Reddys cast their lot with Jagan. Will they wrest control?


The AP Congress has been dealt a severe blow by the resignation of rebel MLAs and MPs. N Rajan analyses the aftermath

Jagan on his Odarpu Yatra after unveiling a statue of his father
Rocking the boat Jagan on his Odarpu Yatra after unveiling a statue of his father, Photo: Vijay Pandey

TWO YEARS after the death of then Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash on 2 September 2009, his legacy remains a troubled one. The most striking development in this unfolding drama came on 22 August when 26 MLAs (23 from the Congress, two from the TDP and one from the Praja Rajyam Party) owing allegiance to his son, Kadapa MP and YSR Congress president Jagan Mohan Reddy, resigned from the Assembly. Congress MLAs wrote a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi saying they were quitting the party as well.

On 24 August, Congress MP Mekapati Rajamohan Reddy also quit, alleging a witch-hunt against Jagan. These legislators are demanding the removal of YSR’s name from the FIR filed by the CBI in which 72 persons, including Jagan, are charged with doling out favours to companies that invested in their businesses.

The Jagan factor has unsettled all political parties in the state: Congress is in disarray, TDP influence has shrunk and TRS sees in him a potential threat to Telangana. The general impression is that Jagan would have toppled the Congress government long ago had the Telangana movement not neutralised his forces in the region.

Jagan is on an Odarpu (consolation) Yatra to meet families of those who died of shock after YSR’s death. This is part of the politics of commemoration in the state. According to an aide of Jagan, 200 YSR statues have come up in the first three weeks of August, outnumbering statues of Mahatma Gandhi, BR Ambedkar, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and NT Rama Rao. They serve as reminders of YSR’s patriarchal patronage.

The stories of wealth running into thousands of crores, Jagan’s posh complexes in Hyderabad, Idupulapaya (Kadapa) and Bengaluru, and his ability to win over MLAs are adding to his larger-thanlife image.

YSR’s family — Jagan and wife Bharathi, sister Sharmila and her evangelist husband Brother Anil Kumar — are said to own an empire of companies and real estate worth anything between Rs 43,000 crore to Rs 1 lakh crore. Health Minister DL Ravindra Reddy links Jagan’s assets to YSR’s corruption.

What makes Jagan so powerful?
Jagan is not a simple rebel Congress MP who has gone astray. He is the product of a new phase of politics that began with castisation of politics and globalisation of economy. Castisation has transformed him into an icon in the powerful Reddy community while globalisation has made him the ‘king of cash’. The recent political history of Andhra Pradesh is the history of consolidation of castes and minting money from the globalised economy.

The process was at its peak when YSR died in 2009, leaving his son a vast empire of powerful Reddys and huge wealth, allegedly contributed by the beneficiaries of his regime.

Politics of ruthlessness
In his term as chief minister, YSR established himself as the emperor of Congress in the state. Hailing from Kadapa in Rayalaseema where physical elimination of the rivals was a way of life, he built up a polarised culture that allowed only two groups of people: enemies and followers.

He engineered a split in the TRS and unleashed a ruthless campaign against Maoists even though he had shown sympathy towards them before 2004. Later, he turned his attention to eliminating internal enemies in the Congress. He silenced all factions by cutting their access to the high command. He even prohibited his MLAs from visiting 10 Janpath.

YSR extended the policy to weaken the opposition Telugu Desam and newly formed Praja Rajyam Party as well by wooing Reddys in those parties. When he died in a helicopter crash, the only visible ‘leader’ in the Congress was Jagan Mohan Reddy. MLAs launched a signature campaign urging the Congress leadership to anoint the son even before YSR’s funeral.

Given the current political configurations in the state, a powerful Reddy leader is necessary to checkmate the well-organised TDP

Reddy Raj
YSR’s strength was also his caste. The Reddys had lost their sway over state politics in 1983 with the arrival of NT Rama Rao, of the Kamma caste, on the political scene. YSR’s victory in the 2004 elections was doubly meaningful — for the Congress, it was a great political gain, and for the Reddys, it was a revival of Reddy Raj.

Even though leaders such as M Chenna Reddy, N Janardhan Reddy and Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy did become chief minister in between, they could not revive the caste glory.

For all these ‘made-in-Delhi’ leaders, YSR was just a troublemaker. When YSR launched his padyatra against the TDP in 2003, the Reddy community saw a genuine messiah in him. The padyatra transformed the ‘troublemaker’ into a state leader.

Once in power, YSR pleased the party high command by naming every project or scheme after Indira or Rajiv Gandhi and used the goodwill to refashion Congress into Reddys’ own fiefdom. He inducted an army of Reddys, both elected and nonelected, into the government. Even while distributing irrigation contracts, SEZs, power plants, mines and other resources to the rich who allegedly invested in Jagan’s companies (the links under CBI scrutiny now), YSR was careful not to ignore the masses. He offered them loan waivers, free electricity, farm subsidies, cheap loans, housing, pensions, Rs 2 a kg rice and Arogyasri, a health scheme for the poor.

This way, on the one hand, he built a vast invisible economic empire, and on the other, a considerable votebank. This was what Jagan inherited when his father died in the fatal helicopter crash.

Young man in a hurry
Why did Jagan want to become chief minister even before his father was laid to rest? According to one theory, the pressure to protect the vast economic empire that was still under consolidation weighed more on Jagan than any lust for power. Since he was denied the chair, he floated the YSR Congress party. TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu and PCC president B Satyanarayana allege that Jagan is offering huge money to MLAs to align with him.

Jagan worked assiduously to revive the hero cult and politics of commemoration. The TDP has statues of NTR, Dalits have their BR Ambedkar. Even OBCs have roped in Jyothiba Phule. For Kapus, Chiranjeevi is a cult figure. Who is there now for the Reddys? Having realised the power of memory, he used statues of his father to consolidate the Reddys against his political enemy, TDP.

Almost overnight, statues of YSR started appearing in all cities and towns. Now, memories of YSR counter the legend of NTR, the man who hit the Reddys’ dominance in politics like a tsunami in 1983. No wonder, his aides say his mother will lead the party in case Jagan is arrested by the CBI as she gives continuity to the myth of YSR’s invincibility. And given the political configurations in the state, a powerful Reddy is necessary to beat the well-organised TDP.

Can the Congress fight the TDP with ‘made-in-Delhi’ Reddys or will the party be forced to strike a deal with Jagan? That is the question now.

The Congress seems to be attempting to restructure the party leadership in the state to eclipse Reddy Raj by inducting anti-Kamma forces like Chiranjeevi. Such an attempt was a failure in 1973. After the Telangana and Jai Andhra movements in 1969 and 1972, both led by Reddys, the Congress tried to break the political power of the Reddys by establishing direct contact with grassroots politicians. The attempt, however, resulted in the imposition of President’s Rule in January 1973.

However, Rajya Sabha MP V Hanumantha Rao says this time around, history will not repeat itself — there will be no President’s Rule. “There is no dearth of leaders from other castes in the party,” he says. “Congress is more broad-based now.”

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