Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian
The feisty leader had his political baptism on the rocky path of hurdles, obstructions and failures before he got what he wanted to be : Chief Minister It was sweet victory and sweeter revenge for Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy. When his father YS Rajasekhara Reddy died tragically in a helicopter crash in September 2009 after an impressive victory for a second time earlier in that year, Jaganmohan Reddy demanded the Congress party that he should be made the chief minister. Then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and others in the party’s high command refused. They offered him a cabinet berth at best. But Jaganmohan Reddy was not willing to accept anything less than the post of the chief minister. In 2011, he formed the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), the first three letters coinciding with that of his father’s name. In the 2014 election he lost out to N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party rather narrowly and became the leader of opposition in the new state of Andhra Pradesh after the bifurcation of the old state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana was created. In May 2019, he scored a total victory both in the assembly where his party had won 150 of the 175 seats and 23 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats. He knows that his party’s overwhelming victory in the state assembly election has been tempered by the overwhelming victory of Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victory in the Lok Sabha election. And he admits his disappointment with the turn of event. Who’s God? In an interview with BBC Telugu television programme, he said that he had prayed to God that he should win in the state assembly elections and that the BJP should not get an absolute majority so that the national party would have had to depend on regional parties like his to form the government at the Centre and he would have been in a position to exert pressure to get things for his state. And he said that God had heard his prayers in the state and he heard the prayers of the BJP at the national level. And after his first meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the election, he told the media that in the new context where the BJP had a comfortable position in Lok Sabha, he could only request the Central Government to consider Andhra Pradesh’s demand for the special category status, and that he did not have the numbers to exert pressure on the Modi government. In many ways, the political candour of Reddy is the sign of the new generation. They do not believe in futile circumlocutions. Reddy is resigned to the fact that he has to deal with the Modi government at the centre in a different way. Tough Tasks The victory in Andhra Pradesh is challenging in itself. Leader of the YSRC Parliamentary Party (YSRCPP) Vijay Sai Reddy in an informal chat with Parliamentarian said that in 2014 when the new state of Andhra Pradesh began its inning, the public debt was Rs 97,000 crore. At the end of Chandrababu Naidu’s first term, it rose to Rs 2.25 lakh crore. The state does not have resources of its own and it needs assistance from the Central Government. It will be tough for Chief Minister Reddy to attract private investment to the state as it was for his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu. The party is confident that their leader will persuade many of the Information Technology (IT) multinationals to set up their offices in the state and that it will trigger growth in the services sector in the state. The farmers’ distress, which is acute in the state, is one of the top priorities of the new government. Chief Minister Reddy has announced financial assistance of Rs 12,000 per acre to the farmers, and this is in addition to the Rs 6,000 per acre announced by Prime Minister Modi. Vijay Sai Reddy explained that Chief Minister Reddy has not resorted to the populist measure of writing off the loans owed by the farmers to the banks. It is now left to the farmers how they would use the direct cash subsidy. They can choose to pay partial payment of the loans, or they could use it for the next crop which would enable them to pay off the loan due to the banks. According to Vijay Sai Reddy, the cash subsidy to the farmers did not come with strings as in the case of similar schemes announced by Prime Minister Modi, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik or Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao. Facing a financial crisis combined with rural distress, the new government in Andhra Pradesh is forced to look for ingenious ways to deal with the challenges of governance. One of the major issues seems to be corruption, a legacy from the Naidu government. The YSRCP wants to prove its credentials by showing zero tolerance towards corruption. Chief Minister Reddy has displayed his intention to improve the quality of governance when he demolished the Praja Vedika, the conference hall built by the previous state governments on the river bed, violating the environmental rules. Addressing the collectors’ conference, Reddy said that government should not be violating its own rules. There is then an attempt to show that the new government means to improve governance and follow rules like anyone else Huge Challenge But it will remain a huge challenge for the new government. It will have to devise ways to deal with the financial crisis at the state level and walk the tight-rope with a central government which would demand political support to meet its own agenda at the national level. The YSRCP will have to decide its stance over the triple talaq bill, on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which could prove to be tricky, given the BJP’s determination to mould the national polity in majoritarian, Hindutva colours. There is also the lesson to be learnt from Chandrababu Naidu’s failures. Naidu supported the BJP and Modi in 2014, but when he did not get the special category status for the state, he broke with the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Modi, and he had even tried to forge an anti-Modi, anti-BJP national alliance. It did not take off, and Naidu and TDP paid a big price for it. Chief Minister Reddy may not want to be too cosy with the Modi government or become its bitter critic. The YSRCP may follow the policy of neutrality, and try to get what it can from the central government without playing the second fiddle to Modi and to the BJP. At the moment, the YSRCP stands without a rival in the state politics. Vijay Sai Reddy rules out the revival of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) citing that there is leader in the party to take over from Naidu, who is turning 70, and who will not be in a position to lead the fight in 2024. He says that neither the Congress nor the BJP can hope to take advantage of the political vacuum because the two parties were responsible for thrusting the bifurcation of the state on to the people of Andhra Pradesh which they did not want. The YSRCP analysis might hold good for the moment, but the situation is likely to change. One of the three parties has to emerge as an alternative if only to keep the ruling party in check. The BJP is trying to find a foothold in Andhra Pradesh by getting the TDP members to join its ranks as have the four TDP members of Rajya Sabha recently. It is not clear whether the trickle of defections from the TDP to BJP would turn into a flood, and whether that in turn would help the BJP to appropriate the social and electoral base of the TDP in the state. Given the caste fault-lines in Andhra Pradesh, Congress might find it difficult to move into the space vacated by the TDP. In many ways, the Congress shares the same social and electoral base as that of the YSRCP. It is therefore an interesting logjam in the state’s political space. The absence of a political opposition and a political alternative may not make things easy for Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy and his party. It will become difficult o deal with the challenges and contradictions which are inherent in any complex polity like that of Andhra Pradesh. Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Reddy face a similar challenge – the absence of political opposition. It might appear to be a happy situation for a political party in power without a rival in sight. But it becomes an unnerving experience as there is no one around to share the political burden of governance. Neither Modi nor Reddy are obliged to create and nurse the political opposition, but they will find that it is not a happy situation without an opposition which keeps the party in power on its toes.