Yeduguri Sandinti Jaganmohan Reddy’s palatial bungalow in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad was the crucial meeting ground on January 16 for the charting of plans to launch the ‘Federal Front’ of regional parties. The YSR Congress chief was meeting with Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao (KTR), Telangana Rashtra Samithi working president and son of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao.
The brainchild of KCR, the Federal Front’s stated aim is to become a lightning rod for anti-Congress and anti-BJP voters across the country, and serve as a game changer in the coming general elections. In reality, KCR’s focus is on the two Telugu states. His targets are the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress—his main rival in Telangana—and AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu, president of the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP)—Jagan’s main rival. Both TDP and Congress have thus accused KCR of being in cahoots with Modi’s BJP in pushing the ‘Federal Front’.
Jaganmohan Reddy and KTR’s interests thus neatly collide. The coming together of the TRS and YSR Congress holds implications for Chandrababu’s hopes to win a second term as CM of AP, with the simultaneous elections for the AP state assembly and Lok Sabha just a few months away in April-May 2019. Jagan hopes to finally realise his long-held dream of becoming CM of AP. The TRS hopes to pay Chandrababu back in a “fitting manner” for his “meddling” in the recent Telangana assembly polls. TDP had forged an alliance with the Congress, Prof M Kodandaram Reddy’s Telangana Jana Samithi and the CPI, which lost to the TRS.
It is reported that KTR and Jagan discussed “joint strategy” to defeat the TDP in the polls. Analysts say the tie-up between TRS and YSR Congress might click as a win-win combination in AP, by consolidating anti-incumbency votes against both Chandrababu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The Federal Front will fight to consolidate the strength of regional parties and fight for justice, as well as for powers and funds to both the Telugu states,” senior YSR Congress MP Vijaysai Reddy and spokesman told reporters after the meeting.
Speaking to reporters after meeting KTR, Jaganmohan Reddy said, “The sharp disunity among the regional parties has led to their doom. Even the promise of a Special Status to AP made on the floor of Parliament, has become ineffective, since parties like the BJP and the TDP have muddled and slow-pedalled it till the last minute.”
The meeting has come in the wake of Jagan’s sister and YRS Congress brand ambassador YS Sharmila complaining to Hyderabad’s Commissioner of Police on January 14, about allegedly TDP-backed slander on social media. “We are complaining in [Telangana state capital] Hyderabad as we cannot trust the AP police,” she had said, attracting a strong retort from Naidu. “If they don’t trust the AP police, how will they contest elections here?” Naidu asked, last evening.
The TRS-YSR Congress meeting has also opened up a fresh exchange of words between YSR Congress and TDP. Though YRS Congress has no tie-up with TRS for the AP elections at the moment—“We will fight the 2019 polls on our own,” YSR Congress spokesman Ambati Rambabu told The Lede—TDP men charge Jagan with joining hands with anti-Andhraites. “How can Jagan join forces with a party which has threatened to drive Seemandhra people away from Hyderabad and deny river water to AP?” said AP irrigation minister Devineni Uma Maheswara Rao in a debate on a new channel on January 15.
Jagan’s long-pending dream
To realise his dream of following in the footsteps of his father, late YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), and becoming CP of AP, Jagan has used a time-tested strategy of political padyatras (foot marches), which were also successfully employed by YSR. On January 9, Jagan completed a 3,648-km, 14 month-long ‘Praja Sankalpa Padayatra’ in Kojjiria village in AP’s northernmost district Srikakulam. He had begun this padyatra from his hometown Idupulapaya in south AP’s Kadapa district, on November 6, 2017. During the padyatra, he took breaks only on Fridays, in order to appear in CBI courts in Hyderabad, where he is facing charges in 16 disproportionate assets cases. To mark the end of the yatra, Jagan unveiled a pylon and addressed a massive public meeting at Kojjiria, where he reiterated his long-pending political wish. “I want to rule for 30 years,” he had said.
YSR Congress leaders claimed that Jagan reached out to two crore people during this padyatra, covering over 134 out of 175 Assembly constituencies. The YSR Congress has also coined a slogan ‘Raavali Jagan Kaavali Jagan’ (Jagan should come; We want Jagan), for the foot march that took him across the state.
The party also launched another campaign ‘Ninnu Nammam Babu’ (We don’t trust you, Babu) in all 175 assembly constituencies in AP as part of YSR Congress’ separate, ongoing ‘Praja Sankalpa Yatra’, in which it highlighted TDP’s ‘failed promises’.
Narendra Modi’s former poll strategist Prashant Kishor was said to be behind Jagan’s decision to go on a ‘padyatra’. This mass outreach programme was initially supposed to conclude within six months, but Jagan continued with it in view of an underwhelming performance in the 2014 elections. YSR Congress bagged a record 28% votes on its poll debut, but won only 66 out of AP’s 175 Assembly seats. Later, 23 YSR Congress MLAs and 2 of its 8 MPs jumped ship to join TDP, while one MP remains ‘neutral’. TDP has purposefully stalled anti-defection proceedings against these elected leaders.
The event at Kojjiria was the umpteenth time that Jagan spoke loudly of his ambition to become chief minister. He had said so in 2013, after emerging from 16 months in jail as an under-trial in a disproportionate assets case. In 2017 and 2018, he reiterated his ‘political wish’ many times. “I want my portraits hung in assembly and also in government offices along with that of my father,” he had said at the time. In Kojjiria too, he said, “After I die, my photo should be in each house beside my father’s photo.”
But this time, Jagan also made a case for his qualifications for the post of CM. “During my long yatra of all 13 districts, meeting lakhs of poor, youth, farmers and women in thousands of villages, I have grasped the suffering and needs of the poor—education, employment, health, and housing. I am now better suited (than Chandrababu Naidu) to deliver them to people,” he has said in media interactions and public meetings.
But nobody asks Jagan why he needs 30 years, or six terms, as CM. Are two terms not adequate to achieve these goals? Even stalwarts like late West Bengal CM Jyoti Basu lasted for only five terms. Former AP CMs Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, PV Narasimha Reddy, Jalagam Vengala Rao and Kasu Brahmananda Reddy could last barely one or two terms, but managed to achieve a lot.
As YSR’s son, Jagan is no stranger to the fruits of power
Enjoying the fruits of power is not new for this scion of the barytes mining YSR family of Kadapa. The family had been excavating barytes for decades and had also set up a barium chloride factory in the district. Jagan behaved like a yuvaraj (prince) in Kadapa district, and was known for driving his Willys jeep at breakneck speed. His father YSR, a contemporary of Chandrababu Naidu, entered politics in 1978. Both were ministers in the cabinet of Tantuguri Anjaiah, who was AP CM between October 1980 and February 1982. YSR went on to become a dissident within the Congress party and for almost 25 years, was not elevated as long as his arch-rival Kotla Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, two-time CM and a union minister several times, was around.
When Jagan began his foray into politics, becoming MP for Kadapa in 2009 even as his father won re-election as CM of united AP, he was the richest MP in the 15th Lok Sabha. “Even YSR had to remain as an MLA or MP for 25 long years before he became CM,” commented K Rosaiah, a Congressman and staunch follower of YSR, when he heard of Jagan’s itch to get fast-tracked to the CM’s chair after his father’s sudden death in 2009, just months after winning the elections.
Jagan’s followers within the Congress had begun campaigning for Jagan’s elevation even as YSR’s body lay in state at the CM’s sprawling bungalow in Begumpet, Hyderabad. Out of 178 Congress MLAs at the time, 125 including then finance minister Rosaiah—appointed acting CM—had signed the appeal to Congress high command to announce Jagan as the new CM of AP.
Senior Congress leaders and ministers were sent to Delhi with the list of Jagan’s supporters. But then Congress president Sonia Gandhi was furious. “Yeh kya badtameezi hai?” (What is this nonsense), she reportedly said to a senior Congress MP and close friend of YSR, who had led the pro-Jagan delegation. When Sonia and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came to Hyderabad to console the family, a week after YSR’s funeral, Jagan was firmly told that he had to wait.
A few days after the funeral, acting CM Rosaiah was given full charge, which infuriated Jagan’s supporters. They gheraoed and booed Rosaiah, pressuring him to resign and tell the high command to make room for Jagan’s accession. But the high command remained firm and told Rosaiah that in view of the brewing Telangana agitation, AP needed a senior leader like him to handle the situation. Rosaiah continued as CM but knew well that his days in the seat were numbered.
Jagan never gave up on his mission to become CM of AP. He launched an ‘Odarpu’ (consoling) yatra to console families of YSR supporters whose members had reportedly committed suicide over YSR’s death. The purpose of the yatra was to whip up emotions over the sudden death of YSR and turn these into a popular demand for making Jagan the CM.
But the yatra was officially stalled by the Congress high command and Rosaiah virtually banned it after violent events at Warangal railway station in May 2010, as supporters of the Telangana state agitation objected to Jagan’s visit. Jagan was arrested and brought to Hyderabad. Unhappy with Rosaiah’s incompetence at handling the situation, the Congress appointed former speaker Kiran Kumar Reddy as AP’s new CM in November, 2010. This drove Jagan to resign from the Congress and form a new political party along with a handful of Congress MLAs and MPs.
Jagan launched his new party Yuvajana Sramika Rythu (YSR) Congress Party on March 12, 2011. He also virtually threatened to topple the beleaguered Kiran Kumar Reddy government, which was battling volatile events around the Telangana state agitation. The merger of Konidela Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam party with the Congress saved the Kiran Kumar Reddy government.
Jagan then re-launched the Odarpu Yatra under the name ‘Jana Chaitanya Yatra’, which continued till his arrest by the CBI on May 27, 2012. After that, the yatra was continued by YS Sharmila and eventually covered more miles than Chandrababu’s own padyatra before the 2014 polls.
The Congress high command’s decision to divide AP and create a separate Telangana as an antidote to the political crisis in united AP, proved to be a costly experiment. The Congress was wiped out in the successor state of AP, winning not even one MP or MLA in 2014. In Telangana, though Congress clocked 28.4% votes, it won only 21 of 119 assembly seats.
Jagan’s YSR Congress became the principal Opposition party in Andhra Pradesh. He was finally in position to set a direct challenge for the CM’s chair.
The YSR Congress chief is now gearing up to win the 2019 polls by hook or by crook. After Chandrababu Naidu took his TDP out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in March, 2018, the BJP has opened channels with YSR Congress. Jagan got an appointment with PM Modi after almost two years of waiting. Party spokesman and Rajya Sabha MP Vijaysai Reddy is said to be a permanent fixture in the PMO.
The TDP publicity machinery has been churning out reams of material that Jagans’ DA cases have been diluted by the Modi government. Modi is harbouring criminals from AP who have swindled Rs 43,000 crores of public money, Chandrababu Naidu has often said. TDP leaders also suspect that the proximity of YSR Congress leaders to the BJP led to the souring of relations between the two former allies, Modi and Chandrababu.
Besides his yatra and other campaigns, Jagan’s party has brought out a book entitled Chandrababu: Emperor of Corruption, in which it claims that around Rs 6 lakh crore have been swindled by him, his family and party MLAs and ministers in various construction projects and other deals. Rs 6 lakh crore is not even the budget of the state for all 4 years, said AP’s municipal administration minister P Narayana, pooh-poohing the claim.
The coming together of the TRS and YSR Congress has further widened the gap between Opposition and ruling party in the AP political space. The TDP had in 2014 campaigned saying that the YSR Congress was the calf (“pilli” Congress) and the Congress the cow (“thalli” Congress) and that both would come back tougher, in the near future. Today, it is the TDP which is with the Congress.
For Congress, any assistance is welcome in Andhra Pradesh, where they are beaten, down and out after their role in the bifurcation of the state, against the wishes of the Seemandhra people. But whether the TDP would support the Congress and share seats with it in the Assembly and Parliament polls of 2019, is the big question. The local leaders of both the TDP and the Congress are opposed to it.
By joining the Federal Front and taking a direct position against the TDP and the Congress, the YSR Congress has shut its doors for any rapprochement with the Congress. Whether the BJP will accept YSR Congress after its participation in the Federal Front which is statedly about defeating Narendra Modi, is also a moot question.
But Jagan needs to choose the winning horse to step into shoes of his late father, and ensure that his photograph is hung in the Assembly and in government offices.
As former President APJ Abdul Kalam said, everyone should dream to achieve their life’s ambitions.
Is Jagan’s dream fulfillable?
The unfolding events will soon tell us.