Jagan's Padyatra Was Net Practice, Time Now to Pad Up for Electoral Match
225 days and 2650 km later, as the strategy team does a post-mortem of the journey so far, the conclusion is that many of the short-term targets have been fulfilled.
(File photo of Jagan Mohan Reddy/Reuters)
In November 2017, when YS Jaganmohan Reddy began his padyatra from Kadapa district, he was seen merely as a son taking a leaf out of his father's bestseller. In 2003, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy's walkathon from Chevella in Telangana to Ichchapuram in north coastal Andhra had helped the Congress establish a people connect and defeat Chandrababu Naidu the following year.
Those who planned Jagan's padyatra were clear about what ought to be the short-term and long-term gains for the YSR Congress. T2016 and 2017 had seen large-scale desertions to the Telugu Desam Party and after 21 MLAs crossed over to the Naidu camp, the impression was gaining ground that Jagan was not the horse to back in Andhra Pradesh. Jagan was also deemed to be aloof and inaccessible and that image needed a correction. The idea was also to tap into the goodwill that is still visible in several pockets of the state for YSR and ensure that translates into a vote for Jagan.
225 days and 2650 km later, as the strategy team does a post-mortem of the journey so far, the conclusion is that many of the short-term targets have been fulfilled. The momentum has been built up and given a fillip to the YSR Congress cadre. The migration to the TDP has stopped and the padyatra has helped identify options for the party leadership at the constituency level. But the real campaign, the party thinktank says, will start only after October.
Interestingly, the padyatra has coincided with significant political developments in Andhra. Jagan forced Naidu's hand by setting a deadline for making YSRC MPs to resign over denial of Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh. Competitive politics and the need to ensure Jagan did not come out looking a martyr for the Andhra cause made Naidu quit the NDA in a huff. Ideally, the TDP chief would have liked to press the exit button closer to the elections.
What this has meant is that Naidu's energies now are spent more on attacking the BJP, which is a weak political force by itself in Andhra, rather than the YSRC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was right when he told Naidu that he had walked into the YSRC trap.
Party insiders claim that Naidu on the defensive and Jagan's visibility among the people has ensured that it will be YSRC's election to lose next year. They say Jagan has managed to present himself as an alternative, in sharp contrast to 2014 when people did not trust a bifurcated state with a man with little political experience.
That may be a case of counting chickens before they hatch. In sporting parlance, Jagan runs the risk of peaking ahead of his time. Also, if the YSRC believes Jagan will walk his way into Amaravathi on the strength of his carbon footprint in 2019, it is mistaken. A padyatra at best is akin to net practice before the real test on the electoral pitch.
Touring the politically significant East Godavari district that with its 19 Assembly seats has the reputation of deciding who will rule Andhra, Jagan has been tested. His not so charitable reference to Pawan Kalyan's personal matters and loose comments on his marriages suggested that the actor's determined foray into politics was playing on his mind. While the YSRC team dismisses it as a slip of the tongue, it ended up providing oxygen to Pawan, who at the moment, is not in the same league as Naidu or Jagan in terms of political organisation prowess. There is also apprehension in the YSRC whether in districts in north coastal Andhra Pawan could take away a share of the anti-TDP vote that would have otherwise accrued to the YSR Congress.
Also, Jagan's decision to give Parliament and the Assembly the short shrift has not sent across the right message. His decision to make his Lok Sabha MPs resign created no impact. And by absenting from the Andhra Assembly as a protest against four of his MLAs being made ministers in the Naidu cabinet, Jagan has only let Naidu have a field day in the House.
Moreover, Jagan's decision not to promise reservations for Kapus has upset the community who are in sizeable number in east and west Godavari districts. Naidu has announced a 5 per cent reservation for the community that has a 27 per cent population in Andhra but the decision needs the concurrence of the Centre. The YSRC calculation seems to be that it makes little sense to chase the Kapu votes at the risk of losing its core backward caste votebank. It also believes that the Kapu vote may get split between Pawan and Naidu, neutralising its efficacy in deciding the MLA or MP in the election.
Andhra is a state where the two principal regional parties are extremely strong. In the 2014 elections, the TDP fought the election in an alliance with the BJP and Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena and bagged 46.3 per cent of the vote while YSRC polled 44.4 per cent. With Naidu's alliance in tatters, Jagan would fancy his chances if he is able to get his narrative right and ensures against any self-goals in the next 10 months.
(Writer is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)
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