Succession struggle

Published : Sep 25, 2009 00:00 IST

Y.S. JAGAN MOHAN Reddy, Rajasekhara Reddy's son and Lok Sabha member from Kadapa. A large majority of the MLAs support his candidature.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

Y.S. JAGAN MOHAN Reddy, Rajasekhara Reddy's son and Lok Sabha member from Kadapa. A large majority of the MLAs support his candidature.-G. KRISHNASWAMY

THE death of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy came as a blow to the Congress just when it was finding the sailing in Andhra Pradesh smooth with a strong and experienced leader like him at the helm. Rajasekhara Reddy was successful in bringing the warring groups within the State unit, notorious for dissidence and infighting, on a common platform after he became Chief Minister for the first time in 2004. He virtually took control of the partys affairs, ruthlessly wiping out dissidence. Never before had the State Congress witnessed such unity. There is a touch of irony to this achievement since Rajasekhara Reddy himself was a born dissident. He made life difficult for Congress Chief Ministers Marri Channa Reddy, Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy and Nedurumilli Janardhana Reddy.

This could be a tribute to the political acumen of this master strategist. In his death, the Congress high command has lost a leader who led the party virtually single-handedly to put up a credible performance in the recent Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. When everyone else gave the Congress a slim chance of winning the elections, Rajasekhara Reddy, who led from the front to take on adversaries such as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)-led grand alliance and the Praja Rajyam of actor Chiranjeevi, disproved them.

Although Rajasekhara Reddy claimed that the party would win 230 Assembly and 36 Lok Sabha seats, it fell short of those figures. The Congress, however, retained power in the State by winning 156 out of the 294 seats as against its 2004 performance of 185 seats. The partys showing in the parliamentary elections stumped every political pundit. The Chief Ministers charisma alone enabled the Congress to win 33 Lok Sabha seats, thus contributing the highest tally from a State to the Congress, which rode back to power at the Centre leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

As the eight crore people of the State are trying to come to terms with the death of the leader, the State Congress finds itself in a much more critical situation: that of choosing his successor. As an interim arrangement and for the sake of ensuring that the administration is not disturbed, it has appointed the seasoned politician Konijeti Rosaiah as Chief Minister. He has the distinction of having served in the Cabinets of five Chief Ministers and has handled the Finance portfolio for nearly 15 years.

But the party has its task cut out to find a successor who can hold the party together and run the administration with some degree of efficiency. The political void created by Rajasekhara Reddy is not easy to fill.

Within hours of the official announcement of the death of the Chief Minister, a major section in the ruling party began a concerted effort to project his son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy as his rightful successor. Jagan Mohan Reddy, 36, is the Member of Parliament from Kadapa. What started as a quiet appeal by the influential Agriculture Minister N. Raghuveera Reddy turned into a strong demand with an overwhelming majority of party legislators declaring their support for the first-time MP.

Even as the mortal remains of the dynamic leader were laid to rest in the family estate at Idupulapaya, Rajasekhara Reddys favourite leisure destination in Kadapa district, his loyalists threw all norms to the wind to promote the candidature of his son. An overwhelming majority of Ministers, Members of the Legislative Assembly and MPs supported Jagan Mohan Reddy, saying he would become acceptable very soon in spite of being a political novice.

Expectedly, this triggered a struggle for succession, bringing back memories of similar group fights among State Congress leaders in the race for chief ministership. Taking the lead in projecting Jagan Mohan Reddy are many first-time MLAs or loyalists of the late Chief Minister, who gave them their present positions. These leaders launched a signature campaign to mobilise support for the MP and claimed that more than 120 Congress MLAs supported his nomination. They even made an attempt to meet All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary M. Veerappa Moily when he came to Hyderabad to supervise the operations to trace the helicopter carrying the Chief Minister that had gone missing. Moily politely refused to entertain any such demands at such a tragic moment.

But that was not the end of it. The campaign to anoint Jagan Mohan Reddy as Chief Minister had its echo at a Cabinet meeting convened by caretaker Chief Minister K. Rosaiah on September 3 to adopt a condolence resolution.

Known Rajasekhara Reddy loyalists such as Raghuveera Reddy, Kanna Lakshminarayana and Anam Ramnarayan Reddy took the initiative to ensure that the meeting adopted a unanimous resolution to propose the candidature of Jagan Mohan Reddy. They argued that Jagan, as he is called, enjoyed the support of the masses and was acceptable to all sections, just like his father.

The initiative is now being taken forward by ruling party Chief Whip Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, another Rajasekhara Reddy loyalist. It is necessary to elevate Jagan to the top post in order to take the message of YSR forward and to complete the pending irrigation projects, he said.

Given the present political situation and Jagan Mohan Reddys inexperience, the party may ask the non-controversial Rosaiah to continue as Chief Minister.

An argument put forth in favour of Jagan Mohan Reddy is that he could first get adequate training in how to run the administration and simultaneously consolidate his position in the party. This, party leaders say, will not come overnight. Until such time, Rosaiah is likely to continue as Chief Minister.

Meanwhile, Rajasekhara Reddy loyalists are planning to prepare the ground to show that Jagan Mohan Reddy has a wide following among the people.

Judging by the mood of the majority in the party, Jagan Mohan Reddy appears to be the front-runner for the top post. However, the high command will have to do a fine balancing act in finding the suitable man to head the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet, given its dependence on the strength of the State MPs.

The other possible candidates are Union Minister S. Jaipal Reddy and Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president Dharmapuri Srinivas. But party leaders are wary about the adverse reaction if Jagan Mohan Reddys candidature is ignored completely.

A seasoned parliamentarian, Jaipal Reddy is known for his non-Congress background. He is known more for his intellectual abilities. Informed sources said Jaipal Reddy was a stranger to Andhra Pradesh politics as he had always focussed his attention on national politics. However, his plus point is the rapport he enjoys with the central leadership, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Srinivas, a powerful backward classes leader, was a detractor of Rajasekhara Reddy. Although he used to claim in 2004 that they were like two wheels of a bullock cart, he is said to have an eye on the Chief Ministers post. However, his defeat in the Assembly election from Nizamabad leaves him in a no-go situation. Yet, this could change if the party high command decides to prop up a backward classes leader, keeping in mind the sensitive Telangana issue.

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