the 1996 elections. The Congress veteran defeated Bhuma Reddy to win the seat.
In 2008, the Bhuma Reddy, along with his wife, Shobha Reddy, quit the TDP after several stints as a legislator, and backed actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party (PRP). However, they quit the PRP when it merged with the Congress.
They joined the YSRCP, as they shared a long relationship with former Andhra CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy and campaigned for the party.
Shobha Reddy died in an accident in 2014. In the elections that year, Bhuma Reddy won the Nandyal seat, while his daughter Bhuma Akhila Priya bagged the Allagadda seat.
However, Bhuma and Akhila defected back to the TDP in February 2016.
To make things more complicated, Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu even swore in Akhila as the state’s new Tourism Minister, even though she was a defector.
What is interesting is that the fight between the TDP and the YSRCP is taking the shape of family conflicts across both the parties as well. While the ruling TDP has named Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy as its candidate, the YSRCP has named Silpa Mohan Reddy as its nominee.
Brahmananda Reddy is also from the Bhuma family, and is Akhila Priya’s cousin. However, his father-in-law, Katasani Rama Reddy – former MLA of Banganapalle constituency in Kurnool – is a senior leader in the YSRCP.
On the other hand, Silpa Mohan Reddy, a former Andhra minister and two-time Nandyal MLA, was a long-time rival of Bhuma Reddy in the TDP. When Akhila defected back to the TDP and was given a Ministerial berth, Silpa Mohan felt slighted as he was hoping to receive similar favour. His disappointment was further compounded when strong indications emerged that he wasn’t being considered for the Nandyal seat, and the nomination would go to Brahmananda Reddy, instead.
Upset at the double disappointment, Silpa Mohan Reddy defected to the YSRCP in June this year. Interestingly, however, Silpa Mohan’s brother and MLC, Silpa Chakrapani Reddy elected to remain with the party and did not defect with Silpa Mohan. Thus, the election is also likely to see a strong fight between these two siblings, who are both powerful leaders in the area.
Naidu’s controversial statements
The pressure on both parties is evident, and even the Chief Minister and other cabinet ministers have been campaigning for the TDP.
In fact, it was in Nandyal constituency that CM Naidu had recently abused and threatened a local voter for questioning him.
“How dare you question me? Did Jaganmohan Reddy send you to shout at me? I am the CM. How can you question me in front of my people? If you belong to another party, then stay at home and don’t come to my meetings,” Naidu had recently said.
Just days earlier, the Chief Minister had demanded at another campaign rally, "You are taking the pension I am giving, using roads we have built, taking rations that we give, benefiting from our schemes, then why should you not support us politically?"
Where the stakes are high, so is the corruption and flow of alcohol, allege activists.
V Laxman Reddy, Convenor of the Election Monitoring Forum alleged that both parties could be indulging in unethical poll practices, and claimed that the Nandyal by-poll could be one of the most expensive elections in recent times.
"We have asked the EC to allow only voters who were registered before January 2017," Laxman told TNM, raising doubts that both parties could indulge in false registration of voters ahead of the polls.
Laxman has also demanded the EC to review the promises and schemes announced by Naidu during the last one month, including the unemployment pension to eligible youth, which came hours after the election notification was announced.
"EC should examine all those promises and statements," he added.
As far as the alcohol supply was concerned, Laxman said, “The EC should scrutinise the amount of liquor entering the district. Taking into account the amount of alcohol that was consumed in July-August 2016, the EC should compare and ensure that the figures don’t greatly fluctuate for the same period in 2017."
Summing up the situation, a senior journalist who has observed decades of Nandyal politics, said, "This Nandyal election could very well be equal to five RK Nagar elections.” RK Nagar is the former constituency of late TN CM Jayalalithaa, where bye-polls were cancelled due to widespread allegations of bribery and electoral malpractice.
The Election Monitoring Forum is also planning to hold an awareness camps from August 6, where it seeks to inform people about participating in a corruption-free election.
Security stepped up
Keeping in mind the apprehensions of the people, the EC and the district administration has stepped up its vigil.
“Police and Revenue officials have already identified several problematic areas that could witness malpractices, and all steps are being taken to ensure that a safe and fair election is conducted,” Kurnool District Collector Satyanarayana said.
Speaking to TNM, District SP, Gopinath Jatti said "Check posts have been set up, and Section 30 of The Police Act is under force. All special wings are on board for the upcoming elections."