HYDERABAD, Telangana — “Bye Bye Babu,” reads a clock at the YSR Congress Party’s (YSRCP) headquarters in Amaravathi. The clock counts down the Telugu Desam Party’s N. Chandrababu Naidu’s current tenure as Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Minister, and the day when Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy will presumably take over.
Jagan, as he is popularly known, is confident of sweeping not just the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly elections but also a good share of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Political pundits and exit polls agree: the latest numbers suggest Jagan will be the next chief minister of AP and the YSR Congress, his party named after his father, would win between 16 and 18 Lok Sabha seats.
The polls have been wrong before: In 2014 too, exit polls had favoured Jagan as Chief Minister, yet the YSR congress could win only 67 of 175 seats in Andhra Pradesh’s Vidhan Sabha. The TDP won 102, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won four seats and Naidu became Chief Minister. In the Lok Sabha, Naidu won out as well — winning a total of 17 LS seats with the BJP, while YSRCP won eight.
Yet this time, the mood in Andhra Pradesh seems different. Jagan 2019 seems a much improved version from five years ago. His rise epitomises the Indian National Congress’s crisis of leadership since the party’s heyday at the head of the United Progressive Alliance, and the growth of regional leaders and parties at the expense of the grand old party of Indian independence.
In 2009, Jagan’s father — YS Rajashekara Reddy — was the lynchpin of the Congress’s total control over Andhra Pradesh when he died in a freak helicopter accident in September that year. The day after YSR’s death, a long list of Congress MLAs petitioned the Congress national leadership to appoint Jagan as the Chief Minister. The party did not relent.
Two years later, in 2011, Jagan left the Congress to form the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu (YSR) Congress Party. The following year, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) announced a probe into contract-allotment kickbacks that Jagan allegedly received during his father’s term as Chief Minister (2004-2009).
Jagan was imprisoned, only to re-emerge stronger.
“The Jagan who came out of prison when he got bail after 16 months was a true political leader. He knew time was ripe to establish himself,” said a YSRCP insider. “He kept working on improving his network among people by campaigning vociferously against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into two states.”
Jagan’s political career is a story of many marches.
On September 25 2009, weeks after his father’s death, Jagan announced an Odarpu Yatra, or condolence tour, in which he would criss-cross the state on foot to visit the families of those who had committed suicide after YSR died. The yatra mirrored YSR’s 2004 election campaign, which was conducted entirely on foot, and was intended as a show of strength aimed at the Congress’s national leadership.
The marches continued after the YSRCP was formed, culminating in January 2019 with the completion of the 3,648km long Praja Sankalpa Yatra in which Jagan walked across the state to gain support for his party. Thousands turned up at his rallies in each district.
“Before touring the state in a padayatra for 2019 elections he was YSR’s son. But this year after his campaign by foot he became Jagan Mohan Reddy, a leader of his own making,” said a retired teacher turned farmer who said he had sent 100 of his farm hands to attend Jagan’s public meeting in Vemuru in Guntur.
Jagan’s fortunes changed in June 2014, when the United Progressive Alliance government in the Centre agreed to bifurcate AP to carve out Telangana.
“There are two politicians who gained traction mainly because of bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. One is Jagan, the other is Telangana CM, K Chandrasekhar Rao,” said political scientist G. Haragopal.
Dividing the state killed the Congress’ chances in Andhra Pradesh as the party was held responsible for the huge financial losses the state suffered when it lost capital Hyderabad to Telangana.
Caste equations made elections in AP a two-party contest. While TDP, which traditionally has a Kamma caste vote base, gained traction in the state, the landed Reddy caste — who traditionally voted Congress — found an alternative in Jagan.
After 2014, as the BJP-led government in Delhi refused to give Andhra Pradesh “Special Category Status” despite Chief Minister Naidu joining the National Democratic Alliance, Jagan emerged as a viable alternative.
The demand for “Special Category Status” — which gives a state a larger percentage of Central funds, and access to a variety of development schemes — has since become the single point agenda of Jagan’s election campaign.
This demand has distinguished Jagan from his political opponents, but has also made him an unpredictable regional player.
“I will support whoever gives AP Special Category Status,” Jagan has said in interviews, making clear he is willing to side with either the BJP-led NDA, or an opposition front.
To this end, the YSRCP leader has also met with Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) and pledged his support for Federal front of kindred regional parties.
“Jagan knows that the Congress leadership does not trust him after his break from the party. He is also aware that his Reddy base does not approve of BJP, a long time TDP ally which refused to give special status to the state when it was in power,” said Haragopal, the political scientist.
As a consequence, Jagan’s chances of influencing results in the Centre are dependent on the fate of Telangana Rashtra Samithi, KCR’s party in the neighbouring state. The TRS, like the YSRCP, has maintained a safe distance from both the NDA and UPA — making clear that both the parties together can lobby with either national fronts for plum postings.
Exit polls suggest that the TRS and YSRCP are expected to win over 30 seats together. In this equation, Jagan’s future has an added advantage over that of KCR because an alliance which includes TRS would mean an advantage in the home front—keeping his main rival Chandrababu Naidu in check by cashing in on TRS’s political rivalry with TDP.
Though Naidu had parted ways with NDA to form an alliance with the Congress in 2018, if results favour Jagan in 2019, he along with KCR may project themselves as the lobbying front in the twin states of AP and Telangana.
Jagan Mohan Reddy is a good lobbyist as exemplified by the business empire he built during his father’s term. His stint in prison has added to his appeal by portraying him as a victim of Congress’ political vendetta.
“I have forgiven the Congress,” he said taking the highroad in April 2019.
With honour restored, Jagan is now the 46-year-old leader who can outdo his father’s political conquests.