Jagan’s Kadapa win a setback for Congress

After YSR`s death, Congress seems to be losing its grip on Andhra Pradesh.

Ritesh K Srivastava

YS Jaganmohan Reddy`s record-shattering win in Kadapa by-elections has triggered speculations whether it is the beginning of the end of ruling Congress in Andhra Pradesh – probably its strongest bastion in South India.

With his resounding victory, Jagan Reddy has sent a strong message to the ruling Congress that he is ‘unstoppable’ and a ‘real successor’ to his late father YSR, whose sudden death in a helicopter crash in 2009 triggered a bitter succession war in the state.

This is the seventh consecutive victory of the YSR’s family in Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency and eleventh in Pulivendula, although it won all the previous elections on Congress tickets.

Apparently, after retaining the two prestigious seats, considered to be the traditional pocket-boroughs of the YSR family, Jagan’s party ‘YSR Congress’ has emerged as a formidable force in Andhra Pradesh.

With his win, Jagan even broke his 2009 record when he had polled 542,611 votes against his fierce rival Palem Srikanth Reddy of the TDP, who secured 363,765 votes.

In this triangular poll battle, Jagan secured a whopping 687,068 votes against his Congress party opponent and Health Minister DL Ravindra Reddy, who polled 144,015 votes, while TDP’s MV Mysoora Reddy finished a poor third with 127,183 votes.

Jagan’s popularity among the voters can be gauged from the fact that he managed to garner 687,068 votes of the total 10.28 lakh valid voters, which were cast on the May 8 by-election.

By retaining the Kadapa Lok Sabha and the Pulivendula Assembly seat, both Jagan and his mother have upheld their family’s tradition of never losing an election and proved that late YSR’s family members could still win despite a hostile Congress.

The by-election has come as a major setback for the Congress, which had gone all out to defeat Jagan or at least reduce his victory margin. With an aim to make a dent in Jagan’s vote bank, the party even fielded YSR`s younger brother YS Vivekananda Reddy, who lost the election in Pulivendula. In the past, Vivekananda was elected twice each from Kadapa and Pulivendula.

Not only this, the Congress also deployed nearly a dozen ministers to run the party campaign in Kadapa and Pulivendula. Interestingly, Congress also played the "legacy" card to counter Jagan’s claim to his late father‘s "political legacy."

During the poll campaign, the Congress claimed that YSR remained a "true Congressman" till his last breath unlike his son who quit the party only to fulfil his "political over-ambition" of becoming the chief minister.

However, Jagan remained unperturbed over the Congress and TDP’s tirade against him.

Aware of Jagan’s crowd-pulling abilities, Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy himself campaigned in Kadapa. The Grand Old Party also failed to benefit from the services of mega film star Chiranjeevi, who had recently joined hands with the Congress.
On the other hand, former chief minister and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu himself led his party`s campaign. Both Congress and TDP targeted Jagan for amassing huge wealth since his father became chief minister in 2004.

According to poll analysts, the Congress leaders knew that Jagan will surely win, riding on people’s sympathy wave for late YSR’s family. However, Congress’ main aim was to finish second in the prestigious poll battle in a bid to check the corrosion of its vote bank in favour of TDP.

Probably, the helpless Congress was of view that even if Jagan’s YSR Congress wins, it would still have the opportunity to boast that it was a major force to reckon with by finishing second in terms of vote share. Although, it succeeded in its plans but came a distant second, as its candidate DL Ravindra Reddy lost his deposit - like the TDP and 39 other candidates.

What has stunned Congress is the record margin of 5.45 lakh votes by which Jagan has won this election as compared to his 2009 victory in the same constituency when he defeated his nearest rival by over 1.63 lakhs.

So clearly, the enormous support which YSR’s son got, is an indicator of the fact that the voters in Kadapa have not accepted Congress’ step motherly treatment to Jagan and his rightful claim to his father’s throne.

Congress’ chief strategists, who made a blunder by treating him as a novice in politics and took pleasure in branding him as ‘too inexperienced’, are now wondering how Jagan managed to secure almost 7 lakh votes - an envious 65% of the total votes polled-in the absence of his charismatic father.

At the moment, Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy is facing flak for not being able to save Congress from the embarrassment stemming out of its poll drubbings in Kadapa and Pullivendula, triggering speculations of his urgent ouster. The Chief Minister is already in the line of fire for his visible hostility to Jagan and his supporters.
Jagan’s victory has forced even the staunchest Congress loyalist to rethink that their future lies with Jagan Reddy and that the ‘YSR Congress’ is not an abandoned or orphaned party.

As the situation stands, one cannot actually deny the possible defection of Congress legislators to Jagan’s camp in future in event of his emphatic win in these by-polls. If it actually occurs, it will further widen the cracks in Congress, which appeared for the first time when Jagan drifted apart ‘citing injustice’ meted out to him after his father’s death.
All this could reverse Congress’ gains in 2009 General Elections, which saw it winning 33 Lok Sabha seats of the total 42 and thus enabled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seize power for the second consecutive term.

Both the Congress and TDP tried to undercut Jagan`s victory margin by talking about his growing allegiance to right-wing BJP, assuming that this would shift Kadapa`s majority Muslim votes from YSR Congress. However, this gimmick failed and Jagan secured a sizeable number of Muslims votes-a development that has shell- shocked Congress managers.

Jagan, who has now got a moral high ground after his victory, will surely take measures aimed at strengthening his party and welcoming both traditional Congress supporters and those unhappy with TDP and its weakened leader N Chandrababu Naidu.
The newly-elected Kadapa MP has not kept its cards open-whether he will go slow or fasten the eventual collapse of the Congress- but he certainly has the people’s mandate to fulfil his political ambitions.

However, signals are not too promising for the Congress, which has stopped winning in Karnataka and lost its appeal in Tamil Nadu. Besides, the outcome of Assembly Elections in Kerala has also not been very encouraging. It has been wiped off in last Assembly polls in Bihar and is no longer a force to reckon with in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal or Orissa.

It continues to struggle in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and was forced to share power with the NCP in Maharashtra. If it loses Andhra Pradesh it would be a mammoth task for Congress to rebuild its winning momentum for 2014.

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