Can Jagan crack the caste code?

Set for repeat? An elated Jagan with supporters after winning the Lok Sabha seat from Kadapa, on 13 May 2011
Set for repeat? An elated Jagan with supporters after winning the Lok Sabha seat from Kadapa, on 13 May 2011
Photo: AFP

A DAY before he was arrested on 27 May this year, YS Jaganmohan Reddy told this correspondent that Telangana region will see considerable political activity closer to the elections in 2014. The YSR Congress believes that caste polarisation will mean the politically and financially affluent Reddy community backing Jagan, given that the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is dominated by the Velama community.

It is with an eye on making inroads into the Telangana region that Jagan’s mother Vijayamma sat on a protest in Sircilla town of Karimnagar on Monday. Officially, the purpose was to focus on the plight of the weaver community in the area. But the political purpose wasn’t lost on anyone. It is very obvious that Vijayamma is being used to make these surgical strikes into new areas, where the YSR Congress is deemed to be weak.

Party leaders say they are very conscious that they need to ensure the spirits of the party cadre do not drop when their leader is in jail. Which is why this plan to use Vijayamma as the mascot to fight for political space with issue-based protests. Sources in the YSR Congress say they spot a political vacuum and these protests will help the party occupy that space.

Jagan, his relatives say, is spending time inside prison, preparing strategies that need to be chalked out in each assembly segment, keeping in mind the caste and community equations. The party realises it is on a strong wicket in the Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra regions and it is Telangana where it needs to focus now to have a reasonable chance to make a bid for power in 2014.

The party’s spirits have been buoyant ever since its candidate Konda Surekha gave the TRS a run for its money in Parkal assembly constituency, losing by just 1500-odd votes. The result was a wake-up call for the TRS, which is often accused of having a big brother attitude towards other pro-Telangana outfits.

The TRS, however, dismisses the YSR Congress as a party of no consequence in Telangana, pointing to how people of the region have not forgotten that Jagan has earlier been a champion of a united Andhra Pradesh.

Moreover, they say the Reddys or any other community will rally behind Jagan only in the possible event of a normal political situation.

“Why would we ensure a normal political situation?” asks a senior TRS leader posing a rhetorical question. “Before 2014 elections, we will take the Telangana movement to an emotional peak so that everyone in Telangana region thinks only about statehood and not about his or her own individual caste or religious identity. That will help us win 80-90 assembly seats.”

This bravado apart, the fact that the TRS felt the need to try and stop Vijayamma from staging her protest in Sircilla is being interpreted as a sign that it sees Jagan as a potential threat. Party activists resorted to throwing both eggs and stones at Vijayamma’s convoy but the heavy police presence ensured she made her foray into Telangana.

TRS MLA Harish Rao ridicules Jagan’s political strength in Telangana, predicting he won’t win more than four to five seats in the region. “Even in Sircilla, 4,000 people were brought from outside and only 2,000 locals were there,” he says.

The YSR Congress replies in kind. It says it is looking to garner the anti-TRS vote and says K Chandrasekhar Rao’s party is not strong beyond 50-60 assembly seats, where too, it is now facing a challenge from the other fierce pro-Telangana party, the BJP. It is banking on the pro-YSR sentiment thanks to his welfare programmes to translate into votes.

The YSR Congress also voted tactically in the Presidential election, supporting Pranab Mukherjee, unlike the Telugu Desam and the TRS which chose to abstain. Sources in the party say it saw no merit in either abstaining or voting for PA Sangma. Instead, the decision to be on the same side as the Congress could have long-term benefits in a politically fluid situation.

The Congress, which has instructed its chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy to spend more time in the districts, is aware it is fighting with its back to the wall in Andhra Pradesh.

A loss in the state that contributed 33 MPs to the Congress kitty in 2009, would mean goodbye to power in Delhi. Which is why backroom channel talks are on to resolve the Telangana crisis and the use of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) cases against Jagan to keep channels of communication open with his coterie.

Telangana leaders were told a decision on statehood will be taken after the Presidential elections and they are now looking to Delhi to bite the bullet. Sonia Gandhi would have to summon all her hidden talent as a political gymnast to do this tightrope walk with aplomb.

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