Will Jagan’s arrest prove costly to Congress?

Ritesh K Srivastava

The Chanchalguda Central Jail in Hyderabad has a high-profile prisoner these days, who not only manages his hectic political schedule from within but has the potential to disturb the political equations in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

This high-profile prisoner is YS Jaganmohan Reddy - the son of state’s late former chief minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy and the head of YSR Congress party- who has been arrested by the CBI for amassing huge unaccounted wealth.

YSR Congress leader’s arrest in the disproportionate assets case might have given some breathing space to the ruling Congress, but it may also cast a shadow on the Kiran Kumar Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh in the days to come.

In the political circles, the Kadapa MP’s arrest by the CBI is being viewed as an attempt by the ruling Congress to break the morale of his supporters and prevent Jagan sympathisers from deserting the party.

Allegations flying thick and high that the CBI was used by a worried Congress to keep the YSR Congress chief away from campaigning in 18 Assembly constituencies and Nellore Lok Sabha seat where bypolls are scheduled to be held on June 12 appears to be a part of large conspiracy to isolate him.

Otherwise, why did the CBI act in haste and arrest Jagan just 15 days ahead of the by-elections in the state? Another question which one might ask is about why the CBI waited for so long after it lodged its FIR in the disproportionate assets case nearly 280 days back, and did not even bother to summon him during that entire period?

The Congress might be heaving a sigh of relief that its bête noire Jagan Reddy will not be able to campaign, as of now, unless the EC takes a call on the issue. However, the ruling dispensation is also aware that his arrest has angered his vast supporters and there is sympathy wave in his favour.

Although the Congress government claims that it has nothing to do with Jagan’s arrest, it is also aware that Kadapa MP’s presence could complicate things for the party in the by-elections where it is not expected to do well.

The Congress high command is trying hard at the moment to keep its state unit intact and ensure that the MPs, MLAs and party workers display unity till 2014, when the Assembly Elections will also be held alongside the General Elections.

However let alone Jagan, there are several other factors that could lead to the ruling Congress` rout in the June 12 by-elections in Andhra Pradesh. The state government has already given a jolt to the people in the form of enhanced electricity charges and what has added fuel to fire is the steep hike in petrol prices.

Besides, hundreds of villages across the state are facing acute shortage of drinking water and the current summer season has further worsened the crisis. The frequent power cut has made life miserable for one and all.

The enormity of the problem could be understood by the fact that in Prakasam district people from villages are having to take a train to fetch drinking water every day, as the government has failed to make alternative arrangements in the absence of regular supplies.

The by-polls will be held in the Ongole Assembly constituency and a segment of Kandukuru Assembly as it falls under Nellore Lok Sabha constituency. Incidentally, Kandukuru is represented by state Municipal Administration Minister M Maheedhara Reddy of Congress. In these areas the situation is far from favourable and the public anger against then local administration is at its peak.

Similarly in Kurnool district, where bypolls will be held in Allagadda and Yemmiganur Assembly seats, local residents face a severe water crisis and the indifferent attitude of the authorities concerned is only aggravating their woes.

Strangely, the candidates fielded by Congress are blaming their rivals from Jagan’s Reddy’s YSR Congress for leaving people in a bad state and retarding the engine of development in the last three years. Ironically, the YSR Congress candidates were the ruling Congress MLAs sometimes back before they switched over and faced disqualification, triggering the by-election.

So accusations and counter-accusations are mostly hitting the ruling Congress. Spelling more trouble for the Congress, the nexus between its leaders and the liquor syndicates and the sand mafias in several districts has also been exposed recently. This has resulted in a ban on sand quarrying in the state pushing the construction activity to a halt. All these issues have put the Congress on the defensive and left it scurrying for cover.

With Jagan emerging as a Frankenstein in such a scenario, things could only get worse for the Congress party. The significance of by-polls for the Congress can be gauged by the fact that the party is banking heavily on Kapu votes to win Narsapuram Assembly constituency in West Godavari district.

Here Congress nominee Kothapalli Subbarayudu is being supported by Rajya Sabha member and erstwhile Praja Rajyam Party chief K Chiranjeevi, who has made it a prestige issue to see that his former colleague wins.

Of the 18 Assembly seats for which by-elections are being held, only Parakal in Warangal district is in Telangana region. Winning Parakal will be as impossible for the Congress as the sun rising in the west.

The by-elections could not have come at a much worse time for the Congress as two of its MLAs recently switched to the Jagan camp last week and more are expected to follow suit. Hence, it will be a difficult task for the Congress to save its face during the bypolls.

The bitter political rivalry between the ruling Congress and the Jagan camp will divide their votes and possibly benefit the Telgu Desham Party led by Chandrababu Naidu, who recently compared the YSR Congress chief with the late forest brigand Veerappan.

Ready with a full list of Jagan Reddy’s alleged misdeeds, the TDP chief will not miss any single opportunity to consolidate his vote bank. Since YSR’s tragic death in a chopper crash, the Congress has been deprived of credible and strong leadership. There is no doubt that Congress has committed mistakes and its flip-flop on Telangana has hit its poll prospects badly.

In this context, only time will tell, who wins this battle for one-upmanship in Andhra Pradesh?

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