The CBI's arresting of YSR Congress leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of the late Andhra Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy (popularly referred to as YSR), has not only stirred up the state politics but also can impact national politics in a decisive way. Jagan's arrest has come a few weeks ahead of the 18 Assembly and one Lok Sabha by-poll in AP, something which may prove costly for the Congress.
The latest development in Andhra has shown how things can change so drastically in politics. Eight years ago, party president Sonia Gandhi had campaigned extensively with YSR for the Lok Sabha polls and the partnership saw Congress coming out with flying colours. The party repeated its good show in 2009 elections as well. But things thereafter headed for a downfall. YSR's sudden death, his son's revolting against the party leadership and his arrest over huge financial irregularities, have affected the party badly.
Arresting an individual for indulging in corrupt practices is understandable. But the real question is: During the 2004 and 2009 elections, when the Congress was having a good time in the state politics, the leadership did not much bother about allegations that the state regime was funding the party's election campaigning in a massive way.
Now, following all bickering within the party and a revolt, authorities have decided to take strict measures against the scam. According to a recent media report, predicting a probable rout in the upcoming by-polls, the Congress High Command asked for an all-out attack with two objectives in mind. One, to corner Jagan, the rebel, and two, send across warnings to all squabbling factions of the party to strive for a single cause at the moment, i.e., back the party's official candidates in the ensuing by-election. This has been a desperate attempt by the Congress to save one of its major bastions in the country.
The Congress, however, handled the Jagan arrest issue cautiously in the public. Dismissing charges made by the YSR Congress that Jagan's arrest was the result of Congress-TDP conspiracy, party spokesperson Manish Tiwari did not comment on the arrest.
The emergence of Jagan as a thorn in the flesh for the Congress, however, is not a post-YSR death incident. He had sought to contest on the Congress ticket for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls from the Kadapa seat, but was refused. The ticket had instead gone to YS Vivekananda Reddy. Jagan had retired then only to expand his business ventures with full backing of the state government, and came back to the political scene just ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. He became the MP from Kadapa in 2009.
Congress's actual problem started when YSR got killed in a chopper crash in September 2009. For, YSR had been the driving main force in Andhra politics till then. He had selected poll candidates of his own and when he died, a big vacuum was created, and YSR's men clung on to his son Jagan for their survival. Jagan, at this hour, demanded the chief minister's position, something again which the Congress leadership refused to accept. A fierce jostling for power followed in the state with Jagan ultimately resigning and forming his own outfit, the YSR Congress, in early 2011.
The YSR Congress has gone from strength to strength since then, raising concern for the Congress. In May 2011, Jagan won the Kadapa Lok Sabha by-election by nearly five-and-a-half lakh votes, a record margin while his mother, Y S Vijaya, won the Pulivendula Assembly by-poll, also emphatically. The Congress, suddenly began facing an enemy from within, posing it existential threats.
In December 2011, Congress survived a huge scare when 16 of its MLAs, expressing loyalty to Jagan, voted for a no-confidence motion tabled by the TDP. In March 2012 by-elections, the Congress was routed in all the seven seats that had went to the by-polls. The YSR Congress, on the other hand, bagged the Kovur constituency in coastal Andhra.
Now, the mighty Congress, a century-old party and currently leading the alliance in the Centre, is set to go to the upcoming by-polls as the underdogs vis-a-vis the YSR Congress. The latter, with a big backing of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema, is expected to win the polls.
The CBI arrest shows how confused the Congress leadership is in dealing with Jagan. A last-ditch effort has been undertaken but yet few will back the Congress in the by-polls. Already, Jagan supporters have called three-day strike in the East Godavari district and leaders from the Congress and TDP are waiting for the right time to join his outfit, New Delhi's muscle-flexing notwithstanding.
The Congress has also tried other means to derail Jagan. It has been trying to make his religion, i.e., Christianity, a poll plank to woo the Reddy community to return to the party's fold. The Reddys constitute a major support for the Congress in Andhra, particularly in th Rayalaseema region. The community had shifted loyalty to the YSR Congress following the death of YSR, creating a major worry for the Congress camp. One of the Congress strongman from Anantapur has attacked Jagan, saying the latter followed Catholic traditions more than any of the Reddys' customs. The Congress looks to convince the Reddys that only it is capable of protecting their interests.
The party has also stirred up the anti-Telangana sentiment in the state, particularly in areas of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema where Jagan's party wields considerable influence, to reap some benefits in the forthcoming by-polls. The party, which knows that countering Jagan's challenge will be difficult in these areas, has floated a theory that the YSR Congress chief has entered a tacit agreement with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and is indirectly favouring bifurcation of the state. The Congress has appealed to the people saying it is capable of resolving the Telangana problem in a way that will satisfy majority of the Andhra people while alleging that Jagan's outfit harbours wrong intentions. The leaders from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema fear that if the Congress fares miserably in the bi-polls, then there is every chance of the Congress seriously weighing the option of granting statehood to Telangana for its own survival in these parts.
Jagan's gradual growing in status has already encouraged him to eye the CM's post. Surveys say the YSR Congress will bag at least 14 of the 18 constituencies that would go to the by-polls in June and if such progress continues, Jagan's ambition to capture the top executive spot in the state would not be distant.
Andhra accounts for the largest share of Congress MPs in the UPA government. Congress is in a poor state in many of the big states in India, which send 20 or more MPs to the Centre and Andhra is one of those strongholds where it has a government of its own.
In case the YSR Congress does exceedingly well in the by-polls, the Congress government will find it hard to survive. For, most of the MLAs, as said earlier, are men of YSR and if they see his son succeeding in openly flouting the high command, they will not delay in following suit and deserting the party. Even the UPA at the Centre will face a major threat.
What's in store in 2014 will take some time to unfold. The YSR Congress, which has just two MLAs now, might seem too little a force to take the entire Andhra politics on hostage, but it will wait for its share of gain, in the form of Congress defectors. Any unobliging MLA disqualified by the Congress would invariably join his camp and in no time, that two can turn into a formidable figure.
Bobbili Congress MLA Ranga Rao, Anakapalle Congress MP Sabbam Hari and Eluru MLA Alla Nani and senior Telugu Desham Party (TDP) leader Mysoora Reddy have already joined hands with Jagan.
The ball is now in Congress's court. The CBI arrest might not prove effective, New Delhi needs to chalk out a political ploy to arrest the probable decline. Other players like the TDP will be closely watching the developments.