By T S Sudhir
(the video of my exclusive interview with K Rosaiah, as aired on NDTV)
“Is it lonely at the top?” I asked Konijeti Rosaiah this morning. “No, not at all,” replied the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. “The party is with me.”
I wonder if Rosaiah chuckled within himself at his answer. Because no one knows better than him that he certainly is not having a party. For the last ten months, Rosaiah has played his politics on the backfoot, fending off stinging yorkers, bouncers, googlies and what have you.
“I am not a weak man. But I am not a dictator either,” Rosaiah clarifies. “I have spent 59 years in politics. I am used to working in my way.”
At the CM’s residence, there is an interesting photograph taken on 16th May 2009, the day YSR won a second mandate for the Congress. It shows YSR and Rosaiah in an embrace. It is as though YSR has faltered a step and the dependable Rosaiah is giving him a helping shoulder. Looks like the 77-year-old CM could do with some support now.
For long used to being treated as an elderly statesman, Rosaiah is now rattled by the brickbats that are being thrown at him by the dozen. Especially at the instance of someone, who he always thought was his friend’s son. Remember, YSR used to call him Anna.
“Jagan is a young boy with a future,” says Rosaiah. “But he needs proper advice. If he is properly advised, he will not go this way,” hinting at the influence of people around the MP from Kadapa, who he prefers to put the blame on for pushing the young cub to aspire to be king of the jungle, a day too soon.
Ever since he took over, Jagan’s camp, his Sakshi newspaper and TV channel haven’t let Rosaiah forget even for a moment that his address is C-block, 6th floor, Secretariat, Hyderabad only because the High command overlooked the high decibel campaign by 150 MLAs who wanted Jagan to be CM after his father’s death.
But Rosaiah believes he fit the bill better than anyone else. “An assessment about himself has to be properly done by Jagan himself,” says Rosaiah, obliquely hinting that the 38-year-old is not quite ready for the job. “He can dream for the job, he can aspire for it, he can try for it. There is a method to get it. The CM’s post is not to be captured by doing something. He could have waited for some time and then staked his claim.”
It is clear Rosaiah is fighting his most difficult political battle. So far a phone call to 24 Akbar Road did the trick. Now, after Jagan has cocked a snook at Delhi, Rosaiah knows 8th July was the 2010 version of the Srikakulam uprising.
Which is why the Congress seems more than willing to now give the long rope to Jagan? “Congress leadership will not be in a hurry to take a sword and take action,” says the CM.
Does one sense a bid for rapprochement by the party? Yes and no.
While it is trying to buy time, there is nothing the party can really offer to Jagan. It certainly cannot make him CM. One because it will hurt Delhi’s ego like nothing else and encourage similar revolts in other states. Two, making him the CM six months before the Srikrishna committee is to submit its report on Telangana will be like showing a red rag to the Telangana bull, given Jagan’s very vocal unified Andhra stance.
But can the Congress risk losing its government in Hyderabad, if say some 40 MLAs actually walk out and support Jagan? At the moment, they are doing so clandestinely, supplying men, money and material to Jagan’s tour. Can the party continue to still say that “the support by family members is not such a serious matter which will be seen as defiance”.
The hope of getting Chiranjeevi’s support to keep the government afloat is also suspect because there is no guarantee that the actor will be able to deliver his bloc of 18 MLAs. Many of them like Shobha Nagi Reddy from Kurnool, are very visibly pro-Jagan.
The Congress hopes MLAs will not give up the perks of being in a ruling party particularly when they have spent just one year in power. An option could be to replace Rosaiah with someone else, who is seen as more in control.
I ask Rosaiah if the clock is ticking for him as CM. “Sudhir, I am not bothered for how long I am going to be here,” says Rosaiah. “Yes it is a heavy burden to do the job of the CM. My age is advancing. I am not the Rosaiah I was 30 years ago.”
But lest it be construed as throwing in the towel, he clarifies immediately. “I don’t know the art of running away from battle. I am prepared to work 20 hours instead of 18.”
State Congress chief D Srinivas would like to see himself in Rosaiah’s job if he wins the byelection from Nizamabad at the end of the month. But Delhi cannot overlook that Srinivas has fewer friends than Rosaiah in Andhra Pradesh. Choosing Srinivas over Rosaiah would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Knowing the way the Congress operates, don’t rule out a dark horse. Someone who is the right mix of caste, age, region and most importantly, with the ability to neutralise the Jagan factor.
Jagan’s camp feels the combination of YSR legacy, appeal to the youth, charisma, the power of its media group and the slogan of united Andhra Pradesh could work wonders for Jagan. His supporters also say that if he does not act now, he could end up like a Marri Sasidhar Reddy or a Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy, both sons of powerful chief ministers.
At the end of the meeting in Ichchapuram in Srikakulam on Thursday, I was amused when a supporter shouted, “Twinkle twinkle little star, Y S Jagan zindabad”.
Fair enough that he did not ask Jagan “How I wonder what you are?” Because Jagan is searching for the answer to that question himself, even though he knows he would like to be “Tiger, tiger burning bright”.