Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death has created a political dilemma for the Congress party. The party is in two minds about whether to select a suitable successor to the Chief Minister or succumb to pressure from a strong section of the Andhra Congress legislative party to appoint his son, Jagan Mohan Reddy, in his place.
The rise of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the early 80s was on account of the fact that its then leader, N.T. Rama Rao was able to exploit the issue of central interference in state affairs to his political advantage. He convinced people that in the Congress, chief ministers were appointed from Delhi and not by those directly elected to the Assembly.
The manner in which T. Anjiah was treated always helped the TDP drive home the point that the Congress had no regard for Telugu pride. The TDP emerged as the state’s pre-eminent party first under NTR and subsequently under his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu, a former Indira Gandhi loyalist.
The issue of Telugu pride has often put the Congress on the backfoot. NTR knew that this was a weapon that could be used effectively against the Congress. To this end, he decided not to put up any candidate against P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1991 when he was the Prime Minister and contested from Nandyal. After this, Andhra Pradesh has always enjoyed great political importance. Under Naidu, the TDP was central to the formation and continuation of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government.
Naidu extracted his pound of flesh for his support and the NDA had to bow to his whims and fancies, to the extent that Vajpayee decided to advance the elections in 2004 to enable the state Assembly and Lok Sabha polls to be held simultaneously. Both the TDP and the NDA fell by the wayside as the YSR juggernaut helped fulfil Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s dream of dislodging ‘the communal BJP’.
It would be safe to say that if Sonia Gandhi was the architect of the UPA victory in both 2004 and 2009, YSR played his role as an able general in delivering the numbers to her. Had the party not performed so well in Andhra, the UPA’s fate would have been in doubt. Thus, in two successive parliamentary elections, Andhra was the state that was key to the Congress party’s success. For both the UPA chief and the Prime Minister, YSR became a symbol of efficiency. His delivery system was outstanding in its pragmatism and efficiency. He ensured that the benefits of all schemes went to the common people. His implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) won him praise from both the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Prime Minister. There were also allegations of corruption, which were never substantiated by any investigative agency.
YSR was unperturbed and went about his job in a clinical manner. But the fact remains that had he not enjoyed Sonia Gandhi’s unflinching support, he would not have emerged as such a strong leader. His supporters need to recognise this truth and allow the Congress chief to take the appropriate decision.
The Congress High Command has to assess who will be an appropriate successor. A wrong move could boomerang. And if the party bows to the wishes of the emotional demand by a large number of legislators, there could be repercussions in other states. Other state leaders may be tempted to assert themselves.
The present model of the Congress High Command being the final authority could be altered. The rise of regional leaders in the states will, of course, be beneficial to overall development. But it could alter the rules of the game. A strong leadership in the states is the need of the hour to curb the regional influences of smaller parties. It remains to be seen how the Congress leadership will resolve the matter — in a manner that does not dilute its own authority and also, at the same time, keeps state functionaries happy. Between us.