With Sonia Gandhi being formally elected as the Congress president for the fourth consecutive term last week, the focus is likely to shift soon to Andhra Pradesh where former Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's son, Jaganmohan Reddy, appears to be in a defiant mood. Much against the advice of the senior Congress leaders, Reddy is going ahead with the third phase of his 'Odarpu Yatra' in a big way, and if the crowds at his previous rallies are any indication, he is emerging as a leader with a huge mass base in the state.
YSR's first death anniversary was observed on September 2 and there seems to be no leader within the state Congress who looks well equipped to deal with the crisis that is looming large in the state particularly after the arbitrary declaration on December 9 last year that a separate Telangana would be created.
The Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) is gaining ground in Telangana and the way things stand, the Congress is bound to weaken itself in its strongest state, which returned it to power in 2004 and 2009. Chief Minister K Rosaiah lacks YSR's charisma and is not in good health. Moreover, he is too busy trying to counter Jagan's growing influence and many positive things initiated by his predecessor have run into rough weather.
The Congress leadership needs to heed to proper advice if it wants to contain the damage already caused by the announcement of a separate state and the CM's inability to consolidate the party's position. So far as Jagan goes, he is trying to ensure that his father's legacy as a mass leader is preserved and his own existence is not lost in the power play within his party. Soon after YSR's death, 152 out of 155 MLAs were willing to back him but the number has now dwindled to about 45 to 50.
Both the Congress leadership and Jagan's supporters are faced with a strange dilemma: the Congress cannot afford to decimate YSR's son since he enjoys considerable popularity in the state and in the event of a poll or a strength test (after his possible expulsion), the party may have to face the consequences. So far as Jagan is concerned, if he goes out of the Congress, his stock will fall and it will take a Herculean effort to revive his chances. Therefore, it is to be seen what kind of a compromise is made to prevent any further damage.
A strange phenomenon — very particular to the Congress culture — is also being witnessed in the state. On one hand, a number of MPs and state leaders are pledging loyalty to the central leadership, but at the same time some of them are encouraging their close relatives to join Jagan's roadshow so that in case he does emerge on top, they will have some sort of a connection with him.
There is no doubt that after YSR's death the Andhra Pradesh issue has been badly handled. YSR was loyal to Sonia Gandhi and this strong allegiance would have continued even after him, had some Congress managers been more patient and deft in taking care of matters. Though Rosaiah was made the CM after YSR's death, everyone views this as an interim arrangement. Therefore, despite all his experience, the CM has not been able to meet the expectations of the people. In addition, he is neither a Reddy nor a Kamma, the two dominant castes and, therefore, cannot be projected for the next round of polls.
The Congress needs to win Andhra (including Telangana) decisively, if it has to look towards the future where Rahul Gandhi may get projected as the new leader. There is no alternative but to make peace with Jagan if that objective has to be achieved. Even if YSR's son does not get elected as the state leader himself, he can always spoil the Congress's chances. Jagan also has the support of some MPs who could also rock the boat during a crucial trust vote in Parliament. The Congress leadership must realise that there is no need to pick a quarrel with Jagan when it can easily have him by its side. That is the best solution. Between us.