It's time BJP rethinks Andhra strategy

The results that emerged on counting day, May 2, were more like a thunderbolt for the BJP. Its candidate, former Karnataka chief secretary K. Ratnaprabha, came in a distant third polling around 57,000 votes, far behind the TDP candidate Panabaka Lakshmi's 3.54 lakh votes. In comparison, the victorious YSRCP candidate Gurumoorthy polled around 6.26 lakh votes.

Much on the lines of the Dubbaka assembly bypoll in neighbouring Telangana, where the BJP scored an upset victory and went on to rattle the ruling TRS party in the Hyderabad civic polls by emerging as the second largest party, the Tirupati Lok Sabha bypoll in April was expected to be the turning point for the saffron party's fortunes in the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh.

However, the results that emerged on counting day, May 2, were more like a thunderbolt for the BJP. Its candidate, former Karnataka chief secretary K. Ratnaprabha, came in a distant third polling around 57,000 votes, far behind the TDP candidate Panabaka Lakshmi's 3.54 lakh votes. In comparison, the victorious YSRCP candidate Gurumoorthy polled around 6.26 lakh votes.

Post-bifurcation in 2014, the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh remains an enigma for the BJP which brought in Sunil Deodhar who scripted the party's stunning and historic poll victory in Tripura, to steer the campaign for Andhra Pradesh. The mission was simple and clear -- to win Andhra in the 2024 assembly polls.

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For the BJP behemoth that has gradually stamped its electoral imprint across the length and breadth of the country, the South, with the exception of Karnataka and Pondicherry, remains largely unconquered territory. Tamil Nadu and Kerala continue to resist the BJP's pan-Indian allure, for obvious reasons.

It is only in the two Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana that the BJP smelt potential for the near future -- read 2024. Telangana, with its traditionally strong RSS presence, readily accepted the saffron party, and it is where it has emerged as the only opposition party worth its name. However, it's been a different story in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP did get its shot at power in the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh following the 2014 assembly elections. The combined forces of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the star power of filmstar-politician Pawan Kalyan, and the BJP managed to defeat YS Jagan Mohan Reddy's YSRCP. However, disagreements -- ostensibly over granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh following bifurcation but really more to do with the BJP's growing ambitions to carve out a solitary path to power in the state -- drove the allies inexorably apart. Fighting the ensuing polls in 2019 seperately, the three erstwhile allies were routed comprehensively at the hustings. Compared to 2014, when it won four Assembly and two Parliament seats, the BJP drew a blank in 2019. Ever since, the BJP had been targeting the ruling YSRCP as well as the opposition TDP on a range of issues.

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That Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy is a Christian, missionary and conversion activities are on the rise, had come in handy for the BJP. Incidentally, the last year also saw a number of incidents such as thefts, desecration, and temple mishaps in the state, prominent among them being the burning of the temple chariot at Antarvedi. The BJP never lost an opportunity to target the government on these issues while alluding to the Chief Minister's religious background.

It was at this juncture that the Tirupati Lok Sabha bypoll, necessitated by the death of YSRCP's Balli Durga Prasad, offered a litmus test for the opposition camps to test their relative strengths. It was a no-holds barred poll campaign that saw the BJP bring out the armour, in addition to leaning on the starpower of Pawan Kalyan. But it all came to nought. The results are basically a repeat of the trends seen in the 2019 assembly polls. The results show that divided, the opposition stands no choice against the might of a young Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who has consolidated his grip on the minorities and backward classes, apart from the forward Reddys.

The writing on the wall is now doubly clear after the Tirupati bypoll. With less than one per cent of the popular vote in its kitty, the BJP currently lacks the ground presence and the infrastructure to make its presence felt on the electoral landscape of Andhra Pradesh. Secondly, traditional strategies such as polarisation that helped in states such as Assam and Tripura won't work here. The party needs to customise its approach more like it does in regions such as the Northeast, or even perhaps Karnataka, where it does not overtly rattle the minority communities. More importantly, it must seriously work on retrieving the credibility it lost by reneging on granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh -- something that all concerned parties had agreed upon on the hallowed floors of Parliament.

Going forward, the BJP needs a strong ally, much like the Janata Dal(U) in Bihar, to help it gain traction at the hustings. Under the circumstances, the only potential ally on the horizon remains the TDP. For the TDP as well, an alliance with the BJP could make the difference between regaining political power or fading away to oblivion. With three years to go before the state goes to the polls, there's ample time for waving olive branches, building bridges and sewing up a winning alliance which includes Pawan Kalyan and his Jana Sena.

It's definitely time for the BJP to return to the drawing board, if gaining Andhra Pradesh in 2024 is the objective.
 

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