By T S Sudhir
(first published on ndtv.com on 11 September, 2009)
It was a hot April afternoon deep inside the countryside of Pulivendula in Kadapa district. I was travelling with Y S Jaganmohan Reddy as he campaigned for himself for the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat and for dad YSR for Pulivendula assembly constituency. The YSR family, particularly Jagan’s grandfather, the late Y S Raja Reddy, was said to have been a terror in these parts. So I was a little surprised to see so many youth fearlessly approach Jagan to tell him their problems. Some making a request, others demanding, angry.
“Paike ra”, which means “come up” (to my vehicle) was a standard Jagan response that stayed with me that day. Anyone with a problem would be asked in colloquial Rayalaseema Telugu to climb on to his vehicle and there Jagan would give him a hug, cup his cheeks in his hands and promise that his concerns will be taken care of. Was this an act for the camera or a 36-year-old politician, fighting his first election, genuinely trying to reach out, I wondered.
The gesture of hugging, holding hands to connect with the people he meets, comes naturally to Jagan. That was also our experience when I and Uma met Jagan this week to offer our condolences. As I saw Jagan meet the young and old, men and women, who came to meet him, he conveyed a lot through his body language. If it is an act he has perfected, he must be a very good actor.
When was the last you saw YSR, I asked. “At the breakfast table that morning,” he said. “I do not eat breakfast but I was with him while he ate.” Jagan looked down, almost as if remembering YSR munching his favourite salads. Over one such breakfast during the election campaign in April, YSR had told me :“I always eat a heavy breakfast. And salads are good for health. They add fibre.” The doctor in YSR knew what was good for YSR, the chief minister with a demanding schedule.
“I will fulfil his last wish. He spoke just a week back about winning 41 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2014,” said Jagan. His voice quivered but his fist was clenched. It was clear he wants to channelise his personal loss into a political weapon.
“I want to restart the `Rachabanda’ programme, that was so dear to my dad.” YSR died when he was travelling to Chittoor for the `Rachabanda’ programme, that involved making surprise visits to villages and knowing from villagers firsthand what they thought of government schemes and evolving ways to improve the delivery mechanism.
“You should in fact, go to the same Anupalle village where YSR was headed that day so that it shows there is continuity,” I suggested.
“Yes, I will. There is so much work that my dad began that I want to finish.”
But all these are plans. Jagan’s dreams. Whether he undertakes that 600 km journey from Hyderabad to Anupalle will depend on Sonia Gandhi. And so far, as I write this, selective leaks from Delhi indicate Jagan will not be made CM. Atleast not yet. Officially, there is a deafening silence from 10, Janpath. Meanwhile, chief minister K Rosaiah goes about business as usual and there is no word on the CLP meeting. He does not say it so many words, but the suspense is frustrating Jagan.
“How can the high command ignore Jagan when he has the support of 152 out of 154 Congress MLAs,” asks one of his very close aides. “Was YSR not one of Sonia Gandhi’s most trusted and dependable men? Why shouldn’t Jagan get a chance?” they argue.
It is perhaps this belligerent attitude that has spoilt Jagan’s case. He is being seen as a young man, too much in a hurry. Accused of assuming what was dad’s was automatically his. To climb the ladder in the Congress, you need subtle and forceful canvassing. Not the very vocal and the threatening kind.
Those who were trumpeting Jagan’s cause, in their overenthusiasm, ended up creating a commotion. So the right noises were not heard in the right places. Instead those who were working against him managed to plant anti-Jagan stories more effectively, portraying him as a businessman who made his millions while his dad was ruling Andhra.
Several SMSes are doing the rounds. One of them sent to me reads like this : `The Bellary brothers – saffron in Karnataka and secular in AP run the largest mining company with YSR’s son as their partner. Vast illegal mining and criminal trespass into areas deemed inviolate. They support Yeddurappa and Jagan Reddy as CM candidates.”
“Will he accept a ministry at the Centre?”
His close aides say `no’. Jagan also knows it is now or perhaps never. “It is here that I will be and perform,” he indicates pressing the sofa with his index finger.
But to make a mark in the city of the Charminar, you need powerful and influential friends in the city of the Qutab Minar. Jagan’s camp admits he does not have friends in Delhi who can project him as a man who can hold his own, be a befitting son to his father in the eyes of the Congress leadership.
This blog is not an attempt to make a case for Jagan. Nor a justification for how Jagan made his money or built his media empire. But then no one is naive enough to think that politics and money do not have an umblical connection. Sadly, it has virtually become a universal truth that need not be stated any more.
I must also clarify that I have nothing against K Rosaiah. In fact, I have known Mr Rosaiah for much longer and admire him as one of the most experienced politicians, who by the sheer weight of the years he has spent as minister with five chief ministers, would easily qualify to sit in the chief minister’s chair.
Jagan’s supporters have created an awkard situation presumably for him as well as for Sonia Gandhi. She may not want to put the 36-year-old on the CM’s chair because of her apprehensions relating to his temperament, his ability to take on an aggressive Chandrababu Naidu, his connections with business lobbies and of course, lack of administrative and political experience. Yet, ignoring the majority opinion of the MLAs would be to the negate the spirit of a chief minister being elected by a majority of his legislators.
Efforts, I am told, are on to rein in the MPs and the MLAs and ask them to stop their Jagan bhajan. And the more the Congress leadership drags its feet on the CM issue, the more Jagan’s support base may erode.
If Sonia finally vetoes Jagan’s candidature and decides to maintain status quo, the situation will be similar to what happened in the case of another Telugu bidda, the late P.V.Narasimha Rao. Like PV in 1991, Rosaiah also opted out of electoral politics this time due to health reasons and became a MLC. And like PV became PM, Rosaiah got the top job in Andhra. But he may have to read the riot act if his ministers act truant or worse, openly defy his authority. Being a Vysya in a Reddy-dominated party would be another headache he will have to deal with. His best bet would be to make a point with his administrative abilities.
Jaipal Reddy has reportedly ruled himself out of the race. In any case, he is seen as a member of the Dilli Durbar who does not know the recipe to prepare Hyderabadi biryani. PCC chief D Srinivas and Renuka Chowdhary count themselves out by virtue of having lost the elections in 2009.
NTR’s daughter Purandareswari could emerge as the dark horse, with a helpful nod from Rahul Gandhi. The argument being put forth that Chandrababu Naidu would find it difficult to attack his sister-in-law. Huh? Naidu who dethroned his pa-in-law in a palace coup, isn’t likely to hold back any punches for NTR’s daughter, particularly if he is smelling power. Moreover, being a Kamma CM in a CLP that has just four Kamma Congress MLAs would mean the caste equation will be ranged against Purandareswari. Yes, Andhra could get its first woman chief minister. That will certainly be some achievement.
In the late 80s and early 90s, YSR was always seen as a rebel within the state Congress when the party was ruled by the likes of PV Narasimha Rao, Kotla Vijaybhaskara Reddy and N Janardhan Reddy. It needed the PV era to end and Sonia to take over for YSR to emerge as the tallest leader from the Deccan. Will a negative reply turn Jagan into YSR part 2? That’s a risk the Congress cannot afford to take.
Like his parents, Jagan too is deeply religious. “God is on our side. Now even dad is with him up there,” he says.
The young man knows it is this time or perhaps never. He wants to come up now. “Paike ra” is really the slogan for this cub from Kadapa.