A normally silent Chanchalguda Central Jail in Hyderabad is flooded with visitors who have come to congratulate a high-profile prisoner – whose party swept the bypolls held in Andhra Pradesh – by winning one Lok Sabha seat and 15 Assembly constituencies.
This high-profile prisoner is YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of the State’s late former chief minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy and the head of YSR Congress party, who was recently arrested by the CBI for amassing huge unaccounted for wealth.
By winning the high stake election in his native state, Jagan- as he is popularly known – has not only dealt a big blow to the ruling Congress but also increased his political weight in the Andhra politics.
It is now beyond doubt that the spectacular win of the 15-month-old YSR Congress Part has given rise to the ‘Jagan phenomenon’ in Andhra Pradesh politics.
The victory of young Kadapa MP, who managed his party’s hectic political campaign from within the Chanchalguda jail, has taught tough lessons to the ruling Congress, which had resorted to all sorts of tactics to keep him away from the elections, including the act of getting him arrested by the CBI.
The political significance of YSR Congress’ victory could be understood by the fact that its leader is now being compared to stalwart NT Rama Rao, who once re-wrote the political history of the state by forming the Telugu Desam Party in 1982.
Though it will be too early to draw any comparisons between the two leaders since Jagan is a novice and politically less experienced as compared to the late NTR, nonetheless it has catapulted him to the league of big guns in a state once ruled by his late father YSR.
YSR Congress’ thumping victory is also a strong indicator of the fact that despite facing serious corruption charges, Jagan is still popular among the masses and enjoys huge support.
CBI action against Jagan
Jagan’s arrest in the disproportionate assets case had given some breathing space to the ruling Congress, but, as was expected, it has now cast a shadow on the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh.
If political analysts are to be believed, the Congress made a blunder by allegedly directing the CBI to arrest the Kadapa MP. The Congress leadership had probably thought that it would break the morale of his supporters and prevent his sympathisers from deserting the party, but the move backfired.
Allegations levelled by his family and supporters that the CBI was used by a worried Congress to keep Jagan away from campaigning as a part of larger conspiracy to isolate him now stand vindicated.
And what gives credence to this assertion is the fact that the CBI acted in haste and arrested Jagan just 15 days ahead of the by-elections. The CBI, which lodged its FIR in the disproportionate assets case nearly 280 days back, did not even bother to summon him during that entire period.
One inference which one can easily draw from the outcome of the bypolls is that the ruling dispensation angered his vast supporters by getting him arrested and triggered a sympathy wave in his favour.
Although the Congress government repeatedly claimed that it had nothing to do with Jagan’s arrest, it certainly complicated things for Congress as it just managed to win only two seats - Narasapuram and Ramachandrapuram.
Open defiance of Sonia Gandhi
Another factor which worked in Jagan’s favour is his image of a ‘courageous’ leader, who faced all odds, openly defied Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and did not succumb to the immense political pressure to give up fighting for a cause that only he was the natural successor of.
Unlike his father, who remained loyal to the Gandhis till his last breath, Jagan’s loyalty to the 10, Janpath remained true till the time that his "self-respect" was not impinged upon. He made several attempts to narrow the difference with the apex Congress leadership, but once he was snubbed by Sonia Gandhi and his "personal territory" was encroached upon, Jagan rebelled and walked out.
Leadership vacuum in Congress
Jagan’s meteoric rise has seen the Congress` fall in a state that helped the grand old party seize power at the Centre for two consecutive terms since 2004. In 2004, if Congress rose like a phoenix to capture power in Andhra Pradesh, it was singularly due to YS Rajasekhara Reddy. And it was the same man who rode it to power for a second consecutive term in 2009.
The Congress could never deny this. This is precisely another factor that contributed to Jagan’s political rise built on his late charismatic father’s legacy. Ironically, after YSR’s tragic death in a chopper crash, the Congress has been deprived of credible and strong leadership. The leadership vacuum in the Congress party, after YSR`s death, has come as a blessing in disguise for the 39-year-old leader, who now has his eyes set on the Chief Minister’s chair.
The fourth factor that worked in Jagan’s favour was the credibility crisis that the principal opposition Telugu Desam Party’s chief, N Chandrababu Naidu, was stuck in. Ahead of the bypolls, the TDP chief was ready with a full list of Jagan’s alleged misdeeds and tried hard not to miss any single opportunity to consolidate his vote bank. However, Jagan succeeded in striking a positive chord with the common people largely based on the goodwill that his late father had earned for himself through a slew of welfare programmes.
He merely reminded people of what his father had done for them as a Chief Minister, and promised to continue the same trend. People took his word, for they believed that Jagan would deliver what he had promised and would be as steadfast as his father in fulfilling them.
Water and electricity woes
Let alone Jagan, there were several other factors that led to the ruling Congress` rout in the recently concluded by-elections. Acute water shortage, power cuts, high electricity charges, lack of action by the local administration in Prakasam, Kandukuru and Ongole Assembly constituencies – had irked the local voters, who vent their anger by voting in favour of YSR Congress.
Moreover defection of several Congress MLAs and local leaders in Jagan’s favour and the failure of the apex leadership to keep the state unit intact also compounded the problem for the ruling side.
Now that Jagan has silenced his detractors, his political clout has surely grown but that does not effectively mean that he has attained a cult status – for that he will have to tread carefully and walk many miles before he sleeps.
His party has received a big jolt with the defeat of its top leaders P Subhash Chandra Bose and Konda Surekha. Both were ministers in the YSR cabinet and had switched loyalties to YSR Congress. Subhash Chandra Bose lost from Ramachandrapuram constituency in East Godavari district.
Jagan, too, has certain negative attributes as compared to his `diametrically opposite` father, who had a lot of grace. However, the biggest stumbling block for Jagan in reaching his goal (CM`s chair) is the Telangana issue. He may be a strong force in Andhra-Rayalaseema regions but not in Telangana.
Unless the YSR Congress takes a clear stand on the statehood issue, Jagan may not make inroads into Telangana and that could dampen his prospects. The Telangana region alone has 119 seats in the 294-member Andhra Assembly and, thus, Jagan`s fortunes ultimately rest on his stand on the statehood demand.
From now onwards, it will be difficult for Congress to dismiss the ‘Jagan phenomenon’.