Jagan Reddy’s arrest has singed both him and the Congress in the state. So who will it really benefit? TS Sudhir reports
IT WAS almost sunset on Monday when YS Jaganmohan Reddy reached Chanchalguda Central Jail in Hyderabad. As he got out of the car, escorted by cops in mufti, two of them tried to hold his arms. Immediately, Jagan bristled with anger. He gestured his hand to each of them to indicate ‘touch me not’. And then in a flash, he adopted his familiar politician posture, greeting onlookers with folded hands and a wry smile.
As he entered the prison through the small gate, the Member of Parliament from Kadapa was now transformed to Undertrial No. 6093. The man who dreamt of succeeding his father as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, now reduced to a special status prisoner.
There was a transformation outside as well. Telugu Desam supremo Chandrababu Naidu found the spring in his steps. His body language exuded optimism and his tongue the bite, which he delivered to television crews, comparing Jagan with forest brigand Veerappan.
“Veerappan was also popular. He would have even won a Parliament seat in his area, had he contested. Does that make him right?” asks Naidu, pointing to the choice of Jagan’s candidates in the Assembly byelections. “Balineni Srinivas Reddy is a land grabber. The Tirupati candidate sold Lord Venkateswara’s tickets. In Macherla, Ramakrishna Reddy is a known dacoit, in Udayagiri, Chandrasekhar Reddy has been attacking people.” Ready with a log of Jagan’s alleged misdeeds, Naidu knows this is the moment to seize.
“Jagan’s scam is bigger than 2G or CWG or Adarsh. For the past eight years in Andhra Pradesh, they have looted public property. Jalayagnam (irrigation projects scheme) became dhanayagnam. They spent Rs 72,000 crore and not even one acre has come under irrigation,” says Naidu.
The byelections on 12 June to Nellore Lok Sabha and 18 Assembly constituencies will be the first test for Naidu. With even a tight contest in most constituencies, he will draw hope for 2014, when Assembly poll in Andhra Pradesh are due. All these seats were won by the Congress in 2009. So technically, Naidu has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
The Congress has been on the back foot ever since YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s chopper crashed in the Nallamalla forest. Left with no credible and strong leadership, it has neither handled the Telangana nor the Jagan issue with the tact they deserved. No surprise then that electorally, Andhra Pradesh now threatens to be an Andhera Pradesh for the Congress.
That’s something the party can ill-afford. YSR delivered 29 seats to the Congress kitty in the Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh in 2004 and upped it with another four in 2009. Now, things look bleak.
Add to that the Supreme Court notices to six ministers (in YSR Cabinet, who now continue in Kiran Kumar Reddy’s ministry too), asking them to explain how 26 controversial government orders favouring certain companies were issued by them. One of the ministers, Mopidevi Venkataramana, who handled the infrastructure portfolio under YSR, is already behind bars. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, however, says Mopidevi’s arrest is evidence that the Congress is not remote-controlling the CBI investigation. “His arrest is a setback to the party but we hope he will come out clean. It is for Jagan to explain the financial irregularities that have been pointed out in his companies. He knows his stock among the people is going down. He is getting desperate,” says Reddy.
The Congress is also on another tightrope walk. It is finding it difficult to condemn its most celebrated chief minister as a corrupt man colluding with his son to loot the state. Doing so would be an admission of his misgovernance from 2004 onwards and would mean giving away the state on a platter to the Opposition.
For Jagan though, a good show in the bypoll could be read as a proof of his exoneration by the people. His mother Vijayalakshmi has replaced him on the campaign trail, hoping to create a sympathy wave.
The politically and financially powerful Reddys are annoyed at one of their ilk being hauled over the coals
“Jagan is being targeted by the Congress because they are irked at his popularity,” says Vijayalakshmi, in an obvious jibe at Congress President Sonia Gandhi. “YSR brought them to power twice in Delhi. He publicly declared that he will make Rahul Gandhi the PM in 2014. How is it fair that your son should become PM while my son should go to jail?” The gameplan is clear. Fight Jagan’s legal battle politically.
Political analyst K Nageshwar feels it will be difficult for the Congress to take on its late leader’s widow during the campaign. “Her emotional chord with the voters is bound to have an impact. In the short-term, in the upcoming elections, even with Jagan inside jail, Vijayamma’s campaign should help YSR Congress candidates,” he says.
The worry however is that if Jagan’s stay inside prison is longer, it can give his political rivals enough opportunity to harm him politically. The one-day bandh called by his party after his arrest had little impact in the state, except in his home district of Kadapa — a pointer to the lack of organisational strength and cadre.
And there is no dearth of ammunition against Jagan either. Prima facie, the phenomenal growth in his assets — his declared property in 2004 was Rs 1.74 crore, which rose to Rs 77 crore in 2009 and 365 crore in 2011 — gives enough room for suspicion. Then there is the allegation that all those who invested in his media empire were allotted huge tracts of land at throwaway prices in Special Economic Zones by the YSR government.
FINALLY, A slew of briefcase companies that, according to the CBI, were floated to plough in black money into Jagan’s companies. There are also investments by companies registered in tax havens abroad whose identity has not been established and the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (which too wants to interrogate Jagan) allege a case of money laundering.
Complicating matters further, the TDP is demanding that the case of the murder of its MLA, Paritala Ravi, in January 2005 be reopened. Jagan, named as one of the suspects, was given a clean chit by the CBI.
What could change the dynamics are a couple of factors. Before his arrest, 15 June — the day of the bypoll results — was spoken of as the D-day on the assumption that Jagan would sweep the polls. A shift in loyalties of about 30 MLAs would have brought down the Kiran Kumar Reddy government, forcing mid-term polls in the state. But with Jagan in custody now, many of those MLAs may choose to sit on the fence, unsure if their political future will be more rosy in Jagan’s outfit.
Secondly, the politically and financially powerful Reddy community is annoyed that one of their ilk is being hauled over the coals. The Reddys, who have been the backbone of the Congress, will play a significant role in how the Congress and the YSR Congress fare at the hustings in 2014.
There is also the fear that neutralising Jagan from the political scene will only help Naidu log into power once again. Severe anti-incumbency, infighting and mishandling of critical issues have rendered the Congress regime a lame duck government. And Naidu, CEO of Andhra Pradesh Inc., is telling people he wants his job back, now that the pretender to the throne is out.