Interview: Yerram Venkata Subba Reddy

‘We will exceed what YSR was able to achieve’

Print edition : April 13, 2018

Yerram Venkata Subba Reddy, YSRCP MP.

Interview with Yerram Venkata Subba Reddy, YSRCP MP.

Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, president of Andhra Pradesh’s principal opposition party, the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, or YSRCP, has been on a 3,000-kilometre protest padayatra-cum-outreach programme across the State’s 13 districts since November 2017. Jagan Mohan Reddy is hoping to replicate the 1,500-kilometre march undertaken by his late father and unified Andhra Pradesh’s Congress Chief Minister, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, which eventually helped prevent N. Chandrababu Naidu from returning to power for a consecutive third term in 2004.

The YSRCP’s protests are conducted in cooperation with mainly the Left parties, demanding Special Category Status for Andhra Pradesh and speedy implementation of the assurances given by the Centre to the State. These appear to have struck a chord with the people who had expected the Centre to do some hand-holding, given the State’s large size and population and sizeable contribution to India’s agricultural output. But the ruling Telugu Desam Party’s move to withdraw from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre, though viewed as rather belated, has snatched away the opposition’s main agenda.

Yerram Venkata Subba Reddy, a senior YSRCP leader and Member of Parliament from Ongole, who was the first to move the no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government, spoke to Frontline about the party’s future strategy given the changed political equations at the Centre and its prospects in the State. Excerpts:

Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy is on a State-wide 3,000-km padayatra demanding Special Category Status for the State and implementation of the assurances given in the AP Reorganisation Act. But the TDP seems to have taken the wind out of the YSRCP’s sails by imitating your no-confidence motion against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.

One thing is clear, the people of Andhra Pradesh are disgusted with Chandrababu Naidu, his tall promises and false claims. All his promises were for garnering votes; not even the basic assurances made in the AP Reorganisation Act have been implemented. Everywhere in the State, farmers, women and students are in some trouble or the other. For example, farmers were promised complete loan waiver; each household was promised a job. If not a job, a stipend of Rs.2,000 to each eligible man. Chandrababu Naidu said he wanted to wipe away the tears of women. What has he done so far? Not a single promise has been kept. Jaganmohan Reddy started the padayatra across the State so that he could meet the people of all the 175 [Assembly] constituencies and visit every village in order to understand their problems. The padayatra began on November 6, 2017. He has completed six [of the 13] districts and covered 1,550 km so far. The response from the people has been tremendous because women, farmers, labourers, unemployed youths, everyone has been unhappy for the past four years.

The Chief Minister said farm loan waivers had been granted and that the money had been sanctioned and disbursed.

The government has granted about Rs.15,000 crore, but is that enough for the entire State? A sum of Rs.80,000 crore is needed for the entire State. Farmers are complaining that they have been able to pay only the interest on loans.

Jagan Mohan Reddy seems to be attempting to replicate Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s outreach strategy of 2004. YSR as the opposition Congress leader led a successful 1,500-km padayatra across unified Andhra Pradesh, which helped defeat the TDP in the 2004 Assembly elections. But the issues then were different. Do you think doubling the distance covered during the padayatra will double the electoral outcome as well?

You are 100 per cent right. We are not only going to succeed in the padayatra, but we will exceed what YSR was able to achieve. You see, the issues actually are not that different. The issue then was successive droughts for several years; the situation is the same even now. Except for some districts, which have received average or sometimes above average rainfall, most of the regions of the State have been reeling from drought. Not only that, the Centre’s decision to go back on the grant of Special Category Status to the State has made matters worse.

The Central government argues that the Special Assistance Measures that it promised in 2016 will compensate for the revenue gap, if any, that may arise out of its going back on Special Category Status.

It is the Central government’s duty, and it is our right to be granted Special Category Status. They cannot cite the 13th or 14th Finance Commission recommendations to go back on the promise of Special Category Status, which was promised in Parliament by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which the current ruling party at the Centre supported then. [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi actually assured the State that the promise would be kept when he campaigned along with the TDP before the 2014 Assembly elections. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley supported the United Progressive Alliance government’s assurance made in the Rajya Sabha. So why this U-turn? If Special Category Status is not granted to us before the end of the current Budget session of Parliament, Andhra Pradesh MPs will resign and go back to the people to intensify the struggle. We will fight inside Parliament until then. This is why Chandrababu Naidu was forced to break his alliance with the BJP. He himself has been making constant U-turns. He supported the Centre’s proposal of Special Administrative Measures in 2016 in the Assembly. What has changed now? You see, if Special Category Status is there for five years, you can imagine the boost it will give industry, employment and infrastructure. How can you measure that against the Special Package?

At a round-table conference held in Vijayawada on March 19, for the first time you shared a platform with the Congress in demanding Special Category Status. Does this mean that you will henceforth conduct joint struggles on the issue? Can we expect a pre-poll alliance with the Congress if they say they will deliver on Special Category Status if voted to power?

For the past four years we have been demanding Special Category Status. We have conducted dharnas and bandhs. Jagan Mohan Reddy even went on a hunger strike for six days in Guntur [from October 7 to 13]. In fact, it was a “fast unto death” in 2015, and the government forcibly admitted him to hospital on the seventh day. All these actions have been successful. During all this, only the Left parties joined our struggles throughout. All our struggles have been successful. The Congress is the reason for the division of Andhra Pradesh in such a shoddy manner. We do not think the party has a future in the State. We are open to any party taking part in our struggles or jointly conducting struggles, because right now our interest is only the betterment of the people of Andhra and the State as a whole. But, as we have stated before, we are open to all options—whether it is Congress or a third front after the elections as long as they are willing to implement the promises made in the State Reorganisation Act and grant Special Category Status.

What if the BJP finally relents and grants it just ahead of the elections?

We are not naming any party right now, or any front, as I said. It all depends on who is willing to deliver on the promises made to the State. After the 2019 elections, we are willing to support any government at the Centre that delivers on the promise.

A blame game has been going on between the Centre and the State on assurances made and the disbursal of funds. Do you think there is any merit in the Centre’s contention that the State government must come clean on how and where the monies have been spent?

In our view, if the Centre claims funds to the tune of Rs.2,500 crore have been given for Amaravati, there is nothing to show on the ground there. Not even a brick has been laid except for the temporary legislature building and the Secretariat. What was the need for the State to take over the implementation of the Polavaram project, which the Central government had declared as a project of “national importance” and undertaken to complete as mentioned in the AP Reorganisation Act? The Centre had promised to complete the project and hand it over to the State by March 2019. Chandrababu Naidu volunteered to complete it more efficiently, but he is now complaining about insufficient funds. He wanted to take credit for the completion of the project, but in the process we believe large kickbacks have been received by the TDP in the award of contracts. The government fears that it might not be able to finish the project on time and so is blaming the Centre for the lack of funds.