What impact will the CBI inquiry on Jagan have? Will the Congress be able to hold on to the YSR legacy, asks Rohini Mohan
A DAMNING CAG report and a CBI chargesheet that threatens not just the government but also its most visible opposition: how many states can boast of this? Till 2009, Andhra Pradesh was a citadel the Congress high command counted on — almost basking in its higher than 9 percent GDP growth rate and political stability. Today, it is an arena of dirty infighting and eroding credibility.
In the summer of 2009, twice-elected former chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy (“YSR”, as he was known) had not only revived mass support for the state Congress with welfare schemes, he had also contributed 33 MPs — the largest from any one state — to the UPA. Then, four months later, it all came crashing down with YSR’s death in a helicopter accident. In just a month, his 37-year-old son Jagan Mohan Reddy had rebelled against the party, fighting to appropriate his father’s legacy, and seducing Congress MLAs into his camp. Meanwhile, under the replacement CMs— first the lacklustre K Rosaiah who could not handle the Telangana upheavals, and now Kiran Kumar Reddy, caught in factional politics — the Congress administration in AP is spiralling downwards rapidly.
In its weakest moment ever, the state has now been delivered a double blow — a CAG report and a CBI chargesheet both accusing the late YSR of enormous corruption. Reeling under the impact, the Congress seems set to crumble in the only major state (other than Rajasthan perhaps) that it controls.
Last week, a CAG report examining state affairs from 2006-11 found the late YSR guilty of gifting away 88,492 acres to private companies and individuals without due diligence, causing a loss of Rs 1 lakh crore to the state exchequer. Within 24 hours came the second blow. The CBI chargesheet on Jagan’s disproportionate assets case accused YSR of entering into a criminal conspiracy, allotting land to two pharmaceutical companies in exchange for investing in Jagan’s media business.
YSR is alleged to have allotted 75 acres each to Hetero Pharma and Aurobindo Pharma at Rs 7 lakh per acre against Rs 15 lakh as fixed by the state-owned AP Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC).
In turn, Aurobindo Pharma invested Rs 3 crore in Jagati publications (which runs the Sakshi newspaper), and Hetero Pharma invested Rs 4.5 crore in Janani Infrastructure, both owned by Jagan.
Jagan, however, denies that the two transactions are even connected. “The pharma companies invested in my business because Sakshi is a flourishing newspaper,” says Jagan, in a phone interview. “They don’t need to be forced into a quid pro quo. They invested in Sakshi because they know this will make money, not because I’m my father’s son.”
Despite his denials, Jagan’s public persona and growing wealth is inextricably linked to his being the son of Andhra’s most successful Congress CM. His assets have grown from Rs 9.18 lakh in 2004, when YSR first became CM, to Rs 365 crore today. Jagan became an MP right from the family pocket borough of Kadapa. After YSR’s death on 3 September 2009, his Odarpu Yatra across AP to mourn his father, whipped up a mass frenzy for choosing Jagan as YSR’s successor. Senior party leaders felt threatened, but publicly ignored what they considered the tantrum of a political novice (Jagan had then served less than a year as MP).
Congressmen sidelined by YSR but close to the party high command, like V Hanumantha Rao, Keshava Rao and Jaipal Reddy, convinced Sonia Gandhi to disown the young challenger. Shortly after, Jagan launched his party — the YSR Congress.
Ever since Jagan started to woo YSR loyalists, the Congress has made no bones about trying to rein him in. But in July 2011, when P Shanker Rao, a Congress minister in AP, alleged in two letters to the AP High Court that Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assets were disproportionate to his income, little did he know that it would boomerang. The HC-ordered CBI probe (the SC later upheld it) into Jagan’s assets has tightened the noose around the rebel, but also dragged down the Congress.
The party has twisted itself into an uncomfortable position of denying YSR’s alleged corruption, but insisting on the illegality of Jagan’s manoeuverings, even if they are allegedly the fruits of YSR’s connections. PCC president Botsa Satyanarayana says, “Jagan is an over-ambitious fellow who uses his father’s name for benefits.” But he insists that the illegal land allotments had nothing to do with ministers and bureaucrats in office today.
Yet, the state Congress cannot distance itself from YSR’s legacy. Because even without the YSR prefix, today’s Congress in AP is no less than YSR’s party, standing and disintegrating with the factions he created. Before he became CM, YSR was a perennial dissident in the Congress party. Hankering for the chief minister’s seat, he created his own group that included sworn loyalists like KVP Ramachandra Rao, a Rajya Sabha MP today.
POLITICAL ANALYST K Nageshwar explains how YSR quelled dissent, “Perhaps his childhood years in violent faction-ridden Rayalaseema, and his own scrappy beginnings in the Congress taught him the style he was known for — shower the loyalist with power and money, and take everything away from the dissident.” With welfare schemes like the Pavala Vaddi, Indiramma Housing and the Jalayagna Irrigation projects, YSR’s popularity soared among the masses. “More government spending means more political contractor raj, so politicians too loved this brand of egalitarian corruption,” says Nageshwar.
Through it all, the Congress high command left YSR alone. AP’s 33 MPs were crucial to the UPA2 that was struggling with its allies. YSR was also arguably one of the biggest funders for the Congress in Delhi, as Jagan himself suggests hotly today.
Electorally too, the ‘messiah of the poor’ was reaping dividends. In the 2009 Assembly elections, YSR convinced the high command to let the party contest on its own (unlike in 2004, when it partnered with the TRS). He ensured his men, many first-timers, got tickets. They’re still in the Kiran Kumar Reddy-led government today. Their loyalty, from the beginning, had been to YSR rather than the Congress.
It is this composition of the AP Congress that causes the frequent internal rifts, and tectonic shifts. “The Congress, splintered as anti-and pro-YSR, now lacks a strong leadership that can ensure benefits to both people and politicians,” says Nageshwar. Eighteen Congress MLAs have joined Jagan, and many more are weighing their options. MLAs and MPs from the Telangana region have also begun to rebel against the party’s indecisiveness on the separate state issue.
The unravelling has begun to show. In the March byelections in Telangana, the Congress did not win a single seat of the seven contested, losing all by huge margins. Three of these were previously Congress constituencies. The Congress is in trouble in Coastal Andhra too. In Rayalaseema, health minister DL Ravindra Reddy had earned the sobriquet “Deposit Loss Reddy” after he lost to Jagan in Kadapa last May.
The bypoll drubbing has brought on a new round of groupism. The chief minister and party factional leaders have started to clash — the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s raids on the liquor lobby across AP are an example of that. Senior Congress leaders, many of them opposed to Reddy, are supposed to be proxy owners and benefactors of the liquor trade.
Following this, Ravindra Reddy submitted his resignation to Sonia Gandhi, and met her about “the sorry state of the Congress in AP”. Facing a steep fall in credibility and the erosion of its traditional vote, state Congress members admit the bypoll defeats and corruption charges have struck real fear in their hearts. Ravindra Reddy says the party is “day dreaming”. Renuka Chowdhury may have clapped her hands mockingly at Jagan’s promise of good governance, but she too grudgingly admits, “We have a situation to fix.”
On 4 April, an icy PCC president Botsa Satyanarayana and a sulking CM Kiran Kumar Reddy came to the Congress headquarters in Delhi with guns trained at each other. With crucial byelections to 18 Assembly seats and the Nellore Lok Sabha seat just a few months away, the high command is desperately trying to broker peace.
As the pressure mounts, a crumbling Congress is trying to hold on to YSR’s legacy — a move that has it butting heads with Jagan. Vote for Congress, the party seems to say, for the golden YSR years again, minus the corruption. But as Nageshwar puts it: That is like saying there will be magic, but without the tricks. For the Congress in AP, at least, the magic has gone.
Rohini Mohan is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.