By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 22: The political and electoral equations in the faction-hit Anantapur district have undergone a sea change ahead of the crucial by-poll to Penukonda Assembly constituency with the Congress luring important TD functionaries into its fold.
Several Telugu Desam activists, who are bound to play a crucial role in the June 2 by-election necessitated by the murder of TD legislator Paritala Ravindra, have switched their loyalties to the Congress after the EC announced the poll schedule last month.
At least two dozen local leaders, besides Anantapur strongman and former minister S Ramachandra Reddy, left the Telugu Desam in the past 10 days, changing the political scenario in keenly-contested Penukonda segment, which has always witnessed violence before and after the polling.
According to sources, the Congress with the active involvement of two ministers, has succeeded in mass defections from Telugu Desam at the grass root level. The Congress leadership allegedly lured TD men with promises of government contracts or withdrawal of police cases.
The TD lost some important functionaries in the series of faction attacks during the last one year while some have been lodged in jail in connection with different incidents of violence. Still others have left the party to join the Congress. Some TD functionaries are at large fearing arrests by the police.
Though Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy has decided to keep himself away from electioneering as part of his "faction-free campaign in Rayalaseema", the Congress leadership has succeeded in inflicting heavy damage on the rival Telugu Desam through a "tacit political game". The TD leadership fell into the gameplan of the Congress but before it could realise its mistake, much harm had been done to its cadre.
The violence on May 13 during the nomination rally of TD candidate Paritala Sunita has further pushed the Telugu Desam to the wall. Political defections increased after the incident as police started raids on villages and rounding up of TD activists involved in the incident.
The Telugu Desam, however, received a shot in the arm after Election Commission ordered the transfer of faction leader Maddelacheruvu Suri from Anantapur jail to Visakhapatnam prison and kept Rayalaseema IG RP Meena off the poll duty. The Congress leadership is now in a jittery over the development if the remarks of Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy that "winning is not important for the Congress" are any indication.
In the aftermath of the EC order, both the Congress and the Telugu Desam are playing the caste card to woo voters. While the TD is banking on BC votes, the Congress is eyeing on upper caste votes. The Congress scored a point with Ramachandra Reddy, an influential BC (Kuraba) leader, joining its fold.
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