Will BJP’s Telangana strategy work in Andhra for Tirupati bye-polls? Experts weigh in

Although BJP’s Somu Veerraju has joined hands with Pawan Kalyan, the latter is yet to declare if it will field its own candidate or support the national party.
BJP rally in Tirupati followed by an executive meeting
BJP rally in Tirupati followed by an executive meeting
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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be resolute in foraying into Andhra Pradesh by aiming to win the Tirupati bye-election. BJP's National Secretary Sunil Deodhar asserted that the the "saffron's first stop in Andhra Pradesh is Tirupati." He was speaking at a rally following an executive meeting of BJP members in Tirupati. The bye-election in Tirupati Lok Sabha constituency has been necessitated by the sudden demise of YSRCP MP Balli Durgaprasad.

Their hopes to win Tirupati seems to be bolstered on BJP’s victory in the Dubbaka bye-election in the neighbouring state of Telangana and the unexpected success in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections, threatening the stakes of the ruling TRS party. Incidentally, since last year, BJP’s politics in Andhra has centred on Tirupati and other temples in the state. The party claimed that there are attacks on Hindu places of worship, including in Tirupati. It even questioned Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy's faith, when he visited Lord Venkateshwara temple at Tirupati recently.

With the agenda to cash in on actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan's massive following among the people, in particular the youth in Andhra Pradesh,  BJP state president Somu Veerraju said, "The BJP-Jana Sena Party (JSP) combination will bring in the change in ruling party by winning the Tirupati Lok Sabha bye-election."

Why Andhra and Telangana politics are different 

BJP hopes to replicate its success in Telangana in Andhra Pradesh, too, starting with Tirupati. However, political observers point that this bye-election would be an experiment for BJP in the state as the political atmosphere and equations in Andhra Pradesh are different compared to Telangana.

Chinna Dandu, a political science research scholar and analyst, said, "BJP’s lobby for the Hindu consolidation won't happen in Tirupati Lok Sabha constituency, except in a few urban pockets, given the caste dynamics. In the 2019 General Elections, all seven Assembly segments in Tirupati Lok Sabha constituency were bagged by YSRCP."

He further observed that a single community (Balija), which BJP-JSP is counting on for votes, may not be enough to forge a larger electoral consolidation to win in Tirupati, which is geographically located in Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh. Incidentally, Rayalaseema, especially in Tirupati, is known for its considerable population of Balijas, a sub-caste of Kapu community. 

In 2019 elections, YSRCP bagged 23 MP seats out of 25, including Tirupati. YSRCP got over 55% vote share In Tirupati, while TDP’s Panabaka Lakshmi got over 37% vote share. BJP, at the time, got 1.22% vote share while Congress got 1.83%, and NOTA recorded a vote percentage of 1.96%. 

Nagaraju Gali, a senior journalist and political analyst, said that though the BJP is trying to set the stage for Hindu consolidation in Andhra Pradesh after Telangana, it is still far away from gaining any ground. "In Telangana, the status of Congress as the Opposition party was completely weakened when many of its MLAs defected to the ruling TRS. In Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, the politics of YS Jagan or Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP are such that it does not give scope for a third party. TDP still maintains the status of strong opposition to the YSRCP," he said.

Incidentally, in a state like Andhra Pradesh, dominant caste politics trumps religious politics. For example, former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu comes from the Kamma community, while both YSRCP and the Congress are from the Reddy community. Both are dominant caste communities.   

In Tirupati, BJP seems to be eying the Balija community by roping in Somu Veerraju of the BJP and Pawan Kalyan, said Gali. Both Pawan Kalyan and Somu Veerraju belong to the Kapu community, a dominant caste. However, Kapus and Balijas are different. “Balijas in Rayalaseema will never find a common ground with Kapus in coastal areas as there is a cultural and regional gap between them,” he said, adding, “Hence, the Hindu consolidation will not be possible as the social mobilisation in the state predominantly takes place based on caste and not based on religion."

Observers also noted that the BJP has been having a crack at a larger Hindu consolidation using the allegation that Christian religion under YS Jagan's regime is being propagated in certain Hindu religious places.

Tirupati has seven Assembly segments and four out of these fall in Nellore district. Speaking to TNM, Kakani Govardhan Reddy, Sarvepalli YSRCP MLA and the party’s Nellore District President. “In the 2019 elections, BJP has got less votes than NOTA. This time they will get less than even the last time,” he said.  

When asked about BJP’s attempt to consolidate Hindu votes by raking up certain issues such as alleged attacks on temples, he said, “Allegations can be made by anyone, but they have to be backed by certain evidence and substance which BJP is lacking. People also don’t believe such attempts in the state and even in Tirupati.”

Will Pawan's Jana Sena Party support BJP

In 2019 elections, Tirupati MP seat was allocated to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as Jana Sena Party had an alliance with the Left parties and BSP. Pawan Kalyan, too, had campaigned for the BSP candidate, who managed to get 1.60% votes, marginally higher than the BJP.

In the upcoming bye-elections, it has to be seen whether the combination of BJP’s Somu Veerraju and Pawan Kalyan would fetch votes in Tirupati. Pawan Kalyan's party is yet to declare whether it would field their candidate or whether it will support BJP, like how it did in GHMC elections. Ahead of the GHMC election in December this year, JSP announced its candidates for the civic polls. However, the next day, the party asked its candidates to withdraw as they decided to support the BJP for "larger interests".

Jana Sena Party formed a special committee to give a report to Pawan Kalyan on the ground realities in the Tirupati segment.

While TDP announced Panabaka Lakshmi as its candidate, YSRCP is considering to field Dr Gurumurthy, who is said to be Jagan’s confidante.

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