It is ‘padayatra’ season in Telangana: Who will walk into the people’s hearts?

Hyderabad: It’s more than two years to go for the elections to be held for the Telangana state assembly. But the opposition parties have already started preparations for hitting the roads and attracting the voters, besides building up an anti-incumbency climate.

The opposition leaders have chosen to follow the time-tested formula adopted by former chief minister of combined Andhra Pradesh late Y S Rajasekhar Reddy in 2003 that catapulted him to power the following year.

The same success formula was followed by Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu between 2012 and 2013 and later by YSR Congress party president Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy in 2017 and 2019. Both of them walked their way to power in 2014 and 2019 assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh respectively.

Now, it is the season of padayatra in Telangana, too. On Sunday, Bharatiya Janata Party Telangana unit president Bandi Sanjay announced that he would take up a padayatra (foot march) starting from August 9, coinciding with the Quit India Movement, to fight for the establishment of a ‘democratic’ Telangana.

Though Sanjay’s ultimate goal is to bring the saffron party to power in 2023 assembly elections in the state, his immediate objective is to ensure victory for the party in the by-elections to Huzurabad assembly seat which ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi has taken up as a matter of prestige.

That is why Sanjay announced that his first-phase of padayatra would conclude at Huzurabad on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahata Gandhi. He will kick start his 750-km long padayatra from Bhagyalakshmi temple at Charminar and it will pass through Chevella, Vikarabad, Tandur, Andole, Yellareddy, Kamareddy, Yellareddipet, Bejjanki, Husnabad and Huzurabad.

The BJP president declared that in the subsequent phases, he would cover the entire state and help the BJP emerge a strong alternative to the TRS.

But even before the state BJP chief embarks on his two-month-long padayatra, he is likely to face another competitor in this walkathon. Y S Sharmila, sister of Jagan Mohan Reddy, is also contemplating taking up a lengthy padayatra soon after the launch of her new political outfit – YSR Telangana Party – on July 8. It is not immediately known when she will start her march. She may wait for September 2, the death anniversary of her father Rajasekhar Reddy.

According to her party sources, Sharmila will begin her padayatra from Chevella in Vikarabad district. It was from this town that her father YSR had launched his marathon 1600-km long padayatra, christened as Praja Prasthanam – in April 2003 and that helped him wrest power from the Telugu Desam Party in 2004.

Because of this Chevella sentiment, YSR launched most of his populist schemes from this town. So, there is no surprise Sharmila has chosen Chevella to kick start her marathon padayatra.

Not to be outdone, newly-appointed Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president and Malkajgiri MP A Revanth Reddy, too, has expressed his intentions to take up a padayatra across the length and breadth of the state.

He indicated that he might launch his padayatra from the temple town of Alampur on the banks of Tungabhadra River on Andhra-Telangana border and end it in Adilabad on Telangana-Maharashtra border. However, Revanth Reddy will have to take the approval of the Congress high command in New Delhi before starting any such programme.

In fact, Revanth Reddy caught the attention of the high command with his 10-day long foot-march in February this year. Named as the Rythu Bharosa Yatra in support of farmers seeking the withdrawal of the controversial farm-reform laws, it was launched at the spur of the moment by him after addressing a big rally of farmers at Achampet in Nagarkurnool district on February 7.

Revanth Reddy, who represents Malkajgiri parliamentary constituency, walked through Nagarkurnool, Mahabubnagar and Ranga Reddy districts covering a distance of 130 km before reaching Tukkuguda on the outskirts of Hyderabad, from where he took out a tractor rally up to Raviryala to address a public meeting.

Several senior leaders of the Telangana Congress didn’t attend the programme as they were reportedly under instruction from then Pradesh Congress Committee president N Uttam Kumar Reddy to boycott it, since Revanth did not take any prior permission from the state party or the AICC.

Now that Revanth is taking over as the new PCC chief, he will not take up any such programme without the approval of the high command.

It remains to be seen who will have the last laugh in this walking race and get the people’s mandate to pull down the TRS from power.

A Srinivasa Rao is Senior Journalist based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He has over three decades of reporting experience.