The Naidu vs Jagan potboiler in Andhra - Hindustan Times
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The Naidu vs Jagan potboiler in Andhra

Jun 07, 2024 01:12 AM IST

The revenge politics and governance gaffes of Jagan Mohan Reddy cost the YSRCP dearly in the elections. It has given a new life to the TDP in the southern state

In September 2022, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, leader of the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) and then chief minister (CM) of Andhra Pradesh, addressed a massive gathering following the party’s victory in the Kuppam assembly constituency, held by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu since 1989. He enthused party members with the rallying cry of “Why not 175”, envisioning a sweep of all 175 assembly constituencies in the upcoming elections. As the 2024 assembly and Lok Sabha elections approached, Reddy launched his party’s campaign with the same slogan, confident that his government’s flagship welfare schemes, described as navaratnalu (nine gems), would secure the necessary seats for re-election. However, the YSR Congress suffered a staggering defeat, securing only 11 seats. In sharp contrast, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), consisting of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Jana Sena Party (JSP), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), clinched a landslide victory, securing 164 seats. The sharp drop in the YSRCP’s electoral performance — its seats plummeted from 151 in the 2019 assembly elections to just 11 in 2024 — calls for scrutiny. Similarly, the NDA’s overwhelming triumph deserves an examination of the key factors that fuelled its success.

Mangalagiri, June 04 (ANI): Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N Chandrababu Naidu and Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan pose victory signs during his visit to Janasena Party central office, in Mangalagiri on Tuesday. (ANI Photo)(Tharun Vinny) PREMIUM
Mangalagiri, June 04 (ANI): Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N Chandrababu Naidu and Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan pose victory signs during his visit to Janasena Party central office, in Mangalagiri on Tuesday. (ANI Photo)(Tharun Vinny)

During his 2019 electoral campaign, Reddy made grand promises to the people of Andhra Pradesh, such as completing the construction of the capital city in Amaravati, securing Special Category status for the state, releasing an annual job calendar on January 1 each year, and the completion of the Polavaram project. However, in office, rather than focussing on fulfilling these promises, he engaged in a politics of vengeance. He used the office to settle scores with his arch-rival, former CM and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu. For instance, all projects initiated and contracts awarded by Naidu in Amaravati were abruptly cancelled by Jagan’s government. His animosity against Naidu ran so deep that, instead of distributing the ready-to-occupy flats to the promised beneficiaries from the poor segment of the population in Amaravati, he allowed those flats to fall into disrepair. Reddy mooted three capitals for the state instead of completing Amaravati. However, people wondered if the CM could construct three capitals when he couldn’t complete even one!

The YSRCP government’s volunteer system had a debilitating effect on state institutions, especially local governing bodies. Under this system, a volunteer was assigned to every 50 families, acting as a facilitator for transactions between the state and these families. Although this seemed like a form of pastoral care by the state, it gradually undermined institutions like the panchayats, leaving their employees paid but without work. Moreover, the volunteer system strained the state’s finances, as the honorarium for volunteers came from the state exchequer. Many people lamented that volunteers acted as informants for the ruling party, reporting on supporters and opponents, leading to bias in governance.

Throughout Reddy’s term, law and order deteriorated. In several instances of violence, YSRCP leaders and workers were given free rein against TDP leaders and workers. The police, who were supposed to maintain neutrality, were accused of acting as a private force of the ruling regime. Reddy’s politics of vengeance peaked when his government arrested Naidu and held him in remand for an extended period. The scenes of the elderly Naidu — he is 74 — being dragged by the police created public sympathy in his favour.

An important aspect that significantly damaged the YSRCP’s reputation was the AP Land Titling Act of 2023. The government claimed the Act was passed to streamline land records, resolve disputes, and provide permanent titles. However, Opposition leaders, particularly Naidu, labelled it a “land grabbing Act” and warned people against it. He argued that it was another tactic by Reddy to seize people’s lands, emphasising that the Act required only a photocopy of the transaction, leaving the original documents with the government. Naidu also highlighted how the YSRCP government printed Reddy’s image on land passbooks instead of the official state emblem. This move alarmed land and property owners.

It is this mismanagement in government that has allowed the TDP to re-emerge as a strong alternative to the YSRCP ahead of the 2024 elections. Naidu, who had previously lost office and faced significant challenges, including arrest, was wary of taking unnecessary risks. He successfully negotiated an alliance with the BJP. Surprisingly, the electoral partnership between the BJP and TDP disproportionately benefited the former over the latter. In the 2019 assembly elections, the BJP had failed to secure even a single seat in the state. However, in the recent elections, it managed to win eight of 10 seats allocated to the party. While the long-term implications of this coalition on Andhra Pradesh’s political landscape remain uncertain, for now, it has yielded more seats to the alliance partners than initially anticipated.

Actor Pawan Kalyan’s emergence as a political force further influenced the outcome. His relentless criticism of the YSRCP government’s undemocratic practices and campaigns against its alleged corruption resonated across the state, particularly the Kapu caste and youth from backward communities. His party’s sweeping victory, securing all 21 allocated seats, underscores his growing influence.

Additionally, the TDP’s “Super Six” welfare promises significantly bolstered its electoral prospects. Recognising the YSRCP’s success with welfare schemes, the TDP offered ambitious initiatives, such as creating two million jobs for young people, providing financial assistance to schoolchildren and women, and ensuring essential resources such as gas cylinders and free transportation. Despite the fiscal challenges these pledges pose, they garnered substantial support from women and lower-income groups, contributing to the landslide victory.

Despite this resounding success, navigating Andhra Pradesh’s precarious financial situation presents a daunting challenge for the TDP and its allies, although being part of the NDA and having a voice in Delhi will help. Naidu’s political acumen will be crucial in overcoming these hurdles. Nonetheless, for now, it’s a moment of celebration for the Naidu-Kalyan partnership, marking the beginning of a new political era in the state.

Sambaiah Gundimeda is associate professor in the School of Interwoven Arts and Sciences (SIAS) at Krea University, Sri City, Andhra Pradesh. The views expressed are personal

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