Will Jagan derail Congress in Andhra?

Updated: Dec 09, 2010, 11:23 AM IST

Ritesh K Srivastava

Finally, the political time-bomb in Andhra Pradesh, which had been ticking since long, exploded with Jaganmohan Reddy’s ouster from the Congress and the fears within the party that he would float the ‘YSR Congress’.

Lending credence to speculation, Jagan has announced that he would float a new party within 45 days to protect the self-interest of his family and his supporters. Although, Congress has managed to appoint a new successor of Rosaiah, its troubles are far from over as the party has just survived a rebellion by its senior leaders. Though, the rebellion was aimed at securing ministerial berths, it was suspected that Jagan’s hand was behind the drama.

What happened in Andhra Pradesh was on expected lines given the angst and frustration brewing inside the Kadapa MP ever since the Congress high command decided not to “enthusiastically” respond to his wish to succeed his father as chief minister – sole inheritor of his legacy.

Though YSR died an untimely death, his charisma and immense popularity remained in Andhra Pradesh paving the way for die-hard YSR loyalists to project Jagan as his natural successor.

Realising that the people’s enormous sympathy was with his family, Jagan, who was till his father’s death a little known face in Andhra politics and generally confined himself to his business interests, began harbouring political ambitions.

However, his dream of stepping into his father’s shoes turned sour when the party handed the reins of the state to K Rosaiah, a veteran politician and a staunch YSR loyalist.

With Rosiah taking over as the chief minister of state, the first seeds of rebellion were sown with the Jagan camp accusing the high command of ignoring and denying the reward of YSR’s hard work to his son.

Although the Congress appeared to be not wanting to be seen as being unsympathetic towards the late leader’s family, at the same time did not want ‘party decisions’ to be questioned by anybody openly and hoped that time would be the best healer.

However, Jagan and his supporters soon learnt this bitter reality that the Congress high command was in no mood to anoint him as YSR`s successor. Jagan then undertook the controversial `Odarpu Yatra` - to console the families of those who died or allegedly committed suicide after hearing the news of YSR’s death.

However, politically, the yatra had greater political ramifications since it appeared to be aimed at evoking and keeping alive the people’s sympathy for the late leader’s family.

An “insulted and ignored” Jagan then used his powerful media arm, a 24-hour news channel and a newspaper, to attack the Congress government of K Rosaiah.

K Rosaiah, who recently quit as the chief minister citing health reasons, again triggered a rat-race to lead the state. However, this time also Congress party preferred Kiran Kumar Reddy over Jagan.

With the Congress’ central leadership not willing to give any concessions to Jagan, the 37-year-old leader launched a full frontal attack on the highest leadership including Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh, before finally quitting.

Now, as the situation stands, the road ahead for the Grand Old Party in Andhra Pradesh is not smooth. The party also appears to be in a fix by not wanting to be seen as a party “unsympathetic” and “unrewarding” to the late YSR’s family on one hand, and struggling to keep its vote base intact on the other.

But Congress’ carefully devised strategy to put its Andhra unit in order will not work, as it will have to deal with the challenge, which the young rebel leader has thrown up by floating a new party. If insiders are to be believed, Jagan wants to wean away Dalit workers from the Congress and the TDP, with a formula of offering them 50% of the seats in the ensuing local body elections.

Congress has so far refused to be blackmailed by a defiant Jagan and by choosing Kiran Reddy, it has also signalled that it won’t let its grip over the powerful Reddy community slip so easily.

The state is crucial for Congress, especially after the drubbings in Bihar elections, which has established the fact regarding the party’s continued failure in the Hindi belt of India. Congress won 29 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2004 and emerged as the single-largest party. Its stupendous show continued in 2009 as it won 33 seats riding on the back of UPA`s performance in Tamil Nadu, UP, West Bengal and Rajasthan.

However, a section of Congress leaders have expressed concerns about the 2014 contest. With the future in Tamil Nadu and UP appearing bleak, Congress now needs to strengthen its hold in Andhra Pradesh, which sends 42 Lok Sabha members.

The installation of a young Reddy as the chief minister and the plan to anoint a dalit deputy CM is a concrete step towards it. The choice of Damodar Raja Narasimha – a dalit - to be the deputy CM is part of a well-crafted strategy to strengthen the party’s hold over key social groups. The Congress leadership is aware that dalits, who constitute 23% of the state’s total population, will also form part of Jagan’s game plan to weaken it.

Narasimha belongs to `Madiga` sub-group of SCs who are aligned with TDP so his elevation as deputy CM may wean away a chunk of `Madigas` from the rival vote base.

In a bid to neutralise the Jagan threat, Congress has gifted a Cabinet birth to his uncle YS Vivekananda Reddy. This will insulate the party from accusations of being unsympathetic to the YSR family. Clearly, after Jagan and his mother Vijaylakshmi’s departure, horse-trading is on in full swing and efforts are on to persuade the SC and OBC Congress MLAs to switch sides.

As far as the number game is concerned, the Jagan camp enjoys the support of 18 MLAs. Jagan’s loyalists are confident of taking this number to 52, required to split from the Congress, without being subject to the anti-defection rules. Jagan will himself contest the by-election from the Pulivendula Assembly seat in Kadapa district - a pocket-borough of the late YSR.

Congress, at the moment, has sufficient number of MLAs (155 after deducting Vijaylakshmi`s seat in the 294-member House). Besides this, the Congress can also bank on support from Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam (PRP) with 18 MLAs, MIM with 7 MLAs, TRS with 11, and two independents. All this will ensure that there is no threat to the Kiran Reddy regime.

But despite enjoying a comfortable majority in the state Assembly, Congress will have to ensure that it commits no mistakes, which can provide any room for Jagan to topple the government.

In case Jagan fails in his attempt to do so, he can still erode the Congress’ base among Reddys. Late YSR’s opposition to a separate Telanagana state will further play a spoilsport for Jagan, who is backed by only one MLA, Konda Surekha from Warangal`s Parkal constituency, from the entire Telangana region where the Congress has 50 MLAs.

The entire political drama also speaks of Congress party’s double speak on its stand over the dynasty politics, which it has always promoted. On one hand Rahul Gandhi, who is of the same age group as Jagan, is being dubbed as the next PM of India, on the other the latter is being denied the opportunity to rule in the pretext of being too young and inexperienced.

Whether Jagan manages to derail Congress or not only time will tell, but Congress is set to face a challenging scenario in the future.