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How political parties in AP looking at Tirupati Bypoll & what they can do

A lot has been happening in Andhra Pradesh ever since the Tirupati Bypoll talk crept into the political scene. Not only is the state marred with attacks on Hindu temples but there is also a massive Hindutva-led propaganda which is damaging the social fabric and injecting sentiments of religious divide among its people. 
 
As the state witnesses a gradual rise in divisive politics, The Better Andhra looks at how political parties in the state are placed for the Tirupati Byelection. Given that Tirupati is a temple town, the rise in divisive agenda in the current political environment is an indication of how political parties are whipping up emotions
 
  1. YSR Congress Party: Given that the party is in power in Andhra Pradesh, the bypoll could work in its favour.  But, going by the fate of temple attacks, the current government hasn’t been able to assure Hindus that their temples and sentiments will be respected and protected. 
 
On the other hand, just the construction of new temples will not undo the damage done to Hindus’ religious sentiments in the state. The whole issue has rather become a political slugfest over the temple attacks but the government clearly has not given statements willing to protect temples. 
 
Additionally, YSRCP also needs to understand that its promises of asking for Special Status and Central funds have not been met. Similarly, the YSRCP needs to remind Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it is in Tirupati during his 2014 PM campaign he promised to make AP a progressive state. Neither is the party making any effort to push the Centre for AP’s rightful share of funds and promises, not is it bringing it up whenever the CM meets PM or BJP High Command. 
 
 
2) Telugu Desam Party: As always, the TDP has a strong cadre and loyalty. When it comes to the byelection, given that Tirupati falls in TDP President Chandrababu Naidu’s home district of Chittoor, TDP has good chances of winning. Along with that, Chandrababu’s credibility as a progressive leaders in the current state of affairs and disturbed law and order situation, may work for the party. 
 
Of late, the TDP, which has been neutral on religious lines for many years in the past, is now forced to take a religious stand. And, what this means is that even a long-standing party is now forced to prove its religious affiliation. This indicates that the TDP needs to be careful in its approach because it is a party that has been a veteran in politics and its religious affiliation may not work well in the long term if it begin treading that path. 
 
Moreover, TDP has good chances to highlight how YSRCP, Jana Sena and BJP are all neglecting the promises made in the Bifurcation Act to the state. It can portray all the three parties betraying the people of Andhra Pradesh while silently working together on divisive agendas, bringing the focus back on issues rather than the politics around the temple attacks.
 
3) Bharatiya Janata Party: The BJP has hijacked the state’s political narrative. Despite a lack of voteshare, the party is attempting its Hindutva narrative on Andhra Pradesh too. Whatever the party has repeated in Telangana’s Dubbaka bypoll and in GHMC elections in Hyderabad, the same pattern is being implemented in AP.
 
But, in AP, instead of targeting Muslims, the BJP is trying to split Christians and Hindus on religious lines. If one looks at the history of religious politics in AP, the state has not had any major religious differences or riots. Except for an obsessions with caste, the state has been peaceful along religious lines. The saffron party has come up with statements “Gita Vs. Bible” and “Ram Vs. Rome” which clearly show how they want to divide people on a religious plank. 
 
While the BJP has lost the trust of people of Andhra Pradesh when it comes to fulfilling the promises after bifurcation, it is using the whole religious propaganda to divert the attention of people from what it hasn’t done for the state — Polavaram Project promise, Special Status, Capital city decision and several others. 
 
The party is now rigid on proving that Andhra Pradesh, a key state for BJP in South India, too can be divided on religious lines if it has its way despite having no vote bank. Let’s consider an example: Following the Antarvedi chariot burning incident, the state handed over the probe to the CBI. If BJP really wants to prove that it is a Hindu party, it could speed up the investigation and prove that it is focussed on finding out the culprits behind the attacks rather than focussing on plain propaganda. 
 
4) Jana Sena: The party seems to be confused on what it wants to do. While the BJP has clearly asked the party not to contest in Tirupati Bypoll, there is still no clarity from Jana Sena’s side. This is also disenfranchising the party’s cadre on the ground and no one really understands whether the party has any voteshare too while it claims so. Also, the party is hardly demanding justice on key issues like Capital decision, Special Status and others. 
 
But, going by the current political environment in AP, the Tirupati Byelection will be a great chance for Jana Sena to prove itself. Not only can this fledgling party push the BJP to fulfil AP’s promises, it can also use its friendship with the saffron party to show that it can get BJP to respect the interest of the state's people. This will not only add brownie points for the party but it will also strengthen the image of Jana Sena as a trustworthy party among people, winning their confidence. 
 
Religious narrative takes over
 
Even as parties indulge in a mudslinging match, the social engineering strategy of the BJP is working in Andhra Pradesh as it is getting every political party stuck on religious issues rather than focussing on other development issues in the state.
 
With Ramatheertham visiting and several political leaders from different parties trying to reach the temple, everyone is now forced to take a religious stand. Not only is this a good trap for regional parties in the state, but they are also unnecessarily taking sides in the process. 
 
It is clear with this that political parties are clearly now looking at people only as a vote bank for electoral success and offering freebies but not for development or progressive policies. Neither is there any focus on wealth creation or development of a constituency, nor farmers’ issues or state’s finances. The only motive that is clear is how every controversy benefits each party. 
 
This is an alarm bell for voters to think hard. Tirupati sure is a temple town. But, we also need to remember that it is open to people of all religions and many pilgrims from different faiths visit and worship Lord Balaji. 
 
Given the multiplicity of Tirupati’s appeal to people of different faiths and religions of the world, people of AP need to see why they need to look beyond religion in this case and think well about their state’s future. Tirupati Byelection is a chance for voters in AP to bring the focus back on state’s key issues like Bifurcation Promises, Capital decision, Amaravati Farmers - etc and not get stuck in religious divide. Let us hope that they use it wisely. 

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