Will Congress’ gamble pay off in Telangana?

Hyderabad: Desperate to revive its fortunes in Telangana, the Congress party appears to have taken a risk by appointing firebrand leader Anumula Revanth Reddy as its new state party chief despite his controversial past and ignoring several strong contenders for the post.

Revanth, who has an ABVP background and joined Congress only four years ago, pipped many senior leaders and loyalists to get the key post.

The 53-year-old leader, known for his aggressive style of politics and considered popular among youth, is seen as someone who can lead the Congress to victory in 2023 elections.

The hopes he will re-establish its connect with the voters in its former stronghold and lead it to power, which remained elusive despite the party granting statehood to Telangana.

The Congress suffered crushing defeats at hands of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) both in 2014 and 2018. Reeling under a series of defections and after suffering defeats in by-elections and local body polls, the party’s morale is at its lowest.

The choice of Revanth Reddy, however, raised the question whether he can steer Congress party to a victory in country’s youngest state, whose politics has largely been dominated by TRS under the leadership of K. Chandrasekhar Rao popularly known as KCR.

“Across all regions in the country, the is skidding downwards due to lack of strong leadership at various levels. It needed to take some bold decisions and back them with conviction. Appointment of Revanth Reddy is surely a step in the right direction for the party battling for existence,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

“Congress would have surely assessed the pros and cons before taking this big decision. Revanth will be accountable for a good show in the state even if some senior leaders leave Congress before 2023 polls.”

He believes that Revanth Reddy has the mass appeal and charisma to attract voters towards the party.

“His aggressive style will send a strong message across Telangana and will indicate that Congress is back in the fight and is the real opposition to TRS,” he added.

Revanth’s appointment came at a time when TRS completed half of its second term in power and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is projecting itself as the only viable alternative to TRS. This is also almost coinciding with the entry of Y.S. Sharmila in Telangana politics.

Sharmila, sister of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and daughter of late Chief Minister of combined Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, is set to float her political party on July 8.

Following its victory in bypoll to Dubbak Assembly seat and impressive performance in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) late last year, BJP was upbeat. However, the TRS bounced back recently by wresting a seat of Legislative Council from the saffron party and retaining Nagarjuna Sagar Assembly seat.

At a time when the BJP is gearing up to wrest another Assembly seat (Huzurabad) from TRS, appointment of Revanth has given new hopes to the demoralised Congress cadres.

Huzurabad seat fell vacant after Eatala Rajender resigned from Assembly after being dropped from the Cabinet by KCR following allegations of land grabbing. Rajender will be contesting the bypoll as the BJP candidate.

The by-election will be the first major test for Revanth Reddy. A bitter critic of KCR and his family, he is known for making sensational allegations against his political opponents.

Immediately after taking over as PCC chief, he claimed that an industrialist close to KCR arranged a chartered flight that brought Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy to Hyderabad from Delhi to hold discussions with Eatala Rajender on his entry into the BJP.

“In the next two-and-a-half years, our fight against KCR will intensify. We will take up public issues of importance and will leave no stone unturned in showing how this government is against Dalits, minorities and tribals,” he said.

However, analysts say his past and the internal bickering in the party could be major challenges for him. Some senior leaders had opposed his candidature stating that he comes from RSS background and was a leader of ABVP in his student days. His alleged involvement in cash-for-vote scam makes him vulnerable to attacks by political opponents.

Revanth Reddy was caught by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in 2015 when as the then leader of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) he offered Rs 50 lakh to a nominated MLA belonging to TRS to make him vote for TDP candidate in Legislative Council election from MLA quota.

Once considered to be a close confidante of TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, Revanth quit TDP to join Congress in 2017. He was elected to Lok Sabha on Congress ticket from Malkajgiri constituency in 2019, a few months after losing Kodangal Assembly seat, which he had won twice as TDP candidate.

Interestingly, Revanth began his political career with TRS in 2003. He later quit TRS after being denied the party ticket. He fought Legislative Council election in 2008 as an independent. The same year he joined the TDP and was elected to Assembly from Kodangal in 2009. He retained the seat in 2014 election.

Differences within Congress over Revant’s elevation to the top post could be a major challenge for him. The central leadership of the party ignored senior leaders like Hanumanth Rao, Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, T. Jeevan Reddy, Sreedhar Babu and Madhu Yashki to make Revanth party chief.

Venkat Reddy publicly criticised Revanth’s appointment. He alleged that this happened like ‘cash for vote’ scam and predicted that Congress under Revanth will become an extension of TDP. couple of leaders even quit the party in protest.

Though Revanth is reaching out to senior leaders in the party to win their support, some leaders are trying to avoid him.