Election strategist Prashant Kishor, who has taken up the responsibility of leading Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh to victory in the 2019 Assembly elections, faces his first test in the Nandyal Assembly byelection slated to be held on Wednesday. Prashant Kishor, popularly called PK, is coordinating Jagan’s poll campaign strategy. The result of the byelection will be out on 28 August.
Though the byelection is for a single Assembly seat, it has far-reaching significance in view of its fierce contest, considered to be a curtain raiser to the upcoming electoral battle between the ruling TDP and opposition YSR Congress in the Assembly elections two years away. Here, TDP’s Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy takes on YSR Congress’ Shilpa Mohan Reddy, the main contenders.
PK and his team of around 125 strategists are camping in Hyderabad for the past three months and are fully involved with the Nandyal Assembly byelection. PK is not used to strategise for a bypoll so far, Nandyal is important to him as this would set the mood for Jagan’s campaign for the 2019 battle, which, in turn, is crucial for his foray into South India.
Interestingly, this byelection is a sort of “game of defectors”—if the Bhuma family, which is fighting on the TDP side, was with YSR Congress in the 2014 elections, the Shilpa family, which is now contesting the poll from YSR Congress, was with TDP last time. However, both the families wield enormous political clout plus money power in the Rayalaseema region.
The byelection was necessitated by the sudden death of sitting MLA Bhuma Nagi Reddy who was elected on a YSR Congress ticket in 2014, but later defected to TDP. When he died in March 2017, Nagi Reddy, 53, was a strong faction leader in Kurnool district. He was a three-time MP and two-time MLA from different seats in the district. His wife, Shobha, too, was a three-time MLA who died in 2014. In 2014, Bhuma Nagi Reddy won the Nandyal Assembly seat as the YSR Congress candidate by a margin of around 4,000 votes against his TDP rival Shilpa Mohan Reddy.
Nagi Reddy shot to prominence when he unsuccessfully contested against then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao from Nandyal LS seat in 1991. Nagi Reddy and his elder daughter Akhila Priya were elected as MLAs on YSR Congress tickets in the 2014 elections, but later defected to TDP. After the death of Nagi Reddy five months ago, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu inducted Akhila Priya into his Cabinet, a promise made to Nagi Reddy.
Now, Akhila Priya has ensured a TDP ticket to her cousin Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy for the by-poll and also taken up the responsibility of getting him elected. Akhila Priaya, who holds the tourism portfolio in the AP Cabinet, represents the adjoining Allagadda Assembly seat, another stronghold of the Bhuma family for over two decades.
However, as both Akhila Priya and Brahmananda Reddy are below 30 years of age and lack enough political experience to face a tough electoral battle, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has taken the overall task of winning the bypoll and drafted at least half a dozen ministers and a dozen MLAs and MPs to coordinate the campaign.
In the backward region of Nandyal, dominant factions led by some political families decide the poll outcomes, rather than issues and problems faced by people. These factions buy votes either by paying money or promising common benefits to each caste, community and group. As Muslims constitute around 25% of the total electorate of around 1.9 lakh votes here, their support is crucial to win the poll.