The BJP has set its sights on Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, hoping to emerge as a major force in the Telugu states. BJP Working President JP Nadda on Sunday visited Hyderabad and gave broad guidelines to party leaders in the two states, to strengthen the organisation.
Later in the day, Nadda welcomed leaders and workers of the TDP, Congress and other parties into the BJP. While the BJP did not fare too well in Andhra Pradesh during the recently-concluded Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, the party's morale is high after winning four MP seats in Telangana. The BJP has since said that it is eager to fill up the political vacuum of the opposition in Telangana and also oust the TDP in Andhra.
The BJP's plan in Andhra
The BJP is working on two main ways to expand its base in Andhra. The first is by luring several leaders of the TDP and Congress. The party is also said to be eying Kapu leaders in the state, who have been upset with the TDP and the YSRCP over their quota demands not being met.
On the other hand, the BJP is also looking at â€˜Panna Pramukhsâ€™ or party workers who will be in charge of voters on each page of the voter list, to personally interact with each of them on the ground and get them to vote for the party.
Speaking to TNM, BJP leader Lanka Dinakar said, "The party is already the opposition in Andhra Pradesh. We are representing the people of the state as both the TDP and the YSRCP have failed to do so. When several villages along the Krishna basin witnessed floods, Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy was in America and the Leader of Opposition, Chandrababu Naidu, was in Hyderabad. At such a time, BJP plays a crucial role."
"The TDP and YSRCP are criticising each other rather than working on the ground. It is an opportunity for us because people are also watching. Many are looking at Prime Minister Narendra Modi because the people of Andhra want to resolve the issues of the state but also have national interest in their heart. BJP is the only party that can work in tandem where state-level and national-level interest is concerned," he added.
Pointing out that BJP Andhra Pradesh co-incharge Sunil Deodhar has been travelling across the state including in remote areas, Dinakar says, "It's a great opportunity for the BJP to spread to all corners of the state. We want to get real strength from the people and emerge as a force from the grassroots level."
But will these efforts by the BJP prove to be a threat to the ruling YSRCP? And can the YSRCP's initiative of involving 2.8 lakh 'village volunteers' to take governance to the doorsteps of people, help it counter the BJP?
Under the initiative, the YSRCP hopes that volunteers will act as a bridge between the government and the people. The party hopes that this will also help them counter the strategy of the 'panna pramukhs'.
The job of the village volunteers is to first identify local beneficiaries, get to know their problems and, thereafter, delineate appropriate schemes being provided for them by the government. Earlier this week, addressing a gathering of volunteers, Jagan said that the schemes would be able to reach the poorest of the poor and make all villages self-sufficient in this manner.
Jagan also said the volunteers would turn out to be leaders once they complete their term. A toll-free telephone number 1902 would be set up at a call centre in the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) to receive the grievances of the people, he said.
With this move, the YSRCP hopes that its grassroot support not only stays intact, but also grows.
Senior journalist and political analyst Telakapalli Ravi points out that the main purpose of the village volunteers would be to dismantle the the TDP, which has been around for a long time, at the village level. In many ways, he explains, the YSRCP hopes to not only to demolish its traditional rival, the TDP, but also prevent the BJPâ€™s growth in the state through its village volunteers.
"One thing that may happen, is that the rural volunteers may help project Jagan as the reason for development, while the BJP tries to project Modi. Dismantling 'Chandranna Rajyam' (Naidu's rule), projecting 'Rajanna Rajyam' (YSR's rule) and preventing 'Modi Rajyam' (Modi rule) would be their main goal," Ravi says.
As far as the BJP's growth is concerned, the YSRCP says that it is unfazed.
Speaking to TNM, senior YSRCP leader and government chief whip Srikanth Reddy said, "If the BJP wants to grow in Andhra, we have no objection as such. The issue here is that if Congress is the main party that bifurcated the state, the BJP supported it as well at the time. The BJP is aware of what was mentioned in the AP Reorganisation Act, whether it was the Kadapa steel plant or Special Category Status (SCS)."
Srikanth also points out that unlike the TDP, they have not been aggressive in attacking the BJP, because their prime concern is to develop the state.
"There is five years now. If they (the BJP) want to really do good for the people of Andhra, they should give special status, a promise which was made on the floor of the Parliament. If you do a good job, people will support you, but instead, if they just want their own political development, people will be skeptical," he added.
While the YSRCP insists that village volunteers are not involved in politics and their work is simply to make sure that the state government's schemes percolate to the ground, there is political mileage to be extracted
"Any party in the world, if they do good work for the public, they will want to highlight it. If volunteers fail, we will get negative results but if they succeed, people will vote for us. So, we are ready to face the consequences," Srikanth says.