Monday, Dec 05, 2022

Congress Total Decimation May Become Reality In 2023 Assembly Polls: Marri Shashidhar Reddy, On Why He Will Join BJP

Congress Total Decimation May Become Reality In 2023 Assembly Polls: Marri Shashidhar Reddy, On Why He Will Join BJP

Marri Shashidhar Reddy explains why his disillusionment with the Congress began from the treatment meted out to his father, party loyalist Marri Chenna Reddy, his own insult by Revanth Reddy, and extinction of all hope in the party’s capability to pose a serious challenge to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

Marri Shashidhar Reddy
Marri Shashidhar Reddy | D Ravinder Reddy

Marri Shashidhar Reddy is the latest and seniormost Congress leader to desert the Congress party in Telangana. Two other Congress leaders recently joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—Konda Visweshwar Reddy and Komatireddy Rajgopal Reddy. Etela Rajender and Raghunandhan Rao from the ruling TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi), also joined BJP. Meanwhile, Shashidhar Reddy is a big catch for the BJP as his father, the late Dr Marri Chenna Reddy, sowed the seeds of a separate statehood around 1969 and led his party Telangana Praja Samithi (TPS) to win 10 out 14 Lok Sabha seats. Marri Shashidhar Reddy will formally join the BJP on November 25 or 28, depending on which senior leadership can make the time from the Gujarat polls. Edited Excerpts:

Your father, Dr Marri Chenna Reddy was the former Chief Minister of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, Governor of UP, and three other states. Having enjoyed these privileges from the Congress Party for decades, what drove you to leave the party?
This is precisely what I have explained in my eight-page letter to Sonia Gandhi. My father chose to back Indira Gandhi after she quit the party when Brahmananda Reddy was the party chief. In 1978, he led the party to a resounding win in the assembly elections and became the chief minister. Months after Indira Gandhi returned as PM in 1980, he was made to resign. When the party lost power in 1983 to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), founded by actor-turned-politician NT Ramarao, my father accepted the challenge in 1989 to bring Congress back to power. He led the party to a spectacular victory and became the CM for the second time. Within a year, he was made to resign again. 

Despite this, we remained loyal to the party and its first family. As a three-time MLA and former Minister, I did not want to be a minister in Dr YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s government. I have stated this in my letter. After the 2019 Lok Sabha election, when a change of PCC president was mooted, some of us senior colleagues got together as the Congress Loyalist Forum. We had repeatedly requested Sonia Gandhi that a party loyalist should be made president. Instead, the High Command appointed Revanth Reddy in 2021, who had migrated from TDP, four years ago.

The ultimate test of a leader is how they win the confidence of their people. Looking back, when Congress lost to TRS in 2014, the party disappointed the people of Telangana by not taking on the TRS government on their omissions and commissions. With elections due in a year, I felt compelled to quit Congress because I still have the energy to serve the people.

How do you explain the shift from secular ideology to Hindutva ideology?
I am a Hindu by birth and believe in secularism. In my view, there is no Hindutva ideology. It is wrong to say the BJP is only trying to protect Hindu interests. I find the BJP more secular than many so-called secular parties. The Modi government is not bestowing any special favours on the Hindu majority. Minority Muslims and other groups are also taken care of. I find no minority community member complaining they were denied free ration, toilet, insurance cover, or gas connection as part of popular schemes that the Modi government launched in the last eight years. After 2019, ‘Sab ka Vishwas’ was added to PM Modi’s slogan, now it’s ‘Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas. In RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s latest outreach to Muslim minorities, did he not say, ‘don’t start looking for a Shivling under every masjid?’ Besides, he visited madrasas and prominent Muslim leaders like Najeeb Jung, SY Qureshi. The discomfort you are asking me over the ‘shift’ does not arise.

Is the Congress party decaying?
It is evident from the way Congress is losing state after state, more so in both Telugu states. The party’s total decimation may become a reality in the 2023 assembly polls, if it has no traces left in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. We have, many times, informed the party leadership about the writing on the wall, but no corrective steps have been taken.

We have seen your resignation letter addressed to Sonia Gandhi. Why did you address it to her and not current party president Mallikarjun Kharge?
I have sent my formal resignation to Kharge, but in view of my long association with Gandhi, I owed her an explanation.

Did the BJP approach you? Or did you seek an audience with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah? 
While addressing senior party leaders from the state at his Delhi residence in April, Rahul Gandhi had promised to set up a mechanism to resolve things internally. That did not happen. At a meeting with state executives in May, he said action will be taken against anyone going to the media, “despite your seniority or background”. It was perceived as being directed at me. There are other senior members but I am the only one with a party background, because of my father. It pained me. The inputs in his speech came from AICC Incharge, Manickam Tagore. I had not gone to the media till then, so what he said was not only inappropriate but also insulting.

In August, Revanth made an outlandish statement that only Reddys are enough to fight the TRS. This sent out a very wrong message to the rank and file of the party. He told senior party leader Hanumantha Rao he would “bang him on the wall” for receiving the opposition presidential candidate, Yashwanth Sinha, at Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad. When PCC aspirant, MP Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, was appointed as star campaigner after being a party member for 34 years, he lamented how just 3-4 years back, a person who joined the party was made the PCC president. To this, Revanth Reddy, very insultingly, said, “Even after working for 34 years, when a home guard is not promoted as a constable but another person who clears civil exams, becomes an IPS, and is posted as an SP… the home guard cannot prevent the IPS to sit on the SP’s chair.”

That was the last straw. I vented my feelings in a YouTube interview dated August 16. In the next three days, all TV channels interviewed me. The Congress leadership in Delhi rushed an emissary to talk to me on the day Amit Shah was in Telangana. I told the emissary that I think the party is on the verge of being decimated. He promised to convey that to the leadership and get back. But even after three months, there was no response. Meanwhile, it was the same outcome again in the last by-election. I had lost all hope in the party’s capability to pose a serious challenge to the TRS. Some senior BJP leaders who were watching things unfold reached out and suggested I should meet Amit Shah. I just went along with it.

After meeting Amit Shah, you said Congress cannot become an alternative to the TRS in the state. Why do you feel that way?
That’s what I had been saying all along. The party is being totally destroyed in the last couple of years. Revanth Reddy has a personal agenda, and not positioning the party as a serious challenger to the TRS in 2023. His utterances have brought disgrace to the party. He never takes time out to connect with party cadres. He is incommunicado and surrounded by cronies. He is widely perceived as a blackmailer, using RTI and a battery of retired revenue officials to identify potential prey. When he raises land-related issues, it is a part of this well-planned strategy to demand money.

Are you convinced that BJP has become the real challenger to TRS in 2023?
Undoubtedly, yes. The party is surging as seen in almost all by-polls in the state after the 2018 assembly polls. The fight in the 2023 assembly polls is only between TRS and BJP. 

Can you adjust to this hardcore Hindutva party where diktats come from Nagpur, while Congress gets directions from Janpath?
I remained a disciplined soldier in all parties that I was part of. I don’t find anything too bizarre to adjust. I am committed to lending my hand to the BJP to save the people of Telangana from the clutches of the corrupt TRS government.

What kind of role do you aspire for in the new party? Do you wish to follow in your father’s footsteps to become the real icon of Telangana?
Yes, I do enjoy the legacy of my late father, who had sown the seeds for separate Telangana way back in 1969. Sanathnagar is my karma bhoomi, but whatever role the party leadership feels I can, I shall accept as a disciplined party member.