YS Reddy a big hit
In a boost to the main opposition Congress party ahead of elections, charismatic leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy's campaign is evoking a good public response.
With an anti-establishment wave sweeping through the Telangana region in northwestern Andhra Pradesh, the Jaitra Yatra election campaign of Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly known as YSR, could spell more trouble for the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
The region comprising 10 districts, along with three north coastal districts, will have assembly and Lok Sabha elections on April 20.
YSR, a strong contender for the chief minister's post in the event of the Congress coming to power, launched his state-wide Jaitra Yatra, or journey of victory, last Monday in Ranga Reddy district and has so far covered six districts.
Enthusiastic public response to the campaign at different places has lifted the spirits of the Congress, which was worried over the negative impact that dissident activities could have on its poll prospects.
The response to YSR's campaign has been similar to the one he got for his marathon 60-day 'padayatra' or walkathon last year. He had then covered 1,600 km to ascertain people's grievances and lifted the sagging morale of the party cadre in what was considered to be a stronghold of Congress till TDP's arrival on the political scene in the early 1980s.
YSR, 55, is the most charismatic of Congress leaders in the state and is known for his fiery speeches. The leader from Cuddapah district in Rayalseema region enjoys tremendous following among party cadres.
While passing through interior villages on his decorated vehicle named Congress Vijay Ratham, he is meeting people and addressing them from atop the vehicle.
At every public meeting of his, his attacks on former friend and Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu draw loud cheers.
In a region steeped in backwardness and utter poverty and which witnessed a spate of suicides by farmers and weavers and large-scale migration of labourers in recent years, YSR's promises of free electricity to farmers and the poor have given new hope.
His appeal to farmers not to pay their electricity arrears is being welcomed by the farming community. He has promised to waive the arrears if Congress comes to power - though the TDP has asked the Election Commission to intervene on this.
YSR is also attacking Naidu for his overemphasis on IT while ignoring the problems of farmers, the closure of several public sector undertakings rendering thousands of people jobless, his plans to privatise state-owned Transport Corporation and Singareni Collieries Limited and for pushing the state into a debt trap by borrowing heavily from the World Bank and other international financial institutions.
The Congress, which is seeking to return to power in the state after a gap of nine years, had bagged 90 seats in 294-member assembly and could win only five of 42 Lok Sabha seats in 1999 elections.
This time the party hopes to end TDP rule as for the first time it has entered into seat adjustments with left parties and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).