An imminent Tirupati win is wishful thinking
A quadrangular contest is on the cards, they say. Some would call it triangular. For those unfamiliar with the turf, Tirupati is essentially a bipolar seat where NOTA is the third player. So, where does this leave an all charged up BJP with all its tall claims of a surprise victory?
The YSRCP should choose to ride on Jagan Reddy’s image and populist welfare schemes. However, the recent attacks on temples and ensuing social media narrative has undoubtedly hurt the party’s image. Jagan Reddy’s temple runs and subtle attempts at appeasing Hindus now run the risk of being washed away in a flood of a concerted narrative against the state’s alleged evangelical inclination. Consistently propagated by the Right Wing, the slow release of a narrative labelling Jagan Reddy administration as anti-Hindu and pro-Christian continues unabated and unchallenged. While the scale of damage this could cause to YSRCP’s prospects remains to be assessed, the Tirupati Bypoll would certainly be a litmus test for the success of its welfare schemes. As Dubbaka has shown, sympathy factors don’t always work to a party’s advantage and YSRCP appears to have carved this observation in stone. Giving dynasty a break, the party has fielded the Chief Minister’s physiotherapist, Dr Gurumurthy, whose images of holding CM Jagan Reddy’s feet recently did rounds on SM. It will be interesting to watch if his candidature helps the party retain the seat, or creates more fault lines within the party than originally anticipated.
The saffron party, on the other hand, is hustling its way through the state in order to rebuild a cadre while actively making the most of RW’s propaganda. In 2019, the BJP finished sixth with a little over 16K votes accounting for 1.23% while NOTA stood third with 1.9%. This was quite a fall from its previous standing in 2014 when the party had managed to pull an impressive second spot in alliance with the TDP. Both the TDP and the BJP have won Tirupati only once. However, an unprecedented electoral success in Dubbaka has served as a shot in the arm of the saffron party. The BJP is currently reinforcing a public perception of BITA (BJP Is The Alternative) to “dynastic” TDP and YSRCP. With a campaign that in its entirety is heavily laced with Hindutva the BJP aims to create ripples across AP’s castes through Tirupati’s troubled waters. By aligning with the Jana Sena, the BJP has re-engineered a caste arithmetic that tears right into a political landscape dominated by a Reddy-Kamma power bloc. With the appointment of K Laxman as its National OBC Morcha in-charge and Somu Veerraju as its State-President, the BJP aims at flocking together the dominant electoral base in the state along with the Kapus. Tirupati is an ideal springboard from which the party could spread its saffron wings across the state even if it manages to lose the seat with an improved margin.
A reinvented TDP has fielded a familiar face, the former Union Minister, Panabaka Lakshmi again. She enjoys the dual advantage of being a known face among the people of the constituency for having contested earlier, and being a woman in a constituency that has a sizable number of women on the electoral roll. While the BJP has focussed excessively on a grand narrative of Hinduism against the cultural enemies (Christians), the TDP has struck a balance by approaching the case of attacks on temples objectively, and assigning a proportional weightage to the incidents involving Dalits and Muslims. Tirupati is, afterall, a constituency holy to the Hindus, but a reserved seat with a sizable population of SCs and STs.
It would be difficult to think of Tirupati as being advantageous to any party. With several odds stacked against the ruling party and its failure to catch up with the opponents on social media, the only certainty is that its “disadvantage YSRCP.”