Sacked from Telangana CM KCR’s cabinet, all eyes on Eatala Rajender’s next move

Eatala Rajender is touring his constituency even as BJP and Congress leaders have been sending out feelers to draw him into their fold.
Telangana CM KCR and former Health Minister Eatala Rajender
Telangana CM KCR and former Health Minister Eatala Rajender
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The sudden sacking of Telangana Health Minister Eatala Rajender over allegations of land encroachment has triggered speculation in the state over the next step of the senior Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader, who has been with the party and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for around two decades. 

Even as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is at its peak, KCR hit out at his long time associate, by ousting him from the cabinet amid allegations of encroachment of 66 acres of assigned land by Jamuna Hatcheries Private Limited, owned by Eatala's kin. Ahead of his ouster, even T News, the channel owned by the ruling TRS, had come down heavily on the senior leader.

The controversy is now paving way for a shift in the state’s political equations, as a few strong leaders in the BJP are trying to capitalise on the situation by further consolidating the votes of the Backward Classes (BC). Reports in a section of media too claimed that Eatala, a leader from ‘Mudhiraj’, a community of Backward Classes (BCs), would join the BJP.

BJP luring Eatala to consolidate BCs?

While weighing in on the controversy, several BJP leaders including the party’s Telangana chief Bandi Sanjay and Nizamabad MP Dharmapuri Arvind seemed to go soft on Eatala, stating that he was the "only one" working during the pandemic. Arvind further accused the KCR government of being indifferent to Eatala. 

"There are land grabbing allegations against other Ministers and MLAs, including those in KCR’s family. If he (CM) is really concerned, he should order a probe into all instances. But he won't do it, as he will excuse whoever supports him and go after whoever opposes him," Bandi Sanjay said, following the row. He also demanded a probe by a sitting judge, into all allegations of land encroachment.

Observers say that BJP being a party which enjoys a significant following from the BC or OBC communities in the state, may likely seek to draw Eatala into their fold, to bolster their existing image. They point out that a face like Eatala is a need of the hour for the Telangana BJP, which is trying to consolidate OBCs, who comprise around 60% of the population.

BC communities like Munnurukapus, Yadavs and Gouds and Mudhirajs are already in the BJP fold in some pockets of the state, owing to its social engineering. Out of four BJP MPs, two come from BC backgrounds while senior leader Dr K Laxman is a National OBC Morcha President.

According to political commentator and critic Sangishetty Srinivas, BJP needs a strong face like Eatala, who has a pan Telangana appeal. He observed, "While there is a chance of BJP trying to draw him towards them, given his political history and his association with progressive politics, going ahead with the BJP may not be viable for him."

Eatala’s next move

However, Sangishetty sees a potential political vacuum in the state that can accommodate Eatala. He says, "We can't say that he would have a great future in BJP other than becoming a second rung leader, but if he forges an independent political platform with a motto of Samajika Telangana (Social Telangana), a large chunk of people ranging from students, to unemployed youth and other groups of weaker sections, which were active in Telangana movement, may rally behind him."

A source in the BJP, however, said that there was no move to invite Eatala into their party. "Some leaders might have called him out of individual concern but that is not an invitation of the party," the source said. 

On the other hand, Congress working president Revanth Reddy in an open offer said that he would deliberate with the party if Eatala is willing to join it, following the turmoil.  

Manikanta Pallikonda, political science research scholar and columnist, said, "As the BJP lacks a concrete social and economic agenda to attack TRS or to become an alternative force, they could rely on the faces that were ousted by the KCR, which is why they might try to draw Eatala towards them."

Manikanta further added, "However, neither joining BJP nor embracing the Congress is viable for Eatala, given the political history of the Telugu states. If he forms a larger platform and subsequent coalition, he might become a formidable figure in the political landscape."

In a significant development, former MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy on Thursday called on Eatala Rajender at the latter's residence in Shameerpet. The former MP, however, told reporters after the meeting that he did not discuss politics with Rajender. 

Reddy, who recently hinted at floating a new regional party with an aim to defeat the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in the 2023 Assembly elections, said he met Rajender to show solidarity with him. He pointed out that Rajender's wife Jamuna Reddy is his close relative and added that the people of Telangana would support any decision taken by Rajender.

Meanwhile, a section of Telugu media speculated that Eatala will form a new political party later in June or July, even as he held consultations with his cadres and rallies in Huzurabad Assembly constituency, from where he is expected to resign and go for a bye-election. 

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