Youngsters who were involved in Left-student politics full-time for many years rarely end up on the other side of the political ideology spectrum. Even if they do, they do not figure in the higher echelons of the right-wing political parties.
Etala Rajender, who is now making waves for taking on the mighty Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao is one such politician who has traversed from one end of the political spectrum to the other with elan. In between, he also dabbled with business before joining the separate Statehood movement with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).
The sitting BJP MLA from the Huzurabad constituency in Karimnagar district of Telangana fell out with his mentor in politics KCR, and is now challenging the lion in his own den in Gajwel, where he is contesting as a BJP candidate catching the attention of all. He hails from the Mudiraj community, which is one of the numerically biggest among the classes in Telangana.
Mr. Rajender entered student politics in the mid-80s attracted by Left-wing politics like thousands of other youngsters during that period. He was an active member of the Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU), founded by the charismatic George Reddy, which had a huge sway among students in the 1970s and 80s, linking up social issues to student politics.
Mr. Rajender’s leadership role came into light when he defeated the ABVP candidate contesting as general secretary of the Students Union elections as an undergraduate student in the Osmania University College of Science, Saifabad, Hyderabad. He aligned with the PDSU faction that was close to Chandra Pulla Reddy, founder of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist).
He continued his tryst with the organisation as a full-time worker even after college and during this period he met his future wife Jamuna, who too was part of PDSU. After marriage, he ventured into the poultry and hatchery business, emerging as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the field.
However, the leftist in him drew him to the Telangana statehood agitation when Mr. Rao founded the TRS. In the very first election that the TRS contested in 2004, he won from Kamalapur (which is now Huzurabad) constituency and served as the leader of the TRS in the Assembly. He emerged as the number two in the party and was made a Minister in the first TRS government in 2014 after Telangana was formed.
By the time he was re-elected in 2018 from TRS, there were reports of fissures with Mr. Rao. One of his famous comments, ‘We are also the owners of the pink flag (TRS party flag)’ reflected the growing differences between Mr. Rao and him.
In an unexpected move, Mr. Rao dropped him from the Cabinet in 2021, charging him with corruption and land grabbing. After resigning from the TRS, he won the ‘high-voltage and high-stake’ bypoll defeating the TRS candidate. It increased his stature in the BJP that made him the Campaign Committee Chairman in Telangana.
Now, the BJP has fielded him against Mr. Rao in Gajwel, grabbing eyeballs.