HISTORY REPEATED ITSELF IN ANDHRA Pradesh when 46-year-old Jagan Mohan Reddy was elected to become Chief Minister after dethroning the vastly experienced Nara Chandrababu Naidu in the Assembly election held on April 11. His Yuvajana Shramika Rythu (youth, labour and farmer) Congress Party (YSRCP) administered a shock defeat to the well-entrenched Telugu Desam Party (TDP) by winning a record 151 seats in the 175-member Assembly. The TDP bagged 23 seats and the Janasena Party of actor Pawan Kalyan, one.
It was 15 years ago, in 2004, that his father, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, defeated the TDP supremo in the face of stiff odds. An upbeat Chandrababu Naidu had at the time advanced the Assembly election and even prevailed upon the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government to take advantage of the “India Shining” slogan. The result of that election, which defied all poll surveys, is now part of political folklore.
The game-changing outcome of the current Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh can only be seen as a massive anti-incumbency vote caused by Chandrababu Naidu’s falling credibility and his several political missteps. This is not to take away the credit from Jagan, whom the people apparently trusted in spite of the two-and-a-half dozen cases pending against him in various courts. “Why not give him one chance” was the common refrain.
This was a loaded catchphrase implying people’s inclination not to give Chandrababu Naidu a second consecutive term in office. Chandrababu Naidu had promised virtually the moon but delivered little. He promised to build Amaravati as a world-class capital with an outlay of Rs.1.09 lakh crore to match the best in the world, turn the drought-prone Rayalaseema region green by linking the Godavari with the Krishna river, replace the Indian Navy-owned airport in Visakhapatnam with a spanking new one at Bhogapuram, and many other things. Andhra Pradesh would shine as never before.
Apparently, this did not impress voters because the ground reality was different. Vijayawada City, the existing capital, had not transformed, offices were working out of temporary buildings and the incomplete flyover near the Kanaka Durga temple, connecting the city to Hyderabad, stuck out like a sore thumb. Chandrababu Naidu’s running battle with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for the past two years and his U-turns on the critical question of getting special category status had badly dented his credibility. Government employees turned hostile because of the use of modern employment tools such as biometric attendance though they were given 20 per cent interim relief in anticipation of the new pay commission report.
At the political level, Chandrababu Naidu chose to ignore the misdeeds of his party legislators who had become unpopular. They had turned into mini-Chief Ministers in their constituencies, bullying officials and extending patronage to land mafias, sand mafias and illegal liquor networks. One MLA, Chintamaneni Prabhakar of Dendulur, openly abused a woman official but the police did not book a case against him. The Janmabhoomi Committees constituted at the village level became a law unto themselves dispensing official favours to friends and kin or partymen. Chandrababu Naidu refused to drop the majority of siting MLAs.
His long stint of 14 years as Chief Minister was of little use in securing more funds from the Centre. He could not convince himself or the people whether the special category status or the special package with its concomitant benefits was the better bargain for the State. He stood outsmarted by Jagan who kept up sustained pressure on the government for failing to get special category status and going to town with his accusation that Chandrababu Naidu had murdered democracy by luring 24 YSRCP MLAs into the TDP’s fold.
Jagan’s 3,648-kilometre walkathon kept him in direct contact with the people and helped to counter Chandrababu Naidu’s powerful outreach to the media or, as many have described, media management. If Chandrababu Naidu implemented the Pasupu Kumkuma programme for women, Jagan promised to usher in prohibition in phases; if the TDP government announced an insurance scheme for unorganised workers, Jagan said he would implement the Arogyasri scheme more effectively for the poorest of the poor.
Chandrababu Naidu banked heavily on women voters. Indeed, they turned out in large numbers and stood in queues beyond the stipulated voting time. He calculated that the 93 lakh-odd women members of the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) self-help groups would back him because the final instalments of their grants had been deposited in their bank accounts just a few days before polling on April 11. He believed that other sops such as the NTR Bharosa Pensions for the old, indigent and the handicapped and the farm loan waiver scheme would ensure his victory.
As Jagan began countering every promise of Chandrababu Naidu with a parallel one of his own, it set people thinking. If Chandrababu Naidu could give grants of Rs.20,000 crore to 93.18 lakh women members of DWCRA, there was every possibility that Jagan would waive off the principal component of their loans as well as the interest. In effect, there was not much difference between the two but for the crucial fact that Jagan was a new face.
During his campaign, his slogans in Telugu such as “nenu vinna” (I heard your woes) and “nenu vunna” (I am there) resonated with the people. “My victory has been made possible by people’s blessings. They voted for credibility and it is now my duty to live up to their expectations. I will show within six months to one year what is good governance and secure a certificate from you,” he told the enthusiastic crowd waiting outside his house in Tadepalli near Vijayawada. He promised to implement immediately after assuming office in Vijayawada on May 30 the nine promises (“Navaratnalu”) he made during his campaign.
It is not that Jagan’s campaign was perfect. By entertaining Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) working president K.T. Rama Rao in his house to discuss the possibility of constituting a non-Congress, non -BJP front, he opened himself up to the charge that he was sleeping with Andhra’s enemy—Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR). This was partly true because TRS cadres had fought pitched battles with the police at the Mahabubabad railway station to prevent Jagan from reaching the town during the peak of the Telangana agitation. His father, the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, was openly contemptuous of the idea of a separate Telangana State.
Jagan made distasteful personal remarks about Pawan Kalyan, and even accused him of becoming a puppet in Chandrababu Naidu’s hands. His observations opposing the demand of Kapus for higher reservation were untimely and politically unwise. Pawan Kalyan belongs to the Kapu community, which accounts for about 15.2 per cent of Andhra’s population. It is a different story that Pawan Kalyan could not garner Kapu’s support owing to a blurred agenda and the absence of a cohesive election strategy.
Jagan had the advantage of fighting only the TDP whereas Chandrababu Naidu was fighting on two, if not three, fronts, if KCR’s covert support to the YSRCP is taken into account. Every “benefit” that the Centre announced for Andhra Pradesh seemed to come with a caveat or a twist. It created a new railway zone, South Coast Railway (SCoR), headquartered in Visakhapatnam, but abolished the Waltair division and attached its revenue-rich parts to Odisha. Chandrababu Naidu mocked the proposal by observing: “It is like dividing a buffalo between two people, one getting the front half that does not give milk and the other with the one that gives milk.” The Centre has given about Rs.4,000 crore, or 25 per cent, to cover Andhra’s revenue deficit of about Rs.16,000 crore. Funding for the Polavaram irrigation project, a national project, was halted because the government did not furnish proper bills, TDP leaders alleged.
Chandrababu Naidu’s claims of having pushed the State to the top of the charts in various sectors or that the State was in the number one position in ease of doing business cut no ice with voters. Their anger went much deeper and was not confined to economic matters alone. How else could one explain the party drawing a blank in Vizianagaram or the defeat of Nara Lokesh in Mangalagiri, the core capital area?
Jagan owes credit for his victory to Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), which is reported to have stayed with the YSRCP for nearly two years, guiding its strategy, conducting campaigns, training the cadres, handling social media and press releases, and coining the now-famous “Ravali Jagan, Kavali Jagan” (Jagan must come, we need Jagan) song. Using another catchphrase coined by the outfit, a senior party leader, Ummareddy Venkateswarlu, said: “[Chandrababu] Naidu’s downfall began the day he brought his son into politics. People have now said ‘Bye Bye Babu’.”