YS Sharmila Reddy carries Congress’ hopes of revival in Andhra Pradesh

YS Sharmila Reddy carries Congress’ hopes of revival in Andhra Pradesh

Amaravati: After humiliating defeats in two successive elections in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress hopes to salvage some pride, with YS Sharmila Reddy leading the charge in the electoral battle next month.

The grand old party, which drew a blank in 2014 and 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in its former stronghold, is desperate to have representation in the Legislature after a decade.

While the appointment of YS Sharmila Reddy as the President of the state Congress in January brought some much-needed enthusiasm in the Congress camp, she is facing an uphill task in her task of reviving its fortunes.

Political analysts say whatever attention YS Sharmila Reddy enjoys in the state is because she is the sister of incumbent Chief Minister, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and daughter of late YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), one of the most popular Chief Ministers of pre-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh.

That YSR’s legacy lives on in the state is evident from the fact that the Congress invoked it by choosing YS Sharmila Reddy to lead the efforts for the party’s revival.

YS Sharmila Reddy is claiming herself to be the real inheritor of YSR’s political legacy as she belongs to the party he was associated with throughout his life.

Some analysts also believe that YS Sharmila Reddy, being a woman, may also get public sympathy over getting a raw deal from her brother after coming to power. YS Sharmila Reddy had played a key role in running and strengthening the YSRCP when Jagan Mohan Reddy was in jail for more than 16 months in 2012-13 after floating the party and falling-out with the Congress leadership in the aftermath of YSR’s death in a helicopter crash in 2009.

She was instrumental in the YSRCP’s victory in bye-elections in 2012 and carried forward the YSR legacy by undertaking padyatras to mobilise support for her jailed brother, who was projected as a victim of a political conspiracy.

She and her mother Vijayamma, were key players in the YSRCP campaign in 2014 and 2019.

Now, during the current election campaign, YS Sharmila Reddy is targeting her brother at almost every meeting for being unfair to her after coming to power in 2019.

“Jagan Anna used to say that Sharmila is not my sister but my daughter. But after coming to power in 2019 he was a changed man,” she said.

CM Jagan Mohan Reddy had not fielded YS Sharmila Reddy either in Lok Sabha or Assembly polls in both 2014 and 2019 but she was a key part of the party’s campaign.

After YSRCP stormed to power with a landslide majority, YS Sharmila Reddy had expected some key position in the government or the party. Cracks developed in the family after CM Jagan Mohan Reddy sidelined her.

After lying low for more than one-and-a-half years, she took a plunge into politics in neighbouring Telangana by floating the YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) in 2021.

Vijayamma attended the party’s launch programme and blessed her daughter even as Jagan Mohan Reddy made it clear through his aides that he differs with his sister.

After the 2014 polls, Jagan Mohan Reddy had decided to confine his party to Andhra Pradesh while his sister tried to build a political career in Telangana by invoking YSR’s legacy and even undertook a state-wide padyatra for this purpose.

The efforts did not yield the desired results and just before the 2023 Assembly polls she started holding talks with the Congress to merge her party.

Though there was no progress, YS Sharmila Reddy took a dramatic decision not to contest the polls saying she wanted to avoid a split of anti-BRS votes.

After the Congress wrested power, YS Sharmila Reddy claimed that her decision not to contest played a key role in the party’s victory.

In the new political realities in Telangana and on the advice of the Congress leadership, she decided to merge YSRTP with the Congress and agreed to return to Andhra Pradesh in a new role.

Insiders say YS Sharmila Reddy made up her mind after a personal meeting with senior Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi cleared her misunderstandings that the Gandhi family did not treat YSR’s family well after his death. The Congress leader told her that they have huge respect for her late father.

The Congress leadership acknowledged that it was the impressive performance of the Congress party under his leadership in united Andhra Pradesh which played a key role in formation of the Congress-led UPA governments in 2004 and 2009.

It is also significant to note that in 2022, YS Sharmila Reddy’s husband Anil Kumar, an evangelist, met leaders of various groups of Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities in Andhra Pradesh.

“They spoke about their hardships. They said there is nobody to take care of them. Since they had extended support (to YSRCP) on my appeal, it’s now my duty to stand by them. I can’t go back on my word,” Anil Kumar had said after a meeting in Visakhapatnam.

Though Anil Kumar has not joined the Congress, political observers say he can play a key role in mobilising support for these sections, especially Dalit Christians, who constitute 10-12 per cent of the state’s population.

In 2019, Jagan Mohan Reddy was seen as a leader of Dalit Christians and the community extended its full support. Now, the Congress under YS Sharmila Reddy’s leadership and with Anil Kumar’s efforts can wean away a section of these votes.

The YSR family also split vertically with YS Sharmila Reddy entering the fray from Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency, considered a stronghold of the family. She is taking on sitting MP and her cousin, YS Avinash Reddy, who will be seeking re-election for a third term on the YSRCP’s ticket.

The fight is not just about political differences. YS Sharmila Reddy has directly attacked her brother for once again fielding the ‘killer’ of their uncle YS Vivekananda Reddy.

A former minister and MP, Vivekananda Reddy was murdered in 2019, a few weeks before elections.

After many twists and turns in the case, the CBI last year named Avinash Reddy and his father YS Bhaskar Reddy as accused. YS Sharmila Reddy along with Vivekananda Reddy’s daughter Sunitha Reddy has been targeting CM Jagan Reddy for promoting politics of murder and protecting an accused.

YS Sharmila Reddy said if politics of murder is to be put to an end, people should defeat her brother and Avinash Reddy.

YS Sharmila Reddy is justifying her electoral battle from Kadapa saying it was the last wish of her uncle.

The CBI claimed that both Avinash and Bhaskar Reddy conspired to eliminate Vivekananda Reddy because he was against fielding Avinash Reddy from Kadapa Lok Sabha seat and wanted Jagan Mohan Reddy to instead field his mother Vijayamma or sister YS Sharmila Reddy.

However, the father-son duo denied the allegation.

The YSR family has been representing Kadapa Lok Sabha since 1989 when YSR was first elected from here. He retained the seats in 1991, 1996 and 1998. When he moved to Assembly in 199, his brother Vivekananda Reddy was elected from Kadapa as a Congress candidate. Vivekananda Reddy retained the seat in 2004.

YS Sharmila Reddy is also targeting YS Jagan Reddy for what he called mortgaging the state’s interests in Delhi.

Slamming YSRCP for giving up its fight for special category status to Andhra Pradesh, she questioned the party’s total surrender to the BJP government at the Centre. She is also equally critical of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Jana Sena Party (JSP) for being tools in the hands of the BJP.

YS Sharmila Reddy is claiming that the Congress party is the only one committed to accord special category status.

“All three parties today stand in the dock for playing with the sentiments of the people and backstabbing them without remorse,” she said recently while taking a pledge to fight for special category status.

At a public meeting at Tirupati on March 1, Congress General Secretary, Sachin Pilot said that after the INDIA bloc forms the government at the Centre, the first decision of the Cabinet will be to accord special category status to Andhra Pradesh.

In February, the Congress party launched its poll campaign with the promise of Rs.5,000 per month income support to every poor family.

The party unveiled the first guarantee for Andhra Pradesh on the lines of similar guarantees given by it in Karnataka and Telangana.

YS Sharmila Reddy also roped in Telangana Chief Minister, A Revanth Reddy for a meeting at Visakhapatnam to oppose the Centre’s move to privatise the Visakhapatnam Steel plant.

As the state politics is dominated by two key regional players YSRCP and TDP, both BJP and Congress have no significant presence.

In the 2014 elections, Congress secured only 2.77 per cent votes and drew a blank due to public anger over division of Andhra Pradesh. Since then the party lost many top leaders to the YSRCP or the TDP.

For the second-consecutive election in 2019, the Congress did not win a single Lok Sabha or Assembly seat while its vote share plunged further to 1.23 per cent.

According to political analyst Palwai Raghava Reddy, after the appointment of YS Sharmila Reddy as state Congress chief, some activity was seen in the Congress camp after a very long time.

“There is an excitement among Congress cadres. This is only the beginning as reviving the party after the massive drubbing in two successive elections is a huge task,” he said.

The analyst, however, believes that if the Congress can increase its vote share to 5 to 10 per cent and at least have some representation in the Assembly, this will provide a platform to rebuild the party.