New Delhi: In Telangana, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) replaced Bandi Sanjay with Union minister G. Kishan Reddy as its state president with an eye on the upcoming crucial election in the southern state.
Changes were made in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Jharkhand to ensure caste balance and to reboot the organisation in these states.
Sanjay, who had completed his three-year term as the Telangana BJP chief in March, had become a bone of contention within the party itself.
Eatala Rajender, MLA and ex-minister of Telangana, was made the chairman of Election Management Committee of the Telangana BJP for the forthcoming elections. He is expected to attract talent from the Congress and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) as well as bring peace in the BJP’s Telangana unit.
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, former Union minister D. Purandeswari was made the state president as the party seems to have become directionless. The BJP is looking for alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
Babulal Marandi, a prominent tribal leader, will lead the party in Jharkhand, while Sunil Jakhar was given charge to reboot the Punjab organisation.
In Punjab, the outgoing state president Ashwini Sharma had completed his term and there was a need for change to bring a more experienced face like Jakhar who had earlier been the state president of the Congress party.
Rebellion in Telangana
The most striking change is in Telangana where the BJP succumbed to the pressure of the anti-Bandi Sanjay lobby. Eatala Rajender had threatened to resign from the party if Sanjay was not replaced.
Election is due in November in Telangana, and the BJP has high hopes from the BRS-ruled southern state despite the loss in Karnataka. But the massive infighting and factionalism was hammering the BJP momentum. The continuous factionalism and inability to bring all leaders under his leadership cost Sanjay his post despite the backing of the BJP high command.
As the Eatala Rajender group had been raising its voice about Bandi Sanjay’s attitude, an alarmed party high command went in for Reddy who had worked in the state organisation earlier.
“Reddy emerged as a consensus choice that was acceptable to both the factions,” said a senior BJP leader.
BJP insiders said Sanjay will get a post in the Union ministry in the next reshuffle. They added that it was only last week that the Eatala Rajender faction was briefed about the impending change when he met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in the presence of Reddy.
“We had complained several times about Bandi Sanjay’s attitude of not giving respect to other leaders and behaving like an autocrat,” a leader close to Eatala told ThePrint. “Senior leaders Kishan Reddy and K. Laxman were also not happy with Sanjay’s self-promotion at the cost of the party.”
A second BJP source told ThePrint: “Eatala informed the leadership last week that he was disillusioned in the party as his workers and associates were not getting respect, and that many BRS leaders were initially inclined to join the BJP but backed out arguing that if Eatala was not getting respect, what was the guarantee of their future.”
Apart from leadership issues, there were differences between two factions on issues related to the polls and how to attack the BRS.
A BJP leader from the “Eatala camp” had said that under Sanjay’s leadership, the Telangana BJP was focusing on ideological rather than substantive issues, which could cost the party.
“Bandi believes the Telangana election can be won by emphasising the Hindutva issue. However, across the state, without a strong cadre and addressing issues of corruption, mismanagement of funds, and unemployment, we cannot defeat the BRS,” he added.
Kishan Reddy is a consensus builder and nobody has a problem with him, a senior BJP general secretary told ThePrint. “Eatala’s elevation has message to attract more talent from the Congress and the BRS. The party can pitch that he was rewarded and he can be the chief ministerial face to get more traction in the state.”
Reddy has the experience of running the party during a united Andhra from 2020 to 2014. He was also the Telangana state chief from 2014 to 2016.
Another BJP leader explained that the change was in the offing as complaints against Sanjay were piling up. “Reddy currently holds three portfolios. So, he may have to give up some in case he’s not asked to step down. Also, Sanjay is expecting some place in the cabinet. Eatala’s appointment may create some problems for Reddy as he may find it difficult to navigate,” he added.
Purandeswari’s elevation was a surprise as she does not share the best of ties with her brother-in-law and TDP president Chandrababu Naidu. Although her induction as a BJP general secretary was done to weaken Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, the BJP leadership’s recent meeting with the TDP is sending a mixed signal from the party in Andhra Pradesh.
“I have a huge responsibility to build the organisation in the state and to make the organisation robust to fight assembly and Lok Sabha elections. The first priority is to strengthen the state unit. The alliance decision has been left to the high command,” Purandeswari told ThePrint.
The former Union minister replaced Somu Veeraraju as the new Andhra Pradesh BJP chief.
“The party has lost traction in the state. She (Purandeswari) is NTR’s daughter. He holds a legendary status in Andhra politics. Her elevation will help the party to appropriate NTR’s legacy in elections. It is another fact that the party is restructuring the organisation and more general secretaries will be inducted,” a senior BJP leader said.
Many had suggested that an OBC face should be given the new responsibility as the community can play a pivotal role in the election, the BJP leader said.
“By appointing Purandeswari, we are giving the message that one community will dominate. The ruling party in the state is with the Reddys. Naidu belongs to the Kamma community and so does Purandeswari,” the BJP leader said.
What’s interesting is that though Naidu has a strong traction among the Kammas, a section of the community is still very loyal to NTR. “Naidu and Purandeshwari can’t work together so it will be interesting to see whether an alliance will happen or not,” added the leader.
Challenges in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh
In Punjab, the party aligned with Amarinder’s Punjab Lok Congress in 2022 but did not get any desired poll result. The BJP, however, inducted a number of Congress leaders ranging from Sunil Jakhar to Rana Sodhi to Manpreet Badal. Amarinder, too, joined the BJP in September, 2022.
As the BJP is now looking to corner more pie in Punjab in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, it is exploring options to bring back Akali Dal into the NDA fold.
“Jakhar is a more experienced face. He has a long career in politics, has been an MP. In the last election, we got three seat but with more consolidated strength, we are aiming for more seats in Lok Sabha irrespective of an alliance with the Akalis,” a Punjab BJP leader told ThePrint.
Jakhar had joined the BJP in May 2022 in the presence of its national party president J.P. Nadda. Earlier, he was the Punjab Congress chief for four years before being replaced by Navjot Singh Sidhu in 2021.
It will be interesting to see how the cadre will accept Jakhar as the party seems to be rewarding those who have joined the BJP from other parties, another BJP leader said.
Marandi, meanwhile, replaced Deepak Prakash as the Jharkhand state president.
“It’s a part of the party strategy to change the person who completed his term. I have worked in the organisation in the past. We are working to bring back the BJP government in the next election,” Marandi told ThePrint.
The tribal leader had served as Jharkhand’s first chief minister from 2000 to 2003.
“Appointing Raghubar Das did not go well with the tribals, and the party lost almost all seats in tribal belts. We tried to compensate by bringing Marandi as the opposition leader, but Soren did not give that recognition. The party has realised that the only way out is to give charge to Marandi, who has a clean track record. Another tribal leader Arjun Munda is in the Union cabinet. With two leaders in important posts, it will send the right message to the tribals,” a senior leader said.
(Edited by Tony Rai)