Andhra Pradesh: YSRCP’s welfare schemes vs TDP-BJP-JSP alliance’s development agenda

That said, irrespective of who wins, the BJP central leadership will hold the key.

Published : May 01, 2024 13:58 IST - 8 MINS READ

Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy on the campaign trail at Yerpedu in Tirupati on April 4

Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy on the campaign trail at Yerpedu in Tirupati on April 4 | Photo Credit: Tharun Vinny

In Andhra Pradesh, which is gearing up for simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections (25 and 175 seats, respectively) on May 13, it is a close contest between the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) and the coalition of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Jana Sena Party (JSP). The YSRCP faces anti-incumbency sentiments, particularly in urban areas. However, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy hopes to return to power riding on the popularity of the government’s direct benefit transfer (DBT) schemes. The 74-year-old TDP president, N. Chandrababu Naidu, is betting on the narrative that development has stalled under Jagan’s leadership.

In 2019, the YSRCP won 151 Assembly seats and 22 Lok Sabha seats. The corresponding figures for the TDP were 23 and 3. Pawan Kalyan’s JSP scraped through in one Assembly constituency. The Congress and the BJP, among others, drew a blank. Prof. Afroz Alam of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, whose team is studying the elections closely, says that the results of the 2024 elections will not be as drastic as the 2019 outcome.

The YSRCP is going it alone, which Jagan emphasises in every public meeting. His fix for the anti-incumbency factor was to drop a fourth of the sitting MLAs and over half of the sitting MPs. The move triggered defections and infighting, but Jagan remains unfazed.

The TDP will contest in 144 Assembly and 17 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP will field candidates in 10 Assembly and 6 Lok Sabha seats, while the JSP will contest in 21 Assembly and 2 Lok Sabha constituencies. Analysts attribute the BJP’s disproportionate share to pressure from its central leadership. The cadres of both the TDP and the JSP are unhappy over the seat-sharing arrangements.

In Etcherla Assembly constituency, a group of farmers seemed disappointed over the TDP’s alliance with the BJP. “What has the BJP done for Andhra,” a 65-year-old taxi driver and TDP activist asked.

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Several JSP members, too, expressed disappointment with the party and its chief Pawan Kalyan’s “diminished stature” in the alliance. Over the past four years, Kalyan has allied with the BJP and remained opposed to Jagan. He played a pivotal role in forming the TDP-BJP-JSP alliance despite opposition within his party.

Frontline’s visits to over 15 villages and urban areas, engaging with a diverse group of people, from farmers, fisherfolk, and weavers to unemployed youth and government and private employees, reveal that the DBTs and the nine promises (Navaratnalu) Jagan made in 2019 have resonated with the public. They include financial assistance to farmers, fee reimbursement to students, job creation, completing irrigation projects, liquor ban, medical bill reimbursement, pensions, and so on. Senior citizens are particularly happy with the door-to-door implementation of pension disbursal. In 2021, Jagan launched vehicles to deliver rations at the doorstep, which too has become popular. However, local YSRCP leaders in several places were dissatisfied with this mode of delivery as it undermined their influence over voters.

According to the Chief Minister’s Office, between June 2019 and April 2024, the government disbursed Rs.26,000 crore under Amma Vodi, Rs.12,609 crore under Vidya Deevena (fee reimbursement), Rs.34,378 crore under Rythu Bharosa (financial assistance to farmers), Rs.90,602 crore under Pension Kanuka (pensions to senior citizens, widows, weavers, toddy tappers, fisherfolk, and so on), and Rs.19,189 crore under Cheyutha (financial assistance to women over 45 and under 60). TDP leaders, however, have demanded a white paper on Navaratnalu, claiming ambiguity in the accounts.

“Even within the Navaratnalu, the implementation has had caveats,” A. Chandrasekhar, Human Rights Forum’s State committee member, told Frontline. He highlights issues such as incremental increases in pension instead of a one-time hike and the Rs.2,000 deduction in the Amma Vodi scheme. Amma Vodi, aimed at preventing children from dropping out of school because of poverty, promises mothers of school-going children a sum of Rs.15,000 (one child per family). The scheme’s popularity has prompted Naidu to announce that he will extend it to every student, irrespective of the family size.

The primary grievances with Jagan’s term are unemployment, inflation, and lack of development. There is also widespread resentment about the welfare schemes among the non-beneficiaries, especially in the middle class.

“There is no word about the assurance of an annual job calendar. The liquor ban and the revival of the old pension scheme too remain unfulfilled,” Chandrasekhar said.

Jagan, however, claimed that 98 per cent of his promises had been fulfilled. Chigurupati Ramachandraiah, an analyst and retired professor from the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, said that despite the economic setbacks caused by COVID-19, Jagan continued the cash transfers.

One of Jagan’s promises was to revive the Thummapala sugar factory, but it remains shut. A woman sugarcane farmer from Anakapalle was confused about choosing between the TDP and the YSRCP as both had neglected the factory. She said she was happy with the schemes and the door-to-door delivery of rations but dissatisfied with the lack of development and jobs. Her mixed emotions are perhaps a reflection of what a section of voters feel.

Pawan Kalyan of the JSP and N. Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP during a roadshow at Nellimarla in Vizianagaram district on April 24.

Pawan Kalyan of the JSP and N. Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP during a roadshow at Nellimarla in Vizianagaram district on April 24. | Photo Credit: PTI

A young woman sugarcane labourer, who accepted that she was a YSRCP voter, said: “I got Amma Vodi, but most of it went into buying essentials. It was barely enough to keep up with the rising costs. The Central government should have supported the State.” A woman farmer in her early 40s, who expressed concern over rising costs, said she was not a beneficiary of any scheme and would vote for the alliance.

Caste is a decisive factor in the Andhra Pradesh elections, with the Kammas, Reddys, and Kapus constantly vying for supremacy. The TDP is seen as a Kamma party, the Congress is associated with the Reddys, and (in the past decade) the JSP has represented Kapu interests. While the political representation of the Backward Classes (BC) and other social groups has improved across party lines, these three castes hold sway in the State’s political sphere.

According to The Hindu CSDS-Lokniti Post-Poll Survey 2019, 57 per cent of the dominant castes surveyed voted for the TDP and 29 per cent for the YSRCP. However, the YSRCP polled the majority of Dalit (64 per cent) and Adivasi (86 per cent) votes. The Kapus and other peasant castes sided with the TDP (47 per cent), probably because of the JSP’s alliance with the Left and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Other Backward Classes (46 per cent TDP, 41 per cent YSRCP) and Muslim votes (46 per cent TDP, 49 per cent YSRCP) were divided between the TDP and the YSRCP.

After his win, Jagan established 56 BC corporations in an attempt to woo the community. However, some BC activists and leaders criticised the government for inadequate fund allocation; they appear to be gravitating towards the alliance this time. The TDP-BJP-JSP alliance aims to consolidate the Kapu votes in its favour.

Experts suggest that the BJP’s Hindutva agenda will impact the alliance’s vote share in Rayalaseema, which has a high Muslim population. “Despite a tactical understanding with the BJP in the past, the YSRCP has an edge over minority voters in this aspect,” said Ramachandraiah.

On March 17, following the formal announcement of the alliance, Narendra Modi addressed a public meeting in Palnadu. Although he criticised the corruption in the State, Modi did not comment on Jagan. Jagan, too, reciprocated the gesture. Analysts see this as a sign of keeping post-election alliance options open. According to Chandrasekhar, irrespective of who wins, the BJP’s central leadership will continue to control the 25 Lok Sabha representatives in Andhra Pradesh. In that sense, voters in the State are caught between the devil and the deep sea, he said. The alliance’s success hinges on maintaining a united front until May 13. A few rebel TDP leaders intend to contest as independents; some analysts speculate that this is a shrewd move by the TDP to combat seat-sharing woes within the party.

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State BJP chief, D. Purandeswari, said the party would go ahead with the national manifesto in Andhra Pradesh even as the TDP and the JSP deliberated and sought public feedback. The YSRCP, too, has delayed the release of its manifesto. The alliance promises 20 lakh new jobs, a monthly unemployment allowance, three free LPG cylinders a year, and free bus transport for women, among other schemes. However, its primary campaign plank is what Naidu calls welfare with wealth generation and development. Ramachandraiah pointed out that it was hypocritical for the alliance to keep talking about the mounting debts caused by the YSRCP’s welfare schemes while making much loftier promises.

Meanwhile, the Congress is still in a revival phase. Y.S. Sharmila’s rift with her brother Jagan led her to launch the YSR Telangana Party in July 2021. Despite several endeavours, including a padayatra to establish herself over the next two and a half years, she merged her party with the Congress in January 2024 and took charge as the party’s State chief. Three sitting YSRCP MLAs (Nandikotkuru, Chintalapudi, and Puthalapattu) joined the Congress after being denied the ticket by the ruling party. Observers say Sharmila is reviving the Congress’ engagement with the masses. The YSRCP leadership is cautious of Sharmila’s influence in certain areas, especially in the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency, where she is contesting against her cousin and sitting YSRCP MP Y.S. Avinash Reddy. Avinash is one of the accused in the murder of Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s younger brother. A CBI inquiry is on. Vivekananda Reddy’s daughter has extended support to Sharmila.

Several factors may influence the Andhra Pradesh elections, and undecided voters express the hope that the manifestos will give them more clarity.

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