After almost 50 days as Andhra chief minister and without much of an achievement to his name, Kiran Reddy became active three days ago, imploring Congress MLAs not to participate in Jaganmohan Reddy's New Delhi rally on Tuesday.
The rally was to protest against the Krishna river tribunal's alleged discrimination against Andhra Pradesh.
The MLAs listened intently, but still boarded the train with Jaganmohan, leaving an exasperated Kiran Reddy to tell a group of students from Harvard Business School: "Politics is not an easy task ... need to cope with a lot of pressure."
When the Congress removed the party veteran K Rosaiah as chief minister in November and replaced him with the relatively inexperienced Kiran Reddy, it saw two possible trouble spots: the Jaganmohan Reddy threat was growing bigger, and the report on possible statehood for Telangana, authored by the justice Srikrishna commission, was about to be submitted.
The government's strategy was based on the hope that the new chief minister, because he is a Reddy, would be able to stymie Jaganmohan's "disruptive" plans, the seeds of which were sown when he was denied his father's office after YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) died as chief minister in September 2009.
But just when Kiran Reddy was beginning to take the bearings of his new job, Jaganmohan resigned from the party and the Lok Sabha. More, Jaganmohan exhibited his strength in New Delhi on Tuesday, humiliating the party further with his "gentleman's favour to the Congress that is letting the state government survive".
Kiran Reddy, a former assembly speaker, is not seen as one who is keeping his flock together — unlike YSR, who remote-controlled MLAs and MPs, and Rosaiah, to whom leaders would go for advice.
With the by-elections to the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency (held earlier by Jaganmohan) and the Pulivendula assembly seat (vacated by Jaganmohan's mother, YS Vijayalaxmi) due, Jaganmohan has applied to the Election Commission for registering a party in his father's name — attracting district Congress chiefs, zilla parishad chairmen, and panchayat and municipal leaders, apart from "scores of MLAs from various parties" supposed to be waiting for his call.
Two MLAs who were ministers in the Rosaiah cabinet, apart from two Lok Sabha MPs, joined Jaganmohan's New Delhi rally. And the odarpu yatra, the journey to console the families of those who died of shock or committed suicide after YSR's death, is again on the streets, drawing huge crowds.
The first trial of strength, attended by 24 Congress MLAs, was the meeting in Vijayawada on farmer deaths. And the number of legislators at the New Delhi rally is about 25. This has created jitters in the Congress, which still put up a brave face saying the state government is not in danger.
For the Congress, the threat lies in numbers. In a 294-seat assembly, the party now has just 155 MLAs. Apart from seven MLAs of the All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen, the Congress is relying on the Praja Rajyam Party's 18 MLAs, a couple of whom were there in Jaganmohan's New Delhi rally.
When K Chandrasekhar Rao launched the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in 2001, the atmosphere was volatile. Even the experienced Chandrababu Naidu was nervous, but his successor, YSR (who as opposition leader led a signature campaign for Telangana), handled he situation deftly and the Telangana claim was almost given up.
When the Telangana agitation again picked up in December 2009, Kiran Reddy as speaker won Congress president Sonia Gandhi's praise for not accepting mass resignations of MLAs and cooling the heat. Now the party is trying its best to keep emotions in check.
"If all states are important, Andhra Pradesh is of extreme importance — a fact that cannot be denied by anyone," says a senior Congress leader in New Delhi, summing up the party's apprehensions.
An AICC functionary thinks in a similar vein. He says: "The present circumstances have put party in a fix — an embarrassing one making us look weak," adding that the party wants Kiran Reddy to pull up his socks. Else, the buzz is that governor ESL Narasimhan has been asked to stand by to take over under President's rule.