The forthcoming Tirupati Lok Sabha bye-election will be one of the most watched elections in Andhra Pradesh as well as beyond over the next one month. The Parliamentary constituency reserved for the Scheduled Castes fell vacant after the sitting Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) MP Balli Durga Prasad succumbed to coronavirus in September 2020.
It has been vacant for almost six months and only recently the Election Commission of India (ECI) scheduled the election for April 17. Many times in the southern state when a legislator dies in an untimely manner, one of his immediate family members is given the ticket and it is also customary for all political parties to make that person's victory a formality by allowing it to go uncontested and unanimous.
However, in this case, YSRCP founder and Andhra Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy did not choose to take that route and accommodated Prasad's son, Balli Kalyan Chakravarthy, as an MLC under the MLA quota recently.
It is also not sure if the political rivals would have allowed the seat to go unanimously respecting tradition even if he had chosen any of Prasad's family members, given the bitter, vitiated and religious political environment prevalent in the state now.
Considering Reddy choosing a completely new person, Maddila Gurumoorthy, from a non-political family, the battle for the Lok Sabha seat just got fiercer and the field wider with three parties, YSRCP, BJP and TDP, vying for it.
Gurumoorthy, the 36-year-old physiotherapist has been a lifelong follower of Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy's family and comes from a Dalit background from the Mala caste. Both his parents are uneducated and the family practices the Hindu faith.
The agricultural family hails from Annasamudram village in Yerpedu mandal of SriKalahasti constituency.
Gurumoorthy's association with late Rajasekhar Reddy and his family started around 2006 when he met the then chief minister requesting him to establish Andhra Pradesh state physiotherapy council.
Following a favourable outcome to his request, Gurumoorthy became a strong supporter and follower of Rajasekhar Reddy from then on.
More recently, he accompanied Jagan as his personal physiotherapist all through his 3,648-km-long Praja Sankalpa Yatra padayatra (marathon walkathon). Walking along with Jagan gave him an opportunity to see the realities of the state across its length and breadth, including observing the socio-economic conditions, the YSRCP said.
Gurumoorthy was a team member of the YSRCP's 2014 election campaign. In the 2019 polls, he served as a team member of Reddy's mother Y.S. Vijayamma's election campaign.
"I never imagined that I would be chosen. I am a common activist (of YSRCP) and a service man to Jagan Mohan Reddy...Jagan has the personality to explore a common activist to the hilt. I am ready to execute any work he entrusts me with anytime without fault, it is my responsibility as an activist," he said after meeting the CM following the announcement of his candidature.
Taking the Tirupati bye-poll extremely seriously, the chief minister on Friday told a string of ministers and party leaders not to become complacent and take the government's welfare and development activities to each and every home in the constituency during the campaign.
Reddy exhorted that the Tirupati bye-poll result should be so impactful that the whole country must take note of it.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ruling the country at the Centre has also taken the bye-poll prestigiously, pinning high hopes on it and waiting for its president J.P. Nadda to announce the candidate's name.
The saffron party has deputed its leaders such as national secretary Sunil Deodhar, Somu Verrraju and others to spend considerable time in the temple town to win support for the BJP.
Deodhar has been camping in Tirupati for a few months already and meeting all sections of people, visiting their homes and even breaking bread with them some times to establish contact with the BJP.
"As part of preparations for the Tirupati bye-poll, inaugurated AP BJP's social media meet along with state president Veerraju, N. Madhukar (general secretary), V. Suryanarayana Raju and S. Dayakar Reddy at Tirupati," said Deodhar recently.
He said all these leaders are charged up and determined to work with commitment.
However, the BJP still sticking on to some of its old political strategies such as religious politics in the Andhra Pradesh political arena may not be of much help.
Thanks to the recent rural and urban local bodies polls and the months prior to them which witnessed a spree of alleged temple attacks, all of which prominently bore one signature of the Telugu people that they will not get swayed to religious politics.
After the recent local bodies polls in which the ruling YSRCP won landslide victories, Veerraju yet again relied on religious slurs on Saturday to woo voters and called Reddy 'Yesu Babu' (Jesus Babu).
"Back then Chandrababu, now Yesu Babu. Reddy's government emblazoned its own stickers on Modi's schemes," Veerraju claimed.
Tools and tricks employed by the BJP in North India have not met with much success till now in the southern states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
N.Venkataswamy won on a BJP ticket from Tirupati back in 1999 but two decades is a long time, especially at a time when the BJP wants to go to polls in an SC reserved constituency while at the same time nullifying reservation at the national level.
Though the BJP says all things are fine with its local ally Janasena, outwardly it is not looking so and there are a lot of murmurs within.
Telugu Desam Party's Nara Lokesh alleged that Reddy failed to question the central government despite having 22 MPs at his disposal.
"If YSRCP candidate wins in the Tirupati Parliamentary bye-poll, it will be another mute voice but if TDP candidate Panabaka Laskhmi wins, it will be a voice that will raise questions on behalf of the people," the TDP general secretary claimed.
TDP was the first party to announce its candidate for the bye-poll, Panabaka Lakshmi, and also set its poll strategy in motion. The four-week stay from the High Court in the CID case against Nara Chandrababu Naidu is a much needed respite to sharpen the poll strategy.
All through his career, Naidu never used religion for politics but only recently he started it but did not yield desirable results, courtesy recent local bodies' polls.
Amaravati political plank was also fizzled as the TDP lost both in Guntur and Vijayawada civic bodies polls. Will Naidu repeat the similar strategy or not, that space needs to be watched.