TDP-JSP-BJP juggernaut heralds a major shift in Andhra Pradesh’s politics

Published : Jun 11, 2024 17:34 IST - 9 MINS READ

JSP president Pawan Kalyan (right) felicitating TDP national president N. Chandrababu Naidu at Mangalagiri in Guntur district on June 4 after the NDA came out with flying colours in the general election. 

JSP president Pawan Kalyan (right) felicitating TDP national president N. Chandrababu Naidu at Mangalagiri in Guntur district on June 4 after the NDA came out with flying colours in the general election.  | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Anti-incumbency, welfare promises, and sustained campaign strategies in addition to caste combinations won the day for the TDP-BJP-JSP alliance. 

The magnitude of the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party’s (YSRCP) defeat in Andhra Pradesh, where simultaneous elections were held to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly, has taken political analysts by surprise. While the winds of change had become apparent towards the end, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy seems to have been caught unawares by the extent of public disgruntlement. The YSRCP won only 4 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats and 11 of the 175 Assembly seats. This is a far cry from the 22 Lok Sabha seats and the 151 Assembly seats it won in 2019.

The alliance of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the JanaSena Party (JSP) won 21 Lok Sabha seats and 164 Assembly seats (TDP: 16 and 135, JSP: 2 and 21, BJP: 3 and 8, respectively). Thanking voters, TDP chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu said he was overwhelmed by the historic mandate. Naidu is all set to serve as Chief Minister for a fourth time following his earlier tenures in 1995-99, 1999-2004, and 2014-19. BJP leaders too are jubilant to have re-entered the Assembly after five years. JSP chief Pawan Kalyan gets the credit for the alliance, which won over 100 Assembly seats by more than 25,000 votes.

In 2019, the TDP’s tally was 3 and 23 in the Lok Sabha and Assembly, while the JSP won a single Assembly constituency, and the BJP drew a blank.

The alliance’s combined vote share was 55.3 per cent in the Assembly election. The TDP alone increased its vote share from 39.17 per cent in 2019 to 45.60 per cent this time. The YSRCP’s vote share fell by nearly 10 percentage points, from 49.95 per cent to 39.37 per cent. Even in the YSRCP bastion of Rayalaseema, the party fared poorly. Jagan himself retained the Pulivendula Assembly by a lower margin than earlier (61,687 as against 90,110 in 2019).

Despite Congress leader and Jagan’s sister Y.S. Sharmila’s aggressive campaign against his party and the BJP, her party drew a blank for a third consecutive time in Andhra Pradesh. Its vote share did not see any gains either: 2.66 per cent in the Lok Sabha (1.29 per cent in 2019) and 1.72 per cent in the Assembly (1.17 per cent). Sharmila remained a distant third in the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency.

Also Read | How BRS, the party that created Telangana, is routed in its own State

The YSRCP’s decline was due to many factors. Deepening anti-incumbency against the party’s MLAs and MPs had been simmering for some time. Jagan’s solution of replacing the majority of the sitting MLAs and MPs did not yield results.

Key governance issues, including lack of employment generation, poor infrastructure, suspended developmental projects, and corruption fuelled public dissatisfaction. The initial dissenters were those who were exempted from the direct benefit transfer (DBT) schemes. Gradually, the beneficiaries too found greater promise in the TDP-JSP manifesto (the BJP stuck to its national manifesto).

TDP and JSP supporters celebrating their victory near Tadepalli in Guntur district on June 4. 

TDP and JSP supporters celebrating their victory near Tadepalli in Guntur district on June 4.  | Photo Credit: GIRI KVS

Although Jagan claimed to have fulfilled 98 per cent of the poll guarantees, except for the DBT transfers, several of them remain unfulfilled even after five years. The DBT spending consumed a large chunk of the budget (Rs.2,70,000 crore spent), leading to a funds crunch for targeted subsidies, corporations (Backward Classes, minority), infrastructure, and so on.

According to Rajesh Y., general secretary of the Human Rights Forum, stifling of all forms of demonstrations, house arrests of leaders, and police high-handedness in quelling dissent also worked against the party.

The lack of a feedback mechanism in the YSRCP, as in Telangana, analysts say, impacted Jagan’s grip over his party and leaders, leading to infighting. In addition to this aloofness of the party chief from workers was an excessive dependence on political consultancy. Following the defeat, a few YSRCP leaders blamed Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) surveys as the primary reason for the debacle in selecting candidates. While some YSRCP leaders who did not get the ticket defected to other parties, others stopped campaigning in their constituencies. Some leaders abandoned their home turf to campaign elsewhere.

Early on, it was evident that the YSRCP cadre and local leaders had got alienated from voters owing to the volunteer system and the door-to-door deliveries of welfare and ration, said Rajesh.

During Frontline’s field visits, several YSRCP leaders expressed dissatisfaction over diminished roles because of prioritising I-PAC’s surveys over their feedback. Gudivada Amarnath, IT Minister in Jagan’s Cabinet, regretted failing to have noticed the discontent within the party.

While political vendettas are not new in Andhra Pradesh, Naidu’s arrest in a corruption case in September 2023 brought together the scattered opposition parties. In September 2023, JSP chief Pawan Kalyan dramatically announced the decision to contest the election in an alliance with the TDP from outside the Rajahmundry Central Jail, where Naidu was locked up. The BJP waited until March 2024 to join the coalition, at the instance of Pawan Kalyan to keep the anti-Jagan votes united.

A closer look at the results shows that the Naidu-Pawan combination worked largely due to the dominant caste consolidation. A Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey from Andhra Pradesh shows that the Kamma (TDP+JSP: 64 per cent, BJP: 4 per cent), Kapu (TDP+JSP share: 47.2 per cent, BJP share: 15.1 per cent), OBC (varying shares among subcastes), SC sub-caste Madiga (TDP+JSP: 52 per cent, BJP: 4 per cent), and the Scheduled Tribes (TDP+JSP: 40.7 per cent, BJP: 14.8 per cent) voted for the alliance. This is in contrast to 2019, when the SCs and the STs predominantly sided with Jagan.

The campaign strategies, too, evolved tactfully over the months. Naidu is known to be the flagbearer of neoliberal development in Andhra Pradesh. His campaign focussed exclusively on how Jagan’s welfare policies had come at the cost of development. At every public meeting, Naidu asserted that Jagan had “destroyed” Andhra Pradesh and its economy.

However, Naidu did not abandon the welfare plank. He offered double what Jagan did and assured all castes and religions of not only DBTs but also a revival of subsidies and other budgetary allocations. One of the most successful campaigns of the alliance was when it spotted the growing insecurity about YSRCP’s Land Titling Act, which was aimed at improving transparency and land rights and digitised data.

A board outside the YSR Congress Party office in Vijayawada on June 1 displaying the countdown for the timing of Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s oath-taking ceremony as Chief Minister if re-elected to power. The rout of his party has taken political pundits by surprise. 

A board outside the YSR Congress Party office in Vijayawada on June 1 displaying the countdown for the timing of Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s oath-taking ceremony as Chief Minister if re-elected to power. The rout of his party has taken political pundits by surprise.  | Photo Credit: RAO GN

Over the past two years, both the TDP and the JSP worked to rebuild the parties from the ground up. Nara Lokesh, Naidu’s son, played a pivotal role in this. In 2019, he lost from the Mangalagiri Assembly constituency. Subsequently, Lokesh found himself at the centre of a political discourse questioning Naidu’s legacy. Speaking to Frontline during his campaign, Lokesh said, “I didn’t understand public issues then as much as I do today, and the people of Mangalgiri didn’t understand Lokesh either. I lost by 5,350 votes, but a defeat is a defeat.” This time, Lokesh won the Mangalagiri seat with one of the highest margins (over 90,000 votes). His campaigns and outreach among the young and unemployed and across all social groups helped the party’s revival immensely.

The JSP’s 100 per cent strike rate, by winning all the 21 Assembly constituencies and both the Lok Sabha seats it contested, is a much-talked-about success story of the 2024 election. However, part of it can be credited to Naidu, who fielded some of the TDP’s leaders as JSP candidates.

Several JSP leaders voiced their disappointment at the seat-sharing arrangement, but gradually complied. The JSP had to give up the Avanigadda, Palakonda, Railway Kodur (SC), and Bhimavaram Assembly seats for leaders who had defected to the party months before the election. It also fielded three recent entrants from the YSRCP from Machilipatnam (Lok Sabha seat), Vizag South (Assembly), and Tirupati (Assembly). Party insiders credit Pawan for not letting the simmering discontent impact the electoral campaign and results.

Even as a few leaders defected, the cadre stayed with him. That is the JSP’s strong point, Ajaya Kumar, the party’s national media representative and head of its internal conflict management unit, told Frontline. “The JSP cadre was disappointed because they had hoped for a bigger share of seats. However, the cadre’s disappointment was out of love for Pawan Kalyan, not for the individuals who didn’t get a seat. When Pawan Kalyan appealed to them to work together, they followed him,” he said.

Experts believe that the BJP won the Adoni Assembly seat organically, a pocket where Hindutva organisations were gaining gradual ascendance. However, two BJP victories in the State can be ascribed to its arm-twisting of leaders from other parties. In 2018, TDP’s Rajya Sabha member C.M. Ramesh faced an income tax probe. In 2019, Ramesh defected to the BJP with a few others. Ramesh won from the Anakapalle Lok Sabha constituency this time. Similarly, Sujana Chowdary, who won from the Vijayawada (West) Assembly seat, was formerly a TDP Rajya Sabha member. He joined the BJP in 2019 following enforcement directorate investigations.

Nallamilli Ramakrishna Reddy was a TDP leader till April 20. A day later, Reddy joined the BJP and became its Anaparthy candidate. He won the seat.

In 2014, when the BJP allied with the TDP, its vote share was 7.18 per cent (2 seats) in the Lok Sabha. It came down to 0.96 per cent in 2019 when the party contested alone. In 2024, the party won three seats and polled 11.28 per cent votes.

Also Read | BJP tones down its anti-minority rhetoric for alliance gains in Andhra Pradesh

Several analysts doubt whether the BJP’s communal rhetoric worked in Andhra Pradesh. The tacit understanding was to ensure that Muslim votes did not impact the alliance’s prospects in 15-20 seats. But as Frontline noted in the run-up to the electionsanti-incumbency, individual candidate performance, welfare measures, and manifestos contributed to voter choices rather than the TDP’s partnership with the BJP. Even as TDP’s vote share among Muslims diminished compared with the 2019 election (Lokniti-CSDS data), its MLAs won most of the 15-20 seats in Muslim-dominated areas; all three Muslim MLAs who won in 2024 are from the TDP.

An immediate relief for the people is that the TDP-JSP-BJP win ends the dilemma over the capital city, as Amaravati will now be the sole capital of Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad ceased to be the joint capital on June 2, 2024, as per the Reorganisation Act agreement.

Naidu has promised a changed outlook to governance. A shortcoming of his governance model was his excessive reliance on bureaucrats, which earned him the moniker “CEO”. When he came to power in 2014 in the then recently bifurcated Andhra Pradesh, Naidu promised to usher in political governance and bring about the accountability that leaders owe to the people. It did not take off. In 2024, speaking to his party leaders after the results, Naidu once again expressed his commitment to the political governance model. 

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