OPINION: The Jagan Juggernaut – 2019 & Beyond

K G Suresh
Amravati: YSR Congress President YS Jaganmohan Reddy gestures as he addresses a press conference, in Amravati, Thursday, May 23, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Amravati: YSR Congress President YS Jaganmohan Reddy gestures as he addresses a press conference, in Amravati, Thursday, May 23, 2019. (PTI Photo)

One of the most spectacular victories of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls has been that of Yeduguri Sandinti Jaganmohan Reddy popularly known as Jagan. His YSR (Yuvajana Sramika Rythu) Congress (many think it was named after his late father and former Chief Minister Y S Rajashekhar Reddy) won 151 seats in the 175 member state Assembly and 22 out of the 25 Lok Sabha seats surpassing YSR’s record and confining arch rival TDP to single digit.

But then the Jagan Juggernaut had started rolling way back in mid-2010 when the Congress High Command categorically turned down his request to be made the state Chief Minister after the untimely demise of his father in a chopper crash near Tirupati.

In fact, adding insult to injury, the then Congress President Sonia Gandhi had asked his mother and sister to stop Jagan’s ‘Odarpu’ Yatra, a tour across Andhra Pradesh he had embarked upon to visit the homes of the people who died after hearing the news of his father’s death.

An enraged Jagan, a businessman turned politician, who was in the middle of his tour vowed to decimate the Congress from his state, a task he fulfilled within a decade. In the process, he also nipped the national ambition of N Chandrababu Naidu, who was networking with Congress and Third Front leaders with an eye on a key role at the Centre and was hoping to hand over the reins of the state to his son.

Jagan had given a tough fight to the wily Naidu in 2014 also, but the latter was able to scrape through with a slender margin of 1.78% thanks to the Modi wave as also the involvement of Pawan Kalyan in the polls.

Interestingly, Naidu has lost whenever he had severed ties with BJP though the saffron party is a minor player in the state. He had locked horns with Jagan’s father and won the 1999 polls with BJP’s support. Subsequently, he was defeated in 2004 after he fell out with the BJP.

File photo of Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu.  Photo - PTI

File photo of Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu. Photo – PTI

Naidu, who famously projected himself as the CEO of Andhra Pradesh, was perceived by the rural populace of the state as pursuing an urban centric agenda with his pet project of Amravati as a world class project, the Polavaram Irrigation Project etc at the expense of the acute agrarian distress and the backward regions of Rayalaseema and Uttarandra.

The highlight of Jagan’s campaign was his padyatra or foot march of 3648 kms across 13 districts of the state in 341 days. The yatra turned out to be a game changer as he won the hearts of the people listening to their grievances and expectations and promising them a better deal. He also survived an alleged attempt on his life at Vizag airport escaping with minor injuries and garnering sympathy from his supporters.

But it was not a cakewalk for Jagan. After he fell out with the Congress and formed the YSR Congress party, he contested the by election to the Kadapa seat he had vacated earlier and won by a record margin, causing serious concerns to the Congress leadership.

Subsequently, Jagan, who owned several companies in interests ranging from media to cement, was hauled up in a disproportionate assets case, and was sent to jail along with many of his associates. CBI charged Jagan in several cases under Money Laundering Act, Prevention of Corruption Act and IPC for alleged quid pro quo deals that struck during his father’s tenure as Chief Minister.

During his 18 month incarceration, Jagan’s mother Vijayamma, sister Sharmila and wife Bharati played the victim card to the hilt blaming the Congress leadership and rallying around the sympathy of YSR supporters.

By the time Jagan came out on bail in September 2013, the state was about to be divided and the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls were barely six months away. He put up a spirited fight and lost narrowly to Naidu.

A born fighter who inherited YSR’s indomitable spirit, Jagan bounced back, revived and restructured the party and took Naidu head on. Going by the old adage an enemy’s enemy being a friend, he reached out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was assiduously working for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ and was wary of his demanding ally TDP. Naidu’s decision to quit NDA and join hands with the Congress in the Telangana Assembly elections served to cement the ties between Jagan and Modi.

In fact, it was a foregone conclusion that in the event of NDA falling short of numbers in the 2019 polls, Jagan along with Naveen Patnaik of Odisha would chip in with the requisite support.

His confidence level was such that notwithstanding speculation that he may forge an alliance with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena, he decided to go solo and urged the people of Andhra Pradesh to give him one chance to prove his mettle.

And the people did not disappoint him. YSRC got a whopping 49.1 percent votes much beyond his own expectations as against TDP’s 39.6 percent.

“With the blessings of people and God, we are able to achieve this victory. I want to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their victory in the Centre,” said Jagan in his first reaction following the landslide victory.

Jagan would certainly be pressing for a special status with Modi but that apart the state is not in the best of financial health. People would be keenly awaiting his take on the future of Amravati & the multi-purpose Polavaram as also his promises of decentralization and the implementation of Navaratnalu (the nine promises in the YSR Congress Party’s election manifesto) which include his late father’s pet programme Jala Yagnam (irrigation facilities), Arogyasree, pensions, YSR Rythu Bharosa, fee reimbursement and housing for the poor.

To fulfil the Navaratnas alone, Jagan will need at least Rs 50,000 crores per annum and at a time when the state coffers are almost empty, he has little choice but to maintain cordial ties with the Central Government.

The 46 year old has an uphill task ahead of him from consolidating his position politically to delivering on the big promises he made in the course of the campaign. He would be looking up to Tirupati Balaji’s blessings and Narendra Modi’s support to prove to the people of Andhra that he is the worthy inheritor of YSR.

- KG Suresh.

The author is a Senior Journalist & former Director General, Indian Institute of Mass Communication