Revanth Reddy: Fiercely loyal and loyally fierce, the Telangana CM-elect’s trial by fire

In World

Both are leaders who shot to limelight over the year preceding the elections, thanks to their aggressive charge against the ruling and all-pervasive Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in the state. Both are young by political standards, being 56 and 52 respectively. And both are eloquent speakers.

But here is where the comparison ends. If Sanjay Kumar made his mark with his Hindutva rhetoric, and put the BJP in fighting mode in a state where it had no presence, till he was abruptly removed as party state chief, Revanth is an orator largely in the mould of old politicians, mixing eloquence with emotions and direct attacks to connect to the audience.

As the Congress Tuesday set aside the claims of leaders with longer experience and time in the party to pick Revanth as CM face, many were reminded of his vow – on being released on bail after spending time in Cherlapally Central Jail – that, one day, he would ensure that BRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao was left with no political ground in the state.

Ironically, it can be argued that the BRS government’s relentless pursuit of Revanth has been one big factor in his rapid rise. Starting out as an ABVP leader, Revanth spent a long time in the TDP before joining the Congress in 2017 – that is, just six years ago. Few in the Congress even knew about him well when the party chose him as its Telangana chief in June 2021.

Festive offer

The first of these actions against Revanth came in December 2018, when he was put under house arrest at his house in native Kodangal over his call for protests against KCR’s visit to Kosi. In March 2020, he spent 14 days in judicial custody for staging a unique protest by flying a drone over the allegedly illegally built farmhouse of KCR’s son and BRS working president K T Rama Rao.

Between December 2020 and March 2023, even as Revanth’s profile kept rising, he was put under house arrest or prevented by the police from leaving home, while on way to a protest, seven times.

In July 2021, he was confined to his residence in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, ahead of a planned protest over allegations of Rs 1,000 crore corruption in the e-auction of government lands. In December 2021, the police put him under house arrest again when he was going to join a farmer protest at Bhupalpally over paddy procurement.

The BRS government was at the time facing widespread anger over inadequate paddy procurement after having encouraged farmers to plant the crop as part of its policies.

Revanth finally broke through this year as the face to watch out for when he took on the leak of papers in successive examinations conducted by the Telangana State Public Service Commission (TSPSC). On March 22, the police raided his house and prevented Revanth from going to Osmania University to join protesting students. Violent protests followed, with Revanth at the front of them.

He was also arrested for leading a large Congress protest in support of sarpanchs angry with the BRS government for not passing on funds released by the 15th Finance Commission for gram panchayats.

Even as the BRS government targeted him, Revanth had enough firefighting to do on the home front as well, with the state Congress bitterly divided. Local leaders reportedly complained to higher-ups that he was “autocratic” and “promoted own supporters”. Some leaders like Komatireddy Raj Gopal Reddy quit the Congress over this, though he rejoined just before the current elections.

There was such bitter rivalry between the Komatireddy brothers and Revanth, in fact, that the two warned him against setting foot in Munugode or Nalgonda. After a rap from AICC leaders, Revanth reportedly promised to mend his ways, and mellowed in his relations with party colleagues, while sharpening his attacks on KCR and the BRS, particularly over corruption in various projects.

“His attacks were well-timed and sharp, and the forceful language he used made an impact. I don’t know if BRS ministers and leaders were overconfident, or complacent about their invincibility, that they did not effectively counter him. He managed to create a convincing impression that he was going to dislodge the KCR government,’’ a leader said.

For the Congress deflated ranks, a pugnacious leader such as Revanth was like a breath of fresh air, bringing a vigour to party protests and programmes. Suddenly, it seemed the Congress was everywhere.

A second boost came with the Congress’s big win in neighbouring Karnataka, with Revanth’s message that the party’s time had come not seeming any more like wishful thinking.

A third burst came when the BJP replaced Sanjay Kumar in July with G Kishan Reddy, a leader with a softer approach towards the BRS. It was seemingly done by the BJP to keep channels open with the BRS for any 2024 Lok Sabha elections deal. However, the Congress used it to bolster its theory that the BRS, BJP and AIMIM were in a secret nexus, which seems to have not just found takers but also turned the Muslim vote away from the BRS.

In other states that went to polls with Telangana too, the Congress was not short of energetic leaders steering the party campaign (something the party has lacked recently). Where Revanth seems to have scored is in not losing steam, showing political mettle and maturity, and galvanising the divided house into a single war machine. It helped that the party that was his rival, the BRS, was not as formidable an organised campaigner as the BJP, and that the high command – particularly Rahul Gandhi – firmly backed Revanth.

In campaigning too, the 56-year-old was indefatigable, addressing at least four rallies per day, driving home the Congress’s message, attacking sitting BRS MLAs, raising allegations of corruption and nepotism, and effectively convincing people about the Congress’s “six guarantees” and schemes.

A fortnight before the November 30 elections, wherever this reporter went, people in towns as well as villages would stop one to either talk or ask about Revanth Reddy.

BRS leader and former minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav offers his grudging admiration. “We were together in the TDP. Revanth was still struggling at the time, but he has matured a lot since then,” he says.

TDP (Andhra Pradesh) leader K Pattabhi Ram also has only nice words to say about his former colleague who, he points out, rose from a very humble background. “Revanth is a very decent politician. He may use harsh language to attack a political opponent, but that is to be expected because he is very vocal, very aggressive. His main strength is his loyalty… He was very loyal to the TDP and Chandrababu Naidu too. Even though he left in unfortunate circumstances, he never bad-mouthed the TDP… Even now he maintains a cordial relationship with the leaders he worked with in the TDP.”

Pattabhi Ram also says that Revanth was always a good orator, ranking him only second to Naidu in taking on late Congress CM Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. “He can work up a crowd… But he is also very meticulous. He prepares hard, whether Assembly sessions or political meetings or gatherings.”

Revanth’s friends add that while he appears to have lived politics 24X7 this year, he is a “family man”. His wife Geeta Reddy is the niece of the late Janata Party leader and Union minister Jaipal Reddy. The two reportedly came together when Revanth spent time in the Youth Congress as a student, and met Jaipal Reddy and, through the latter, Geeta. “Initially, there was some opposition to their marriage, but they all relented,” a friend said. The two have a daughter, who is married and settled in Andhra Pradesh.

When it came to politics, Revanth’s formal entry was via the ABVP. According to former TDP colleagues, his stint in the RSS student wing was brief and uneventful, though he kept dabbling in village- and mandal-level politics in his home district of Mahbubnagar. In 2007, he was finally elected to the Legislative Council as an Independent backed by members of local municipalities.

It was during his time as MLC from 2007 to 2009 that he met Naidu, then the Leader of the Opposition. The TDP leader took him under his wing and encouraged him to nurture a political base in Kodangal, among the influential farmers of the Reddy community there. In 2009, the TDP fielded him from the Kodangal Assembly seat, and Revanth won.

In the Assembly, Revanth impressed Naidu with his interventions and speaking abilities.

In 2014, Revanth again defeated Gurunath, who had joined the TRS (as the BRS was called then), by over 14,600 votes. While Telangana formation made the TRS the predominant party in his political turf, Revanth remained loyal to Naidu, and was appointed head of the Telangana TDP.

On June 3, 2015, in one of his lowest points, the Telangana CID caught Revanth allegedly red-handed trying to bribe a nominated MLA to vote for a TDP nominee in the Legislative Council. Those close to Revanth say he perhaps went too far trying to “please Naidu”, and got caught in a sting operation.

Revanth spent time in jail after this incident – managing to attend his daughter’s wedding after getting a few hours of bail. At the end of this prison stint, he gave his speech about ousting KCR from power.

Soon after, in October 2017, Revanth resigned from the TDP, and days later, joined the Congress.

revanth reddy telangana assembly elections 2023 Revanth Reddy at the Balanagar rally. (Illustration by E P Unny)

In the December 2018 elections, the TRS, stinging from his attacks on KCR, put all its might to ensure Revanth’s defeat from Kodangal. A leader said the Congress itself was partially responsible. “Revanth’s rapport with senior Congress leaders was not very good at the time as he was seen as an outsider with a bribery taint. However, he developed a good rapport with central Congress leaders, who spotted his ability to make rousing, emotive speeches,’’ the leader said.

When he was made the Congress state chief in June 2021, senior leaders could barely hide their anger. And he has not made many friends among them still. Senior leaders such as N Uttam Kumar Reddy, Mallu Bhatti Vikaramaraka, T Jayaprakash Reddy, V Hanumantha Rao, Madhu Yakshi Goud, among others, are likely to demand their pound of flesh now that Revanth has got the prize post.

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