The most flabbergasting experience for me in Andhra Pradesh was Chiranjeevi's 2009 election campaign. The crowds would pour over each other to see him, from the windows and balconies they would throw flowers - it was as if a God was walking past and he would sweep the state. But come the results and the God was turned into a crushed mortal and the Reddys showed why they ruled. It was an important lesson that the crowds don't turn into votes and that YSR Reddy, despite humongous charges of corruption and dictatorial leadership, was a vote catcher.
In 2012, the man on the campaign trail is Jagan Mohan Reddy. The crowds gather at each of his rallies and road shows and it would be starkly stupid to believe that these crowds will not turn into votes. Jagan is a politician who has projected his image as the victim of the Congress and the man who's got the guts to stand up. Whether that image is true or not, it's selling, and there in lies the political disaster in waiting for the Congress. I remember meeting a veteran Congress leader in 2010 who told me, "Many young men have come and gone but the Congress has lived on." This was when Jagan was still threatening to break the party. Now it's a reality that Jagan has gone away and it would be a foool's paradise to believe he'd be gone anytime soon.
The Congress's history in Andhra Pradesh should remind all the veterans of how potent the threat is. In 1983, NTR's newly-launched TDP swept the state not because of his star power but because of a platform crafted and delivered by the Congress. The state had seen as many as five Congress chief ministers in the five years preceding 1983. The famous case of Rajiv Gandhi reprimanding in public the Congress Chief Minister T Anjaiah had been portrayed as an insult on Telugu pride. That perceived hit on Telugu pride delivered the death blow to the Congress and manifested itself in the state installing NTR as the Chief Minister. The fact was that Rajiv Gandhi reprimanded Anjaiah for the lavish sycophancy on diplay upon his arrival in Hyderabad. But in the political landscape the 'insult on Telugu pride' impression was projected and it sold. It's in much the same way that Jagan, the Telugu, being victimised by Congress, is being formed.
The state Congress itself is deeply divided on two major fault lines. Jagan is the major factor in Andhra and Rayalseema. Telangana is the only factor in Telangana. The majority of the MLAs are backing the present government till it survives and one can be reasonably sure that there would be several who would weigh their options once the government falls. Even the Congress leaders in the state are not able to distinguish in public between the cases against Jagan being an indictment that their party backed a corrupt YSR Reddy government. The public impression is crystal clear. They believe YSR was the 'money bag' for the Congress when alive and the son was thrown out because he wanted what was his father's. In Indian social psyche, especially to those who vote the Congress, it's a given that political legacy stays within one family and crowds that gather for Jagan acknowledge his claim that he's been wronged.
Given these factors, it's impossible to underestimate Jagan's political presence in Andhra and Rayalseema regions of the state. It's also now become far too obvious that Congress, as long as it refuses to concede to the Telangana demand, will be wiped out in Telangana. Some observers have even gone to the extent of believing that in the present context an election could turn out a Jagan vs TDP battle in the non-Telangana regions. There's still time for the Congress to correct its AP blunders. As one Congress MP put it jokingly, "It may be too late to undo the damage for 2014 but if we do something now we can at least hope to stay in the race for 2019!"
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