A turning point for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh?
The late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s daughter Y.S. Sharmila’s entry into the Congress is set to give a fillip to the party in the state
One small step for an individual but a giant leap for the organisation” was how a senior Congress leader summed up the mood of the Andhra Pradesh unit following the induction of Y.S. Sharmila into the party. Daughter of popular Congress leader and twice chief minister of combined Andhra Pradesh, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, and estranged sister of current chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Sharmila’s entry comes as a big boost ahead of simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha elections in April-May.
Entrusting her a key position may not automatically lead to dramatic results, but her induction is being seen as a step towards securing some semblance of political relevance for a party relegated to the margins in Andhra Pradesh.
Sharmila has the unenviable task of revitalising the party and making it battle-ready to take on her elder brother’s YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). While it would be unreasonable to expect the grand old party — whose vote share was less than 2 per cent in the 2019 polls — to pull off an electoral miracle, the latest development is bound to breathe life into the moribund organisation and lift the spirits of the cadre.
Political observers caution that Congress leaders must temper their expectations, given the ground realities. “The fact remains that there is no political vacuum in the state waiting to be filled. Already, three formidable regional parties — YSRCP, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Jana Sena Party (JSP) — are in the fray. With this, both the national parties — BJP and Congress — appear to have been squeezed out,” political analyst and author Ramesh Kandula said.
Optimism in the air
The Congress’ optimism is largely based on two factors. First, Sharmila may serve as the catalyst to resurrecting the memory of YSR, whose welfare policies still resonate with the masses, while consolidating the anti-incumbency against the Jagan Mohan Reddy government. Second, by projecting Sharmila as the true inheritor of YSR’s political legacy, the party might attract several old-time Congressmen who had joined YSRCP following YSR’s death in a helicopter crash in September 2009.
Signalling how crucial the development is for the Congress, top leaders including party president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi were present during Sharmila’s formal induction into the party in New Delhi. Congress general secretaries K.C. Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh as well as Andhra in-charge Manickam Tagore accompanied Sharmila when she met former Congress president Sonia Gandhi later.
The party brass is understood to have promised her a Rajya Sabha berth if she takes over the reins of the party in Andhra.
“She is the right candidate to revive the party’s lost glory and keep YSR’s legacy alive. YSR was a true mass leader and his legacy, marked by pro-poor policies, is still relevant in Andhra politics,” senior Congress leader N. Tulasi Reddy said.
An overwhelming majority of the YSRCP leaders owe their political careers to YSR, and it was this loyalty that prompted them to sail with Jagan when he severed ties with Congress and floated his own party in 2011. “Now, Sharmila is ideally positioned to bring them back to the Congress fold,” a senior party leader said.
“No doubt, we bore the brunt of public anger over the division of Andhra Pradesh to carve out a separate Telangana state. But the public mood is changing now. They understand our past compulsions,” says state Congress chief G. Rudra Raju.
Rallying point for rebels
It is widely believed that Sharmila may emerge as a rallying point for YSRCP rebels who have been denied party tickets. Already, two ruling party MLAs — A. Ramakrishna Reddy and Malladi Vishnu — who have been denied renomination to the assembly seats have indicated that they will join the Congress.
Battling anti-incumbency, the chief minister has already dropped 13 sitting MLAs out of 35 candidates finalised so far for the assembly elections. The ruling party has 151 MLAs in the 175-member legislative assembly. According to YSRCP sources, more than 50 sitting legislators will be denied tickets this time. Some more will be shifted to other constituencies to improve their chances of winning.
A strong legacy
Andhra Pradesh was once considered a stronghold of the Congress. It was a major contributor to the UPA’s kitty in 2004 and 2009. On both occasions, YSR had steered the party to victory in the undivided state, cementing his position as a regional satrap.
A four-time MP and five-time MLA, YSR was arguably the most popular mass leader of his times. He led several mass movements against the then TDP government. His pioneering welfare schemes — free power to farmers, health insurance for the poor and fee reimbursement for students — still find resonance with voters, 14 years after his untimely death. Jagan came to power in 2019 invoking that legacy and has since rechristened several welfare schemes in his father’s name.
Sharmila’s political journey began when she stood by her brother in his hour of crisis. Jagan, then an MP from Kadapa, was jailed in May 2012 following a CBI probe into a case of alleged illegal assets. As general secretary of the fledgling YSRCP, Sharmila extensively campaigned on his behalf for the by-elections held that year, necessitated by the resignation of 18 Congress MLAs following Jagan’s ouster from the Congress.
In October 2012, she undertook a 3,000-km padayatra from her village Idupulapaya in Kadapa district to Ichchapuram in Srikakulam. Ahead of the 2019 elections, she went on an 11-day bus yatra through Andhra Pradesh in support of her brother. During political rallies, she would describe herself as an “arrow released by Jagan anna”. Her public outreach not only established the YSRCP in every nook and corner of the state, but also generated sympathy for Jagan.
However, differences cropped up soon after the YSRCP stormed to power in 2019, with Jagan refusing to accommodate her in the party, fearing that she might emerge as a parallel power centre.
This forced Sharmila to move to neighbouring Telangana to pursue her political ambitions. Coinciding with YSR’s birth anniversary, she launched YSR Telangana Party on 8 June 2021.
The trouble in the YSR family deepened further in June 2022 when Sharmila’s mother Y.S. Vijayalakshmi quit as honorary president of the YSRCP and announced her support for her daughter.
After running a fierce campaign against the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government headed by K. Chandrashekar Rao, Sharmila subsequently decided to stay away from contesting the Telangana assembly polls, held on 30 November 2023. Instead, her party extended support to the Congress to avoid a split in the opposition votes.
Despite the rift, Jagan and Sharmila have so far refrained from criticising each other in public. But the gloves may soon come off as Andhra sets the stage for the battle of siblings over their father’s political legacy.