Will Jagan Reddy`s release change Andhra politics?
Ritesh K Srivastava
He once lived a life king-size, free from all worldly tensions under the watchful eyes of his father and former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh late YS Rajashekhar Reddy. Taking himself as a natural heir to the rich political legacy of his father, an immensely popular Congress leader in the state, YS Jaganmohan Reddy has dreamt of making it big in the politics of this southern state.
However, a bad stroke of fate shattered all his dreams as his father YSR died in a tragic helicopter crash. YSR`s death triggered a succession war in Andhra Pradesh, apparently splitting the ruling Congress party in two camps - one projecting YSR`s son as his rightful successor, while the other opposing him on the grounds of his political immaturity.
The succession war soon reached the doors of UPA chairperson and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who is widely believed to have asked Jagan to wait for some more time to adorn the CM`s chair and pave wave for a senior leader to hold the reins of the state in the party`s interest. Sonia Gandhi`s arbitration left Jagan and his loyalists seething in anger and they nurtured a sense of betrayal on the part of Congress high command to the family of its most dedicated leader, ignoring decades of his selfless service to the party.
As expected, Jagan and Congress fell apart and the former floated a political outfit YSR Congress to fulfil his chief ministerial ambition and wipe Congress out from the political map of Andhra Pradesh. But things soon turned worse for Jagan when the CBI nailed him in a disproportionate assets case and the special CBI court finally put him behind bars for 16 months.
Jagan`s subsequent bail applications were turned down by the CBI court, leading to speculation that it was being done at the behest of Congress high command in a bid to teach him a lesson. However, Jagan`s 16-month long ordeal ended when the same CBI court ordered his release, triggering speculations of a secret deal between the two sides in lieu of his support. Considering the bitter wrangling between the two sides, everyone seems to be asking whether Jagan`s release will change the political equations ahead of the crucial 2014 General Elections.
Jagan`s release from Chanchalguda Central Prison comes at a politically appropriate time when UPA government`s decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh for creating Telangana has divided the state and triggered massive protests in Seemandhra region, where the YSR Congress chief enjoys maximum support. Preparations are also in full swing ahead of the 2014 polls that will coincide with Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh and this gives credence to speculation about a potential tie-up between the Congress and the YSR Congress.
Ever since floating YSR Congress, Jagan`s party has emerged as a key player in Andhra Pradesh. Jagan`s YSR Congress bagged 15 out of 18 Assembly seats in by-elections held last year, shortly after his arrest, underlining its emergence as a major political force to reckon with in Andhra Pradesh.
The Seemandhra region, where Jagan`s party is immensely popular, has 25 Lok Sabha and 175 Assembly seats and his loyalists believe that YSR congress will be able to win maximum seats in this region. After his release, Jagan is also expected to benefit from a huge wave of sympathy for the YSR family and the anti-Telangana sentiments in his stronghold as YSR Congress remains the only major party supporting a united state. To buttress his point further, Jagan Reddy and his mother YS Vijayamma had resigned from their Lok Sabha and State Assembly seats respectively.
After the Telangana decision, Congress is bearing the brunt of pro-Andhra Pradesh supporters in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions where Jagan wields considerable clout and hence a political deal between the two parties can`t be ruled out as it would benefit both of them.
The unrelenting campaign for Telangana`s statehood by KC Rao-led TRS has divided all political parties on regional lines, leaving them with no option but to clear their stand on the issue. Both the Congress and the main opposition BJP are looking for potential allies ahead of the 2014 polls hence new political realignments are quite possible in the days to come.
The BJP has already made its stand clear on the issue by announcing its support to Telangana`s statehood so there is no possibility of it aligning with the YSR Congress. BJP`s only hope is TDP led by Chandrababu Naidu, who has been a bitter critic of Jagan and has alleged a match-fixing between YSR Congress and Congress after latter`s release.
The indication of TDP moving closer to the BJP came after its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi extended a hand of friendship to Naidu during a recent visit to Hyderabad. Jagan`s bête noire Chandrababu Naidu has obvious reasons to worry. Naidu`s party will have a straight clash with Jagan`s YSR Congress in the Seemandhra region where political analysts believe the Kadapa MP is miles ahead of the former.
Despite immense support and rising wave of sympathy for his family, the road ahead is not smooth for Jagan. He will have to weigh his options clearly before aligning with Congress or any other party. By opposing the formation of Telangana, Jagan Reddy has already lost support of a sizeable chunk of population in the Telangana region where TRS is likely to make major gains. The YSR Congress almost drew a blank in Telangana in the by-elections held last year. It is unlikely to improve in this region.
Though many Congress lawmakers have pledged support to him, he can`t afford to side with the ruling party, if he wants to exploit the anti-Telangana sentiments in Seemandhra. Jagan has also been maintaining that he will not join hands with Congress but political pressure and pending CBI cases against him may compel him to forge an alliance with the ruling party.
The special CBI court has restricted him from leaving Hyderabad and this could well be a big spanner in his plans to tour the state in order to generate public support ahead of elections. But in all likelihood, Jaganmohan`s freedom could galvanise his party, particularly in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions.
Despite the movement having popular support, the protests have so far been devoid of a mass leader and Jagan`s supporters believe that he could fill the slot. The people in these regions hold Congress responsible for the state`s bifurcation and the diabolical stand of TDP on Telangana will further embolden Jagan to exploit the political vacuum in the Seemandhra region.