Hyderabad: Defectors are dominating the election scene in Telangana with the Congress party fielding the maximum number of turncoats from the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Nearly one-third of the Congress candidates are those who crossed over to the party from the BRS and the BJP since May, when the Congress’ victory in Karnataka elections appeared to have given a new lease of life to the grand old party in Telangana.
Several leaders from the BRS and the BJP moved to the Congress on the condition that they would be fielded for the November 30 Assembly elections. Some were even invited by the party to join its camp and contest the elections on its tickets.
Some defectors were rewarded with tickets a few days and even a few hours after they switched loyalties.
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Even with just a few days left for the November 30 elections, party-hopping is continuing with those denied tickets switching loyalties in the hope of either getting nominations for next year’s Lok Sabha polls or getting some plum positions in the future.
Interestingly, the saga of defections had started soon after the 2018 elections with about a dozen MLAs from the Congress switching loyalties to the TRS (now BRS) after it retained power.
The BRS, which had won 88 seats in 119-member Assembly, succeeded in making a dozen Congress MLAs join its camp. It lured four more MLAs including both MLAs of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to take its tally to 104.
Aiming for a hat-trick in power, the BRS has fielded almost all sitting MLAs and its list was released more than two months before the poll process began. Ticket aspirants, whose hopes were dashed, started making a beeline to the Congress party.
As BJP lost the momentum after the drubbing in Karnataka, several of its leaders, too, started looking at the Congress whose leaders were ready to welcome turncoats with open arms.
Many of those who left the BRS and the BJP were in fact making a comeback to the Congress after a long gap. The grand old party and the TDP had lost their senior leaders, including former ministers to the BRS after the latter formed its first government in the new state in 2014.
The spree to lure leaders started in June with former minister Jupally Krishna Rao and former Khammam MP Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy, who were suspended by the BRS for anti-party activities a few months ago. Both were invited by the BJP but after the Karnataka polls they preferred to join Congress.
Krishna Rao has been rewarded, with a ticket from Kollapur in the undivided Mahabubnagar district. He had resigned from the Congress to join the BRS in 2011 and was elected from Kollapur constituency in 2014 on a BRS ticket. He felt sidelined in the BRS after Harshvardhan Reddy, who had defeated him in the 2018 elections, switched loyalties from the Congress to the BRS after winning the election.
Congress leaders expect Krishna Rao not only to win Kollapur for the party but also have an impact on the outcome in other constituencies in the district.
Similarly, Srinivasa Reddy secured the ticket from Palair in Khammam district. Elected to the Lok Sabha from Khammam on an YSR Congress Party ticket in 2014, he later switched loyalties to the BRS. He was unhappy after KCR denied him a party ticket for both 2018 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
A leader with a good support base, Srinivasa Reddy is expected to boost the prospects of the Congress in undivided Khammam district, where the BRS has never done well but managed to lure most of the MLAs elected on Congress and TDP tickets in 2018.
The defection of former minister and senior leader Tummala Nageswara Rao from BRS came as another boost to the Congress in Khammam district. The party rewarded him with a ticket from Khammam constituency, where he is locked in a tight contest against Transport Minister P Ajay Kumar.
Political analysts say these defections helped Congress gain momentum and it subsequently made many others switch loyalties.
The Congress also did not lose the opportunity to lure the sitting BRS MLA from Malkajgiri, Mynampally Hanumanth Rao to its camp after he had raised the banner of revolt against KCR for refusing a ticket to his son Mynampally Rohit Rao from Medak.
Though Hanumanth Rao was fielded again by BRS from Malkajgiri (in Greater Hyderabad), he insisted on a ticket for his son. The Congress was quick to assure tickets to both father and son and their names were included in the first list of candidates, despite the revolt the party had to face from some loyalists in both the constituencies.
As Hanumanth Rao is considered an influential leader, both in Medak and Malkajgiri, the Congress accommodated the father-son duo, despite criticism from some quarters for ignoring the Udaipur resolution of one family, one ticket.
The most interesting case is that of Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy. He was named the Congress candidate from Munugode (in Nalgonda district) a few hours after he quit the BJP to return to the Congress camp.
He had resigned from the party and also as MLA last year to join the BJP. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had personally visited Munugode to address a public meeting and welcome Rajagopal, one of the richest politicians of Telangana, into the saffron party. However, he lost the by-election to the BRS candidate.
The brother of Congress MP Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, Rajagopal Reddy succeeded in getting the Congress ticket once again from Munugode. Though bitter critics of state Congress chief A Revanth Reddy, the brothers are considered key to the party’s prospects in undivided Nalgonda district.
Former MP G Vivekanand, who was chairman of the BJP’s manifesto committee, stunned the saffron party by switching loyalties to the Congress. He joined the party in the presence of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
The party has fielded him from Chennur constituency in undivided Mancherial district. Son of former Union Minister G Venkatswamy, Vivek is the richest candidate in the fray with declared family assets of over Rs.600 crore.
K Rajesh Reddy, son of BRS MLC Damodar Reddy, defected to the Congress in August. The party has fielded K Rajesh Reddy from Nagarkurnool constituency, which led to the resignation of former minister and senior leader N Janardhan Reddy.
TPCC secretary K Ajay Kumar also raised a banner of revolt after he was denied a ticket from Gadwal. The party fielded Sarita Thirupathaiah, a former chairperson of the Gadwal Zilla Parishad, who quit the BRS to join the Congress in July.
A MLC from BRS is also among the turncoats. Kasireddy Narayan Reddy quit BRS to join the Congress party last month and he was swiftly rewarded with a ticket from Kalwakurthy. The MLC defected after the BRS leadership denied him a ticket.
Interestingly, while the Congress lured BRS leaders who were aspiring for tickets but were not fielded, the BRS during the last few days poached Congress leaders who raised a banner of revolt after defectors were given tickets.
BRS working president KT Rama Rao and another key leader Harish Rao personally visited the houses of the disgruntled Congress leaders to invite them to join the BRS. They were promised suitable positions if BRS retained power.
Less than two weeks before polling, party hopping is continuing in the state. November 30 will decide which set of turncoats will have the last laugh.