Jagan juggernaut: Will the cage hold?

Jagan Mohan Reddy has stormed across Andhra, changing the face of politics in this Congress bastion like no one before him these last three years. His arrest this week, slammed by the rebel’s own camp and the opposition at the centre is being seen as a bid by the Congress — and the TDP — to prevent Jagan’s YSR Congress from sweeping up the 19 seats up for grabs in next Sunday’s bypoll, and cut the earth from under him in the run up to 2014 when every seat will count. Ch. V.M. Krishna Rao and N. Vamsi Srinivas report on the long-term implications of his incarceration.

Even before his father’s body was retrieved from the dense hillside where the helicopter crashed in 2009, the ambitious son had set himself up as Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s successor and the next chief minister of resource-rich Andhra Pradesh. Except, the Congress wasn’t having any of that.

Today, the square-jawed Kadapa MP Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy who has steadily mined the mother lode of the ruling Congress, winkling one legislator and parliamentarian over to his side, is paying for his head-on confrontation with the Congress.

In the cross-hairs of the CBI, the business and media empire that he inherited from his father is being investigated for fraud and illegalities. This could see him unable to bankroll elections, and incarcerated for several years, or at the very least until 2014, when the UPA government goes back to the people. That’s when the chips will be down and the real bargaining will begin.

Will the brash Jagan, looking at the implosion of his business interests, make his peace with the Congress? Will he allow himself to be co-opted into the party a la actor turned politician Chiranjeevi? Or will his arrest be the catalyst for the re-alignment of political forces which will see the young bull cast around for new allies, perhaps even the BJP, as Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP gives tacit support to the prosecution of the inheritor of YSR’s mantle?

For those surprised at the sudden entrance of Jagan into Andhra’s caste-driven politics, look again at the so-called businessman who made his fortune in Karnataka — albeit with his father’s support — and the manner in which he stepped into the breach when his father died. No political novice this, but a hard-nosed politician, the dynast who learnt the ropes at the feet of the masters – his father and grandfather.

His political aspirations were never a secret. Even before the 2009 parliament election results were announced, Jagan, contesting the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat, signaled his intent by sharing the dais with his father and other ministers during an official district review meeting.

His ability to orchestrate protests, demonstrably evident — when charged with committing petty electoral offences, he organized a massive protest. Shouting the slogans were not party workers but employees of his Sakshi newspaper!

A graduate in business administration, his business and political acumen is in little doubt, with some seeing his father in his ability to make quick money and others saying his arrogance harks back to his grandfather, the feudal Raja Reddy, felled in factional violence.

On how his mind works, D.A. Somayajulu, former state financial adviser who worked with YSR on the free power scheme to agriculture has this to say: “Jagan has an ability to grasp things quickly and has tremendous energy. Like any new generation entrepreneur, he pursues his goals and has a modern approach in implementing things. It’s his to-the-point approach that is often mistaken for arrogance.”

Jagan won his entrepreneurial spurs in Bengaluru, building a multi-crore business empire with investments from individuals and business houses who, in turn, enjoyed the largesse of the YSR government. YSR’s death and Jagan’s unseemly haste to step into his father’s shoes by trying to muster the support of legislators may have been looked at askance by the Congress high command.

But as Prof. Haragopal, a rights activist and social sciences professor says, “Besides his own ambition, those who were reaping the financial benefits of the Congress’ corrupt governance may have lent him back-end support,” adding that these same forces will in all likelihood, sustain YSR Congress in the future.

In fact, Jagan’s refusal to back down from laying claim to the CM’s post was not motivated by the desire to be chief minister as much as the fear that his father’s rivals would “finish him off,” insiders said.

As has been well documented, in refusing to play ball with the high command, the party could not convene a Legislature Party meet and elect Rosaiah as chief minister.

The anti-YSR group in the Congress only stoked Delhi’s suspicions of his motives. “Jagan is criticised by the media for being overly ambitious. But why don’t people look into the evil designs of his rivals who went to the extent of sowing the seeds of the state’s division, hoping to contain him?” asks K. Ramakrishna, former minister and part of the YSR Congress think-tank.

Jagan’s state-wide “odarpu yatra” against the express wishes of the powers that be, was both the end and the beginning. The end of his links with the mother party, and the launch of his own YSR Congress party, under whose aegis, he stunned his political rivals by winning the Kadapa Lok Sabha with a five lakh plus margin and ensured the YSR Congress’ entry in the assembly with two Assembly seats.

If sources close to him are to be believed, his fledgling party is poised to repeat a similar feat in the majority of the 18 Assembly and one Lok Sabha seat in the June 12 bypoll.

Jagan’s candidates are pulling off victories despite rival parties spending huge amounts of money,” claims Mr Somayajulu. “This is contrary to the impression being created that Jagan runs his politics with money power.”

With the administration in a state of paralysis despite a change of chief ministers, Jagan has lost little opportunity in tom-tomming to the people that this was largely due to every one of his father’s welfare schemes being discontinued or pruned.

Making matters easier for Jagan, is the in-fighting in the Congress between new Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy and PCC president Botsa Satyanarayana which has seen governance put on hold.
With Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu failing to regain ground, unable to become the alternative or stand up to the Jagan wave, even the TD has not been able to cash in on the split in the
Congress vote,” admits a TD party MP.

But it’s in the YSR Congress chief’s clever blending of religion with politics that could be the major contributing factor for his party getting a foothold in the coastal region. From a born-again Christian family, Jagan openly flaunts his religious leanings.

The Congress, alive to the threat he poses and deeply uncomfortable with his growth is said to have used pressure tactics well before the High Court had even ordered the CBI inquiry into allegations of Jagan’s disproportionate assets with Central agencies like the income-tax department and the Enforcement Directorate digging into his business empire.

“The track record of the Congress is such that its arm-twisting methods against political rivals create an impression that the latter is being singled out and hounded,” CPM state secretary B.V. Raghavulu pointed out.

Not so surprisingly, the arrest has done little to dent his popularity with the weary electorate asking “who’s not corrupt?”. YSR Congressmen also believe that it will take years for the CBI probe to reach its logical conclusion given the complexity of the financial transactions. And since the probe is seen as a political tool to up the pressure on Jagan to co-operate, an electoral victory could even help make the probe go away. Clearly, the June 12 bypolls are a dummy run for the General Elections, an acid test for the Congress, Telugu Desam and YSR Congress in Coastal and Rayalaseema regions as well as for the Telanaga Rastriya Samiti in the Telangana region.

Before Jagan’s arrest, a slew of surveys and opinion polls published or broadcast in regional channels had predicted a minimum of 12 Assembly seats to YSR Congress and a keen fight between the party and Telugu Desam or the Congress and the rest. After Jagan’s arrest, experts say that a sympathy wave will bring the YSR Congress many more seats.

Jagan has already campaigned in all the constituencies over the last month. Since his arrest, his mother Y.S. Vijayalakshmi and sister Y.S. Sharmila Reddy have taken over the campaigning and are drawing huge crowds. This is primarily because the late YSR’s wife and daughter are seeking votes for the first time outside Pulivendula of Kadapa district. YSR Congress ‘s mobilization of people for the road shows, normal practice of the Congress and TD, has also been unprecedented.

If the results are one-sided, like YSR Congress getting 18/18, it may trigger political instability in the state forcing more TD and Congress MLAs to switch over to Jagan. Political stability or a status quo can only be ensured if the Congress and TD gets three to four seats each and the YSR Congress gets the rest, feel experts.

Jagan’s electoral success therefore could see the steady exodus of MLAs from the Congress to the YSR party turn from a trickle into a flood.

The YSR Congress is clearly hoping to position itself as a strong political force, as an alternative to both the Congress and Telugu Desam for the 2014 polls. If that is, Jagan bags 10-15 MPs in the next Lok Sabha polls. In this era of coalition politics, even less is more.

D-day: June 12

The upcoming bypolls to the 18 Assembly segments and the Nellore Lok Sabha seat in Andhra Pradesh on June 12 will decide the political fate of the YSR Congress.

For YSRC party’s chief, incarcerated Kadapa MP Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, it is a major prestige issue and will determine his political agenda till parliamentary polls in 2014.

Target Jagan

Both ruling Congress and Opposition Telugu Desam are targeting Jagan Mohan.

Both parties feeling the political heat thanks to desertions to the fledgling YSR Congress.

All speeches centred on Jagan’s “corruption”.

Vote plank

YSR Congress promising electorate a return to YSR’s Swarna Rajyam (golden rule), appealing to the masses to teach a lesson to both the Congress and the TD for colluding with each other to tarnish the image of YSR.

Poll impact

The results of the bypolls on June 15 could change the unstable political scenario of the state.

This is the seventh bypoll in AP since YSR’s death in September 2009, neither the Congress nor the TD have won a single seat since then.

The upcoming byelections are spread over 12 of the 23 districts in AP

Covers an electorate of 44 lakh of the total 5.3 crore.



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