What triggered this was the choice, of the ruling YSR Congress, of a political novice M Gurumurthy as its candidate, whose only credentials were that he accompanied the party chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy in his 3,600-km-long padayatra (foot march) in 2017-19 and tended to the latter as a physiotherapist.
“If you elect Gurumurthy, he will be only in the service of Jagan and not raise voice in Parliament for you,” the opposition BJP and TDP have been telling people in the run-up to the April 17 by-election, referring to his role as Jagan Mohan Reddy’s personal physio.
The YSRC hit back at the opposition parties saying the latter were seeking to make everything an issue as they had nothing else to speak about.
Tirupati, an SC reserved constituency, is going to the bypoll due to the death of sitting YSRC member Balli Durga Prasad Rao in September last year.
Spread over seven Assembly segments in Chittoor and SPS Nellore districts, Tirupati is witnessing a triangular contest with the BJP, in particular, making a desperate bid to win the seat it last bagged way back in 1999.
The BJP fielded K Ratna Prabha, a former IAS officer who retired from service as Chief Secretary of Karnataka, who is fighting her first electoral battle.
The Jana Sena of Pawan Kalyan is supporting Ratna Prabha’s candidature as an ally and the actor himself campaigned for her.
Former Union Minister of State Panabaka Lakshmi is the Telugu Desam nominee while another former Union Minister of State Chinta Mohan is the Congress candidate.
Buoyant after the landslide victories in the recent elections to the local bodies, the ruling YSRC is confident of victory in Tirupati and is eyeing a big margin.
The YSRC has set a victory margin of five lakh votes as its target as, barring the Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, almost the entire Council of Ministers has taken it upon itself to make it happen.
In 2019, the YSRC won Tirupati by a record margin of 2.28 lakh votes.
It captured this Lok Sabha seat in 2014 also, but with a much lesser margin.
But, it may after all not be a cakewalk for the ruling party given the antagonism being faced by some of the legislators in the Assembly segments under Tirupati Lok Sabha.
Realising this, Jagan Mohan Reddy himself wanted to campaign in Tirupati to turn the tide but he cancelled it citing the “coronavirus wave.”
The chief minister limited himself to writing a letter (pamphlet) to every household in the constituency, listing out the various freebie schemes launched by the government in his and his late father Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s names.
Though it did not overtly announce it, the BJP sought to convey to Tirupati voters that they may be electing a “prospective Union Minister” in Ratna Prabha by ensuring victory of the party.
AP does not have a representative in the Union Cabinet now.
The TDP, on the other hand, wants the YSRC defeated to showcase that the people are vexed with the “draconian, vengeful, despotic rule” of Jagan Mohan Reddy.
In equal measure, both the TDP and the BJP sought to rake up religious sentiments, questioning the faith of the YSRC candidate among other things.
Being unsuccessful in the contest may not affect the opposition parties much but an adverse outcome, even a reduced margin, could be ominous for the ruling party, political observers feel.
The outcome will become clear on May 2.