Andhra Pradesh

Special status is the key

Print edition : April 26, 2019

Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party at a road show in Kurnool on March 26. Photo: PTI

YSR Congress chief Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy at an election rally in Vijayanagaram district on April 1. Photo: PTI

Jana Sena Party president Pawan Kalyan speaking at an election meeting at Achanta in West Godavari district on April 1.

The issue of a special category status for Andhra Pradesh will decide the fate of political parties in the elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly.

Nara Chandrababu Naidu spent one half of his 44-year-long political career fighting his one-time friend Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), sometimes winning and sometimes losing elections. He is now locked in a do-or-die battle with YSR’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, to retain control over the Andhra Pradesh Assembly.

For Chandrababu Naidu, 69, this election is a battle for survival against a resurgent leader 23 years his junior. He cannot afford to sit in the opposition again. He was out of power for 10 years until 2014 when he became Chief Minister of residual Andhra Pradesh after its bifurcation.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo nurses a feeling of victimhood as is evident from his assertions that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR) and Jaganmohan Reddy have ganged up to finish him off in the twin elections to the 25 Lok Sabha and 175 Assembly seats on April 11.

Alliances are one part of this election; what will decide the parties’ fate is their stand on the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government’s promise to grant special category status to Andhra Pradesh, which the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has steadfastly refused to honour.

BJP and Congress, fringe players

Andhra Pradesh witnessed for three decades a two-horse race between the Congress and the TDP after 1983 when actor-turned-politician N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) became Chief Minister. An exception was in 2009 when another superstar, Chiranjeevi, floated the Praja Rajyam Party, which achieved little beyond splitting the anti-Congress votes and keeping the TDP out of power. Chiranjeevi’s younger brother, Pawan Kalyan, performed a similar act by helping Chandrababu Naidu wrest office in 2014. He is contesting now on the Jana Sena plank independently.

After being thoroughly discredited for dividing Andhra Pradesh and drawing a blank in 2014, the Congress has made no headway. Its alliance with the TDP in the Telangana Assembly elections in 2018 has not been extended to Andhra Pradesh.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), too, remains friendless and in poor shape after the TDP snapped ties with the NDA in March 2018 over the special status issue. The party had won two Lok Sabha and four Assembly seats in alliance with the TDP in 2014.

The TDP-BJP-Jana Sena alliance then left the YSR Congress tantalisingly short of winning the elections. A mere 1.83 per cent of the votes separated them although the TDP’s translation of votes into seats was huge—102 against the YSR Congress’s 66.

Except for the Jana Sena’s alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), each party this time is on its own although Chandrababu Naidu has accused the BJP of covertly wooing Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. “Narendra Modi promptly gave audience to YSR Congress MPs like V. Vijaysai Reddy, but I returned empty-handed after visiting Delhi 29 times,” Chandrababu Naidu said.

In a way, Jaganmohan Reddy was responsible for driving a wedge between the BJP and the TDP by piling pressure on Chandrababu Naidu to crusade for special category status for the State. Chandrababu Naidu had accepted a package from the Centre in lieu of special status that sought to compensate Andhra Pradesh for the loss of Hyderabad to Telangana. He had fallen for the Centre’s line that the 14th Finance Commission had done away with the distinction between general and special category States.

“Special category status is no sanjivani [panacea] to our problems,” Chandrababu Naidu famously said. When his stand attracted widespread ridicule and Jaganmohan Reddy threatened to table a resolution in Parliament, he went back to his demand for special category status for Andhra Pradesh.

As the Centre refused to relent, Chandrababu Naidu was left with no option but to pull out his Ministers from the Cabinet and snap ties with the NDA. Sensing an opportunity, Congress president Rahul Gandhi declared that the Congress would grant special category status on coming to power in order to fulfil a solemn commitment made by Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha. This has given Chandrababu Naidu a leg to stand on in defence of his alliance with the Congress.

Chandrababu Naidu’s attacks on the BJP, YSRC

The Centre’s alleged injustice to the fund-starved State is the core of the TDP’s election campaign. Meanwhile, Modi spun his election campaign around the Centre’s generosity in sanctioning new educational institutions such as an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and an Indian Institute of Management (IIM), worth Rs.12,825 crore, in the State; the State’s failure to furnish proper accounts for Rs.4,063 crore given for the Polavaram irrigation project; and the diversion of Central funds meant for the capital, Amaravati.

People trusted Chandrababu Naidu when he promised to transform Amaravati into one of the five best capitals in the world after shifting out from Hyderabad. Some called the shifting a bold step, but Chandrababu Naidu took the decision after his party leader Revanth Reddy was trapped by the Telangana police while bribing a Member of the Legislative Council in the massive cash-for-vote scam during the Council elections.

Chandrababu Naidu said he would create India’s best destination for investments in automobiles, electronics, pharma and energy by improving ease of doing business. He indeed achieved some progress as is evident in Kia Motors setting up its automobile plant in Anantapur and Hero MotoCorp at Satyavedu.

But the man who prides himself on triggering the information technology revolution in Hyderabad is now seeking votes for the farm loan waiver programme, Annadata Sukhibhava; sops for women under Pasupu Kumkuma; a pension scheme called NTR Bharosa; and an insurance scheme for 2.5 crore unorganised workers, Chandranna Bima.

TDP and the incumbency burden

In spite of these popular programmes, Chandrababu Naidu has to fight the anti-incumbency factor on three major counts. His inconsistency over the special category status has dented his credibility. The TDP government’s failure to show something on the ground in Amaravati to match its grandiose plans is another disappointment. Lastly, there is a growing perception among people of those on Janmabhoomi committees resorting to corruption by selectively choosing beneficiaries of government programmes and of big leaders milking irrigation projects.

Jaganmohan Reddy now holds the trump card in the campaign, blaming the TDP for its U-turn, Modi for backstabbing Andhra Pradesh and, finally, the Congress for failing to include special category status in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014. He is miles ahead in his publicity campaign with the song “Ravali Jagan, Kavali Jagan” (Jagan should come, We want Jagan), which crossed 10 million views on YouTube. It has reportedly been composed by the Indian Political Action Committee of election strategist and Jaganmohan Reddy’s adviser, Prashant Kishor.

The YSR Congress’s election promises include the introduction of prohibition in phases, payment of Rs.12,500 as input subsidy to farmers, effective implementation of welfare programmes launched by his late father, and elimination of corruption. “TDP leaders are plundering the wealth of the State. But, I am there [nenu unnanu],” Jagan says, parroting another powerful slogan.

Pawan Kalyan and the Kapu factor

Being a film star, Pawan Kalyan draws huge crowds at his meetings and overwhelming response to his promise of declaring war on unemployment by filling three lakh government jobs in six months. His Jana Sena Party also promises Rs.5,000 as pension to all farmers besides Rs.8,000 as crop incentive and 10 LPG cylinders free of cost to each family annually. His party is contesting all the seats but is not strong in many districts. A star candidate of his party is V.V. Lakshmi Narayana, retired Central Bureau of Investigation officer who doggedly pursued cases of disproportionate assets against Jaganmohan Reddy, leading to his incarceration for nearly 16 months. He is pitted against the BJP’s D. Purandeswari, former Union Minister from Visakhapatnam Lok Sabha constituency.

How far Pawan Kalyan’s popularity will translate into votes is a moot question because he is banking heavily on his Kapu caste which constitutes 15.2 per cent of the population, spread mainly across four coastal districts. He has filed his nomination from Gajuwaka and Bhimavaram Assembly constituencies, each of which has more than 50,000 Kapu voters.

Kapus are in a state of unrest, demanding inclusion on the list of Other Backward Classes (OBC), and political parties cannot afford to ignore them. Chandrababu Naidu’s government has decided to provide them 5 per cent reservation within the 10 per cent quota recently declared by the Centre. Both Jaganmohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu are trying to woo the OBCs, who constitute 46 per cent of the State’s population, by giving them a higher share of seats to contest.

Games parties play

Electoral politics in Andhra Pradesh goes beyond this arithmetic. Fighting elections without any ally this time, the BJP is desperate to win seats. It is going relatively soft on the YSR Congress, taking into account the support it may need in Parliament after the election. Chandrababu Naidu derides this development by saying, “Power is supplied by Modi, the switch is in KCR’s hands, while Jagan is the ceiling fan [YSRC’s poll symbol].”

Jaganmohan Reddy dubs Pawan Kalyan as “actor-partner” of the TDP supremo, out to split the anti-Telugu Desam vote. Pawan Kalyan, perhaps justifying this remark, has refrained from criticising the TDP vigorously after Jaganmohan Reddy made unflattering references to his own personal life and to the viability of reservation for the Kapu community.

The bitterness in these elections was reflected by the flurry of allegations exchanged between Jaganmohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu following the brutal murder of former MP Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the younger brother of YSR. Another round of accusations was triggered when the Election Commission transferred Director General of Police (Intelligence) A.B. Venkateswara Rao following allegations of tapping the telephones of YSR Congress leaders.

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