Earlier this year, the Congress High command accommodated leaders of just about every prominent caste group in party positions in Karnataka. It was its way of ensuring no one felt aggrieved and turned a spoilsport. So while Siddaramaiah from the Kuruba community was announced as the CM face, G Parameshwara, a Dalit became the PCC chief, assisted by two working presidents, Dinesh Gundu Rao (Brahmin) and SR Patil (Lingayat). DK Shivakumar (Vokkaliga) was made the Campaign Committee Chairman.
The Karnataka template is all set to be replicated in Telangana, where the Congress is trying to cobble up a front that can take on the formidable Telangana Rashtra Samiti. The party is not the most cohesive unit with infighting the name of the game. To add to its woes, it does not have a pan-Telangana leader who can take on K Chandrasekhar Rao’s sharp and pungent oratory.
Into this vacuum of sorts, steps in Revanth Reddy, the working president of the Telugu Desam. That he and KCR have a hate-hate political relationship is the worst-kept secret in Telangana. It was under KCR's watch that Reddy was caught on camera in the cash-for-votes case in which the TDP leader was allegedly bribing an independent MLA with Rs 50 lakh ahead of the MLC polls in 2015. With Chandrababu Naidu under pressure by TDP leaders barring Reddy to ally with TRS, Revanth is looking for an exit route.
He is reported to have met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Tuesday, an indicator that he is looking to desert Naidu's sinking ship in Telangana. While the Congress knows that Revanth has a pan-Telangana presence, is a firebrand leader and has the backing of the politically influential Reddy community, many within the state Congress would resent an outsider bagging a position of prominence straightaway.
Which is why the Telangana Congress is sought to be recast in such a manner that most of the bigwigs are pacified while creating space for Reddy. The grapevine suggests that he is likely to be offered the post of the Campaign Committee chairman, which will pretty much make him the face of the electoral apparatus. The post of a working president is another possibility.
Sources within the Congress indicate that in order to ensure the party does not look like a Reddy outfit only, PCC chief Uttam Kumar Reddy could be moved out. There is also resentment against him that despite joint opposition candidates in the trade union election in Singareni Colleries, the TRS won handsomely. Jana Reddy, the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, said to be too soft on the ruling party too would be moved out. While Uttam Reddy would expect an AICC general secretary post, Jana Reddy keeping his seniority in mind may find a seat in the Congress Working Committee.
If Uttam Reddy is replaced, the frontrunners for the PCC post are two SC leaders, Sarvey Satyanarayana (former Union minister) and Damodar Rajanarasimha (former deputy CM). In the race to be working president are also former minister DK Aruna and former Karimnagar MP Ponnam Prabhakar. The present working president Bhatti Vikramarka may be elevated as the Leader of the Opposition.
Revanth Reddy has made his intentions clear by attacking his TDP colleagues from Andhra Pradesh, albeit not on camera. He has questioned the warm reception they gave to KCR when he visited Anantapur for the wedding of a TDP minister's son this month. More importantly, he has accused two senior ministers in Naidu's cabinet of wrangling contracts worth crores from the Telangana government for their family members.
But the jury is out on whether the changes will make Congress a formidable political force. The TRS without a doubt has its nose ahead, systematically targeting different groups as part of its welfare agenda. But what KCR will worry about is that while his position as the number one leader in Telangana remains unchallenged, several of his MLAs are facing significant anti-incumbency.
Add to the mix, Prof Kodandaram, KCR's close colleague from the Telangana agitation days. KCR launched a personal attack on Kodandaram this month that was also seen as proof that the Professor's presence in the opposition ranks bothers him. Kodandaram was also arrested and prevented from being part of an agitation against the government this week and this is also being seen as use of strong arm tactics.
The BJP will see these changes in the Telangana Congress with interest because till not very long ago, many of the leaders were in touch with the saffron party. But with the Congress rather uncharacteristically looking to put its house in Hyderabad in order, the first signs of a serious contest in Telangana are emerging. If nothing else, it won't be an easy walkover for KCR in 2019.