If that was Jagan's best, is the worst over for Congress in AP?
Jagan Mohan Reddy has arrived. After defying Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and setting up his own party, YSR Congress, he proved his mettle in the by-election. He decimated the ruling Congress party, winning 15 of the 18 assembly seats and the sole Lok Sabha seat in the contest. But is this his best shot? If yes, the Congress can hope to have put the worst behind – ahead of the 2014 assembly elections.
Yes, the 39-year-old MP from Kadapa has consolidated the legacy of his father, the late YSR Rajsekhar Reddy who revived the fortunes of the grand old party in this state and led it to victory in 2004 and again in 2009. It was with that legacy that he was claiming the chief ministership.
On top of that, the way things are with the two other parties also helped. The ruling Congress is suffering from leadership vacuum after YSR’s death. The principal opposition, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), was unable to cash in on the brewing anti-incumbency and its chief N Chandrababu Naidu is facing a credibility crisis. Then there was the CBI which only boosted the sympathy wave in favour of Jagan by arresting him a fortnight ahead of the polling. That move brought enormous crowds, especially women, to the road shows his mother YS Vijayamma (who is MLA from Pulivendula) and sister Sharmila addressed. The mother-daughter duo’s speeches ensured 80 percent voter turnout leading to a landslide victory.
But now that the celebrations of the June 15 results are over, Jagan and his followers should ask themselves if they have really ended the 30-year-old bipolar politics in Andhra Pradesh or they happen to have public sympathy on their side which may be temporary.
Jagan is in jail, facing a corruption case, at a time when his party needs to consolidate. Obviously, there is going to be a major leadership crisis when it comes to taking the party forward from here. Party workers will have to look upon his mother and sister as his wife Bharathi has chosen to focus more on handling legal issues and running the family business. The mother-daughter duo were star campaigners in the by-elections, but running a party day in day out at this crucial juncture is a different ball game.
One more hurdle on the road ahead for Jagan is an issue nobody can ignore in Andhra Pradesh, especially a CM aspirant: Telangana. He is a strong force in Andhra-Rayalseema regions but not in Telangana. Telangana has 119 seats in the 294-member assembly and, thus, Jagan's fortunes ultimately rest on his performance in the region. Unless the YSR Congress takes a clear stand on the bifurcation of the state, Jagan may not make inroads into Telangana and that could dampen his prospects. He can hope for a presence in the region as in the sole by-election in Telangana, in Parakala, his candidate Konda Surekha was defeated by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) by 1,500 votes.
His mother YS Vijayamma and the surprise star campaigner in the bye-polls for the party, Sharmila, both categorically specified that the party win is just a beginning while the main goal is to see Jagan as the state’s CM, who would take forward the promises of YSR.
As for the Congress, its citadel is no longer fortified. The only solace for the party is that it managed to win two seats when top party leaders and observers thought it would not be able to get even one. Yet, the state leadership cannot take full credit for the wins in Narasapuram and Ramchandrapuram: these constituencies had local factors and caste equations that could counter the sympathy wave. Moreover, the two winners, K Subbarayudu and T Trimurthilu, are both aggressive leaders and have their own stakes in their constituencies.
The challenge for the party is to keep its flock together and draw a fresh strategy against its young rival. After two terms, it has to prepare for also the anti-incumbency factor in the 2014 elections. On top of that, the party misses a grand leader and the central leadership has not been able to provide a strong mentor for the state unit either.
The Congress strength in the assembly now stands reduced to 153 MLAs – excluding the two Jagan loyalists, VSK Ranga Rao from Bobilli and Alla Krishna Srinivas alias Nani from Eluru. It has to compete with a party on the rise, the YSR Congress, whose tally has shot up from two MLAs to 17. And if those two Congress MLAs and TDP MLA-turned-Jagan loyalist Y Balanagi Reddy are counted, the young party has got a strength of 20. With the victory of M Rajamohan Reddy from Nellore, its numbers in the Lok Sabha have gone up to three (the others are Jagan and Congress rebel Sabam Hari).
TELUGU DESAM PARTY
TDP, which ruled the state not so long ago, could not win a single seat and was not even second in half the 18 constituencies. N Chandrababu Naidu’s excessive and obsessive focus on Jagan did not help. This is likely to damage his credibility for some time to come.
TDP’s fortunes have been on the downslide since the 2004 elections when the Congress in a deft move stitched up an electoral alliance with the sub-regional TRS. When TDP tried that trick in 2009, however, YSR still got a second term for the Congress. It will be a big challenge for Chandrababu Naidu to get his party out of the ICU and boost the sagging morale of the cadre after this dismal performance.
TELANGANA RASHTRA SAMITI
TRS has maintained its hold in Telangana. But the Parakala victory with a measly margin of 1,500 is more of a warning than victory. It shows that TRS cannot take the Congress, TDP and YSR Congress (which came second) for granted.
Interestingly, Congress leaders from coastal Andhra wanted TRS to win but with a slender margin so that the outcome can be interpreted as a weakening of the Telangana movement. They wanted YSR Congress to do well but not too well either because then it would lead to an exodus of Congress cadre in Telangana to Jagan’s venture.
RUN-UP TO 2014
The by-elections, seen as semi-finals of sorts, have let each party figure out its strengths and weaknesses. That should help them in reviewing or devising their game plans for the 2014 assembly elections. The Congress has tied up with TRS in the past, and what is YSR Congress today has been part of it before the rebellion. Now it will have to consider new calculations. As for TRS, any party favouring a separate Telangana state is a friend. The party that has the fewest options is TDP as it cannot and will not join hands with either the Congress or YSR Congress and has considerably distanced itself from TRS. It has to go all alone in the polls.