Thousands of people, including 17 Congress legislators, on Tuesday thronged the banks of the Krishna river in Vijayawada to participate in a 48-hour fast by former Congress MP YS Jaganmohan Reddy to demand that the government come to the rescue of farmers who lost their crops in the recent rains.
Three members of the legislative council, some senior leaders, former ministers of the ruling party and a few filmstars also turned up at the mammoth gathering.
Jaganmohan Reddy, popularly known as Jagan, launched the fast with over 100,000 farmers and supporters from different parts of the state in attendance in what is considered as his first show of strength since leaving the Congress last month.
The former Kadapa MP, who turned 38 on Tuesday, began the fast along with his supporters near the Prakasam Barrage.
Seventeen members of the assembly, including actress Jayasudha, former ministers B Srinivas Reddy, P Subhashchandra Bose and Konda Surekha, some former ministers as well as some MPs have joined the fast.
The response to the programme titled laksha deeksha (fast by one lakh) evoked huge response with people from across the state descending on this town of Krishna district in coastal Andhra Pradesh.
But the crowds were proving uncontrollable for organisers and the young leader had to repeatedly appeal to people not to move towards the dais.
The son of late Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy reached the venue after offering prayers at the Durga temple.
Jagan launched a scathing attack on the state government, saying it forgot the ideals of late YSR by ignoring the welfare of farmers.
"For the last one year, farmers are suffering one loss after the other. How many more farmers have to die before this government takes steps to solve their problems," asked Jagan.
The participation of Congress legislators worried the party leadership. Senior leader and Rajya Sabha MP V Hanumantha Rao said he would complain to the central leadership.
Jagan, who quit the Congress and resigned from the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat accusing the leadership of dividing his family, reached the town in the morning by Prashanti Express to a warm welcome by supporters.
Soon after his arrival at the venue, Jagan garlanded a statue of his father. Prominent supporters sat on the 100-feet long, 50-feet wide and 10-feet high dais with massive cut-outs of the late chief minister and Jagan in the backdrop.
Those on the dais included former Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader and actress Roja, actor couple Rajasekhar and Jeevita and TDP founder NT Rama Rao's widow Lakshmi Parvathi.
Addressing the gathering, Roja said Jagan's fast had sent tremors in Delhi with MPs from the state queuing up outside Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence to meet him on the problems of farmers.
Actress Jayasudha, who represents the Secunderabad assembly constituency, said she had come here as she became a legislator because of the late Rajasekhara Reddy.
Jagan, who has announced plans to float a new party in 45 days, has gone all out to make the fast a massive show of strength. The organisers said the open space in front of the dais can accommodate 175,000 people.
After the rains early this month caused huge crops losses, Jagan had visited Guntur, Krishna and East Godavari districts to call on farmers. His tour had sent ripples in the Congress with a section of party leaders, including two legislators, joining his camp.
Jagan's action, however, has drawn criticism from his uncle and state Agriculture Minister Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, who claimed that the package announced by the government for farmers last week was the best in India.
Jagan began the 48-hour fast at a time when leader of opposition and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu is also on a fast for five days, demanding a fair deal for farmers.
The TDP chief, arrested Monday, is continuing his indefinite fast at the Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) in Hyderabad.