Bumpy Journey of BJP in the Telugu land
Allow me to start this post with ironies surrounding the BJP. BJP has no active role to play in the politics of West Bengal which is the birth place of one its ideological founder. BJP was officially founded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K.Advani, who have taken the party from 2 seats to 3 digits. Out of the 2 seats which the BJP won, one was from Andhra Pradesh and other being Gujarat and history tells us how BJP progressed in both these states.
When there was no strong opposition to counter the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh, NTR formed Telugu Deasam Party (TDP) with a landslide victory on debut. In May 1983, NTR successfully held a meeting of opposition leaders spanning across the country at Vijayawada which was attended by MGR, Ramakrishna Hegde, Farooq Abdullah, Sharad Pawar, Menaka Gandhi, L.K.Advani and others. NTR was not hesitant in showing that his regional party can play an active role at national level but the same spirit was never found with the BJP which was a national party to be an active regional player in Andhra Pradesh.
In 1994, NTR was back with a bang, TDP+ won 250 out of 294 assembly seats and L.K.Advani in a discussion with Prannoy Roy said “This marks the beginning of the end of the Congress party as the dominant political force of India”, L.K.Advani is right but the lotus failed to bloom in Andhra Pradesh despite the chances given to them.
It may come to many as a surprise but the first mayor of Vishakhapatnam (Vizag) was from BJP. N.S.N. Reddy was elected as the first mayor of Vizag and also served as an MLA. It was because of the lack of clarity and direction in state unit, the BJP could not take its leaders and ideology into the masses of Andhra Pradesh.
The caste riots in Costal Andhra and communal riots in Hyderabad in the early 1990s were followed by political ramifications. The caste riots had almost divided the people of Costal Andhra on political lines and the Hyderabad riots orchestrated by a well-known leader created a small political vacuum. Old City of Hyderabad, which is dominated by minorities is one of the worst hit areas of communal riots and Hindus who were in small numbers had to defend themselves –Narendra was one of the few people who used come openly on to the streets with a stick in his hand and use to challenge the notorious mobs of Old City. The majority of Hindu population in the Old City and its surrounding areas are Yadavs and Gouds who were once foot soldiers of BJP in Andhra Pradesh.
The Vajpayee wave had an important role to play in the Assembly elections of Andhra Pradesh and for obvious reasons it even attracted many film personalities to join the BJP. May film personalities like Krishnam Raju, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Naresh etc… joined the BJP but they failed to spread the popularity and message of BJP across the state.
The popularity of BJP in Andhra Pradesh was at its peak during the Vajpayee wave, Krishnam Raju was able to win from Narsapuram and Kankinada Lok Sabha constituencies, Kota Srinivasa Rao won the MLA seat from Vijayawada. It is said that Tiger Narendra (Aelay Narendra) left BJP because of the preferential treatment given to Krishnam Raju even though he was a senior in the party.
Narendra left the BJP, formed a new party Telangana Sadhana Samithi (TSS), later merged TSS with K.Chandrasekhar Rao’s TRS, later left TRS and joined Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP), later joined the Congress party and now he is back into BJP. Krishnam Raju who served in the Indian Cabinet, left the BJP, joined the newly formed Praja Rajayam Party (PRP) which now merged into Congress. Naresh left the BJP joined the Congress and now he is a member of Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP.
Lakshmi Parvathi, second wife of NTR who is a staunch critic of Chandra Babu Naidu always said that Chandra Babu Naidu’s TDP won the 1999 Assembly elections because of the Vajpayee wave. BJP has failed to leverage the advantage of Vajpayee wave in Andhra Pradesh, and some of the failures are its own making – The BJP forgot the foot soldiers of the party who built the cadre, it was unable to handle the disappointments among its members, it failed to spread into other castes of Andhra Pradesh where caste politics cannot be ignored at any cost, failed to tap the Kapu caste and OBC leaders which form a chunk of Andhra Pradesh population.
This was during the time when Chiranjeevi was king of Tollywood, his mega star popularity was at its peak – Chandra Babu Naidu always maintained good relations with film personalities, he maintained closeness with Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner Akkineni Nageswara Rao and got admiration across the Telugu Film Industry.
The 175 days function of the film blockbuster film “Indra” starring Chiranjeevi was held at Vijayawada, Chandra Babu Naidu, the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and Venkaiah Naidu, the then BJP president were invited as guests. A Chief Minister of a state and president of a ruling party attending a film function before a huge crowd is unprecedented, this obviously was seen with a political angle, but things took a different turn after the 2004 General and Assembly Elections.
Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu is one of the very few Telugu BJP leaders who is popular at the national level. He gets mentioned in L.K.Advani’s book “My Country My Life” with Arun Jaietly as one of the young people to get arrested during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, he acted as the state president of Janata Yuva Morcha, he was the BJP state chief from (1988-93), the youngest BJP president without an RSS background and infamously he once said that “RSS need not interfere into the internal matters of BJP”.
Though Venkaiah Naidu is a senior politician who had the chance to see many political changes in the country but failed to push the BJP into the interior parts of Andhra Pradesh and some even alleged that he almost became part of the Delhi gang. Apart from Venkaiah Naidu and Bandaru Dattatreya there were hardly any popular leaders from Andhra Pradesh in the 2000s.
BJP has made their stand clear on the separate statehood for Telangana, they have been consistent with their approach on this issue and leaders like Kishan Reddy tried to maintain a sensible stand when dealing with the emotional sentiments of people from Telangana and Seemandhra. BJP has sought support of TDP during the NDA rule over the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, but Chandra Babu Naidu was adamant and didn’t even encourage the BJP Govt to talk about it with his political skills. Though, there is some support for BJP in Telangana region, there is no realistic possibilities for it turn that vote share into seats. ABVP has his presence in Andhra Pradesh and is somewhat popular among students on par with SFI.
Opportunities were always there for BJP to make inroads into the Telugu land but the central and state leadership was directionless for a very long time. I would be harsh if I don’t mention the fact that the chances given to BJP were during troubled times – amidst the frenzy situation of state bifurcation, the rising popularity of YSR and the weak central leadership. When BJP won 2 seats on their debut, one was from Hanamkonda, Andhra Pradesh which was held twice by P.V. Narasimha Rao but Janga Reddy was able to beat P.V. Narasimha Rao by 55,000 votes to give a start to BJP in Lok Sabha, now Hanamkonda is a strong political bastion of TRS.
Narendra Modi wave can be felt clearly across Andhra Pradesh but it depends on how it’s going to appease people from both the regions of Telangana and Seemandhra as Congress has almost trapped BJP with the T bill in parliament, the coalition with TDP has to be done carefully, the central leadership should be cautious while passing statements on Telangana or Andhra Pradesh.
Just honest politicians cannot help BJP to prosper in the Telugu land, they need people who have Machiavellian skills, popular leaders who can attract the masses, hunt for good leaders from Kapu caste and give a chance to OBC leaders. It is because of some mistakes of central leadership, BJP failed to make its presence felt in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Odisha and Kerala. Nurturing of strong local leaders under the guidance of seniors can give some success for BJP if they can efficiently use the Modi wave and such opportunities do not repeat themselves.