NEW DELHI: Congress in Andhra Pradesh Sunday got a major boost when actor Mr Chiranjeevi announced the merger of his Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) with it that could come as a breather for the ruling party facing rebellion from Mr Y S Jaganmohan Reddy and the sensitive Telangana issue.
After weeks of back channel talks between the two parties, actor-turned-politician Mr Chiranjeevi, a strong votary of a united Andhra Pradesh, met Congress chief Ms Sonia Gandhi at her residence here for over 50 minutes and finalised his merger plans that could bring new political alignment in the state. “We have decided to merge the PRP with the Congress. It is in the best interests of the state of Andhra Pradesh… it is an historic occasion for (the state and the two parties),” he told reporters outside Ms Gandhi’s residence.
During the meeting, attended by Congress leaders Mr A K Antony and Mr Veerappa Moily, 55-year-old Mr Chiranjeevi said he discussed with Ms Sonia the current political situation in the state and various developmental projects that will benefit people. Mr Moily said: “We welcome him. He has joined the Congress family from today.”
Mr Chiranjeevi’s PRP, which was launched in August 2008, has 18 MLAs in the 294-member Andhra Pradesh assembly and his decision to merge with Congress can give its government some stability in case the 25 party MLAs loyal to Jagan break from it. The actor also brings with him a considerable chunk of backward Kapu community votes spread mainly in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.
Troubled by the revolt of Jagan, son of late chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress had removed the ageing veteran Mr K Rosaiah and brought in a much younger Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy and had been working on other ways to strengthen the party. The PRP has 18 MLAs in the 294-member state assembly and the Jagan camp claims to have the support of at least 25 MLAs. By roping in Mr Chiranjeevi, the Congress, which has 155 MLAs, may be able to face a trial of strength in the assembly more confidently.
Of the 18 PRP MLAs, two are with Jagan and one is in support of Telangana movement.
Mr Chiranjeevi said PRP’s merger with Congress was agreed upon without any pre-conditions as he was bothered “only about the betterment of the poor, downtrodden and deprived sections of the society.”
The Sonia-Chiranjeevi meeting came six days after Mr Antony met the PRP chief in Hyderabad and asked him to come to New Delhi for talks with the Congress president. In reply to a question on whether his party members would get positions in Congress, Mr Chiranjeevi said: “I don’t expect anything. It is their responsibility and duty to allocate and give whatever responsibility in whichever form,” he said. Asked why a decision to merge the party was taken, he said as both Congress and PRP fight for social justice it was better that they do it together.