Jagan Jolts the Congress From Jail

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The Congress thought it could retain the late YSR’s legacy by sidelining his son Jagan. But the bypoll results show why the rebel could have the last laugh in 2014, says Sai Manish

Son also rises YSR Congress workers celebrate the poll win
Son also rises YSR Congress workers celebrate the poll win
Photos: Syed Mazher Ali

HIS DETRACTORS call it a passing phenomenon. His family terms it a deliverance of the masses. But Jagan Mohan Reddy, lodged inside Chanchalguda prison in Hyderabad on corruption charges, feels vindicated by his decision to defy the Congress high command’s order warning him against continuing with his Odarpu Yatra (condolence tour) across Andhra Pradesh barely six months after the death of his father, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, in 2009.

Indeed, not only did Jagan’s Yuvajana Sramika Raithu Congress (YSR Congress) Party win 15 of the 18 Assembly seats in the bypolls and the lone Parliamentary seat of Tirupati held on 12 June, he also made sure that all his candidates won by handsome margins. His party nominee almost scraped through at Parkal in Telangana, losing to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) candidate by just 1,562 votes.

The victory of Jagan’s fledgling party, built on the foundations of his father’s legacy, was a foregone conclusion. However, what remained in the speculative realm was the extent of damage that he could inflict on the Congress. Fifteen out of the 17 legislators, who were expelled by the Congress for switching allegiance to Jagan during the vote of confidence against the Kiran Kumar Reddy-led government in March this year, were re-elected with thumping margins. Victories that were powered by the emotional appeals by his mother Vijayamma, who is an MLA from Pulivendula, and sister Sharmila who campaigned vigorously after Jagan’s arrest on corruption charges just days before the elections.

Both his principal opponents, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), are yet to come to terms with what this drubbing would mean for their future in the politically important state. While the Congress high command is too caught up in the run-up to the presidential elections, the TDP has been blaming the Congress government for its defeat.

“They arrested Jagan just two weeks before the Assembly bypolls,” says TDP spokesman Rajendra Prasad. “Why would any political party risk this move when it knew the sympathy wave would turn in favour of Jagan? This is a conspiracy to eliminate the TDP from the state, but we are confident of tackling Jagan Reddy in 2014. Our main rival now is Jagan and we will expose his corruption to the masses.”

In Andhra’s feudal society, where power still flows from the ownership of land, corruption has become a matter of relativity. “Who is not corrupt these days?” asks Chandrashekhar, a voter from Ongole. “Chandrababu Naidu has built a fortune from his days as chief minister. Congress ministers have made crores through their proximity to the party high command. But Jagan is rich because of the land that his family owns in their ancestral village.”

“The lack of alternatives in Andhra Pradesh has blunted the corruption card that parties sought to leverage against Jagan in these bypolls,” says K Nageshwara, eminent political analyst and an MLC of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly.

‘The people of Andhra Pradesh want the rule of YSR back in the state and Jagan is the only option,’ says his sister Sharmila

“The homogenisation of corrupt political culture has led to a situation in Andhra where people have stopped bothering about it as long as they are the beneficiaries of the massive swindle unleashed by the available political choices. The political axiom of ‘Who is not corrupt?’ took firm hold in the state during YSR’s rule.”

Both the Congress and the TDP opposed Jagan on two primary issues: the politics of dynasty and the culture of corruption. This salvo backfired on Jagan’s opponents since the doublespeak on these issues was apparent to the voters. Meanwhile, Jagan fought on two issues: the continuation of the popular welfare schemes started by his father and the promise of carrying forward YSR’s legacy. “Both these are enough ammunition to fight off the main parties. There is no radical alternative to either the TDP or the Congress,” says Nageshwara.

No leader has ever secured power for the party like YSR had delivered Andhra Pradesh to the Congress. His invoking of Sonia Rajyam (Sonia Gandhi’s rule) and the propensity to name every welfare scheme introduced by his government after either Indira or Rajiv Gandhi put the party on a strong footing.

During YSR’s rule, there was a clear acknowledgement that his rise was due to the free hand given by Sonia Gandhi. YSR built the Congress with a strong group of feudal lords — who used money and muscle to fund their politics — and at the same time ensured that his schemes reached the masses.

Family drama Jagan’s sister Sharmila and mother Vijayamma
Family drama Jagan’s sister Sharmila and mother Vijayamma

The people were grateful that the Congress regime gave free electricity to farmers, free treatment to poor patients in corporate hospitals, fee reimbursements for poor students and unbelievably low interest rates on loans to women.

And when it was time to repay for the welfare measures in kind, the voters of Seemandhra did just that by propelling the late YSR’s son into a formidable force.

Despite his open challenge to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, Jagan is known to have a proclivity towards the Congress. Even his mother and sister have toned down their diatribe against the Congress leadership after the victory. His wife Bharathi too is careful not to utter the words ‘CBI’ and ‘Congress’ in the same breath.

The Congress, however, is yet to realise that the efforts to contain Jagan by instituting a CBI probe could backfire on the party. If Jagan is convicted in the disproportionate assets case, then some of the senior Congress leaders, especially YSR’s Man Friday and MP KVP Ramachandra Rao, could be interrogated as well.

KVP confidant and Congress MP V Arunkumar describes Jagan’s victory as pyrrhic. “Jagan Reddy wants to take credit for all the good things done by the Congress and blame us for all his misdeeds,” says Arunkumar.

“This victory is only temporary for Jagan as the people wanted to return the favour to YSR for all his good deeds. The son has reaped the fruits of his father’s labour. Jagan’s stinking corruption will be exposed and the people will realise his misdeeds. The Congress takes money from willing members of the public for its politics. On the other hand, Jagan makes money from politics to fund his business empire,” adds Arunkumar.

HOWEVER, MORE than the Congress, it is the TDP that is in a deep mess. Considered an alternative to the Congress, Chandrababu Naidu’s party might lose that mantle in Seemandhra, considered the party’s traditional votebank.

Meanwhile, the Congress is still undecided on how to tackle the might of Jagan. Keeping him out of the limelight by extending his custody could mean playing further into the emotions. “The people won’t have any sympathy for him once they realise how he misused his father’s position to enrich himself,” says Arunkumar.

“My son is innocent and my only dream is to see him become the chief minister,” says Jagan’s mother Vijayamma. His sister Sharmila, who is married to a controversial televangelist, adds, “The people want the rule of YSR back in the state and Jagan is the only option to fulfil their aspirations.”

During his Odarpu Yatra, Jagan was successful in transforming the chant of Sonia Rajyam to YSR’s Swarna Rajyam. His media outlets, including the controversial news channel Sakshi TV, are leaving no stone unturned in keeping his achievements alive by playing his images in infinite loops to the masses who lap it all up. For Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is sitting inside Chanchalguda jail, out of sight does not necessarily mean out of mind.

Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
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