Mahabharat in Nandyal: How A Family Outreach Won The Day For Naidu
The Nandyal by-Election campaign was bitter, as bitter as the rivalry between TDP and YSRCP. Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and Jaganmohan Reddy spared nothing to defeat each other.
File photo of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. (GETTY IMAGES)
For the record, the ruling Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh won the by-election to the Nandyal assembly in Kurnool district. TDP candidate Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy defeated his neared rival, Silpa Mohan Reddy of the Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress (YSRCP) by over 27,000 votes.
The death of sitting TDP MLA Bhuma Nagi Reddy led to this by-election. The campaign was bitter, as bitter as the rivalry between TDP and YSRCP. Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and Jaganmohan Reddy spared nothing to defeat each other. The raging campaign made the by-election look like a referendum on Naidu’s grip over the state.
To that extent, Naidu saved the day for himself and his party. The result gives him breathing space before the rivals clash next in the 2019 assembly elections.
But in Kurnool district, the repercussions of the result will boom for quite some time. Kurnool together with Kadapa, Chittoor and Anantapur forms the Rayalaseema region of Andhra. The law enforcement agencies have their own name for it – Bombulaseema (region of bombs). It is the land of families, family vendettas, private armies, revenge killings. Bombs, the country-made variety, are the popular tools of retribution. The ‘Wild West’, it’s called by those who have seen a lot of cowboy westerns.
Conducting politics in such a zone of family frenzy is not easy. Naidu and Jagan know better. One is from Chittoor. The other is from Kadapa.
The 2019 assembly elections in Rayalaseema will mostly be determined by how the ripples of the Nandyal by-election settle down. Or unsettle. How?
Kurnool became, in 1953, the first capital of Andhra Pradesh, when the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions were carved out from Madras State. Three years later Telangana would be merged with the new state. The capital then shifted to Hyderabad.
After three years of fame as the capital, Kurnool went back to its previous life, witnessing the birth of family-bred politics that would characterize Rayalaseema in coming decades. In the early years, politics in the district revolved around disputes between the Kotla and Kambalapadu families. Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy of the former was Union minister and AP chief minister. The head of the latter was Madanna, a social activist and senior Congress leader. Their children, Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy and Kambalapadu brothers Prabhakar and Krishna Murthy, are handling the disputes in the second generation. But it is the other family fued that makes headlines and has dictated politics in the region in the last four decades.
It is the feud between the Bhuma and Gangula families. It began with political rivalry between Gangula Thimma Reddy and Kothapalli Bali Reddy. The rivalry saw them contesting against each other from Nandyal in 1978. Thimma Reddy won. And the fued became permanent. The factional fight ultimately led to the killing of Bali Reddy. That brought his sons, Bhuma Nagi Reddy and Bhuma Veera Shekhara Reddy, into the forefront. After Thimma Reddy died, his sons, Pratap Reddy and Prabhakara Reddy took over. The sons ably fueled the feud in the region. Both owned armed private militias. They faced allegations of blackmailing, collecting “ranggari” tax, house-grabbing and forcible acquisition of land in the region.
Both sides had no choice till Congress was the only party around. The advent of TDP and years later the Praja Rajyam Party (of film star Chiranjeevi) and YSRCP gave both sides “space” to play their politics of personal rivalry. Both families have in the last decades represented all parties at one time or the other. They had only one rule: They would not be in the same party at the same time. Time passed, and the family feud persisted, but never reached murderous levels. The Bhuma and Gangula brothers were legislators or MPs at some point of time. Curiously, Bhuma Nagi Reddy’s first foray into electoral politics was as a candidate in a by-election caused by the death of his brother Veera Shekhar Reddy. Twenty-five years later, his own death caused the latest by-election.
The political fortunes changed when the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was looking for a Lok Sabha constitutency after becoming PM. He chose Nandyal. Then then sitting MP, Gangula Pratap Reddy, vacated the seat for PV. Then TDP leader NT Rama Rao decided against fielding a candidate. He is a “Telugu bidda (son of Telugus), he told his party. PV won by a huge margin. In 1996, when PV chose to contest from Naldyal along with Berhampur in Odisha, the local feud revived itself. Pratap Reddy supported PV while Bhuma Nagi Reddy contested against him. Bhuma lost, but retained respect by reducing PV’s margin of victory. After PV resigned from the seat, retaining Berhampur, Bhuma contested and won.
Since then, the Bhumas and Gangulas switched parties at whim. Victory alone matters, both sides decided, not party loyalty. Come to 2014. Bhuma won Nandyal assembly seat as a YSRCP candidate. He defeated Silpa Mohan Reddy of TDP. After the elections Bhuma shifted to TDP. His daughter, Akhila Priya, became a minister in the Naidu government. This angered the Silpa camp, which defected to the YSRCP.
So, when Bhuma Nagi Reddy died of a heart attack, causing the bye-election, the lines had already been drawn. Silpa was the natural candidate for YSRCP. Bhuma’s daughter convinced Naidu to give the ticket to her cousin, Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy. He is the son of her father Bhuma Nagi Reddy’s older brother Veera Shekhar Reddy.
As the campaign progressed along set lines of the local feuds, Naidu was restless. For him, it was a prestigious battle. He had invested so much in it. And he had to prepare for 2019.
The thing about Kurnool — like the other four district of Rayalaseema – is whoever controls the families, control the region. In Kurnool, five families are said to rule the roost — Bhuma, Gangula, SPY Reddy, Nasyam Mohammad Farooq and Silpa. There were reports of Farooq meeting Naidu as the Nandyal campaign gathered steam. There were also reports of senior TDP leaders having been in touch with the Gangula family. Barely a few days before the August 23 election, Gangula Pratap Reddy joined the TDP. SPY Reddy had joined the TDP in 2014. Thus, Naidu had favourable relationships with four of the five families before the elections. On the other hand, YSRCP had the support of the remaining one family of Silpa.
The by-election is over. But the feud has to continue. Because, it’s a pipe dream to think that the Gangula and Bhuma families will bury the hatchet just because they currently happen to be under the same political roof. Naidu would certainly be aware of that. It is said that the Bhuma family was surprised when Gangula Pratap joined the TDP. Some said they were not even aware of the Gangula-Naidu talks. Naturally, because Naidu was looking at the big picture. But how big is the small picture — the Bhuma-Gangula relationship — is something left for the future.
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