By T S Sudhir
A noisy fan keeps Jaganmohan Reddy company as he takes a break between 1 and 2:30 in the afternoon inside a makeshift tent on the grounds of the panchayat office in Dowleswaram in East Godavari district. He has just finished walking past the Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage, named after the British irrigation engineer, his dad so admired.
Jagan is on a three-day padyatra from Ravulapalem to Polavaram to demand implementation of the Polavaram project. A project that will cost anwhere between 12000 and 18000 crore rupees and is mired in controversy, thanks to political objections from Telangana and environmental concerns from Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
“People with half-baked knowledge have put hurdles in its execution,” says a miffed Jagan. “They don’t understand that this project will benefit people of all three regions.”
This is the second time Jagan is walking in YSR’s footsteps, literally. In 2003, when YSR walked 1400 km from Ranga Reddy to Srikakulam district, Jagan walked 70 km from Pulivendula to Kadapa to express solidarity.
The governments in Delhi or Hyderabad are unlikely to bother about his no-carbon footprint mode of protest but what should worry them is that his mass contact programme is helping Jagan remain firmly in the public consciousness. His gameplan to reinforce his connect to his dad, he knows, is his best and only weapon to take on his formidable political opponents.
Shaik Abbas Ali, a retired Telecom department employee is among those who feel Jagan has been wronged. Ali says he has voted for the Congress all his life but has now switched loyalty and will vote for YSR’s legacy.
“The Congress is run under the directions of Madam Gandhi. His father struggled a lot to bring Congress to power twice. But when he died, his wife could not get an appointment with Sonia Gandhi for a month. Jagan will win. People will vote just for his father’s face. YSR gave rice for 2 rupees per kg, arogyasree medical scheme. He helped every section of people. He gave everything. That’s why I will vote.”
Not that Jagan has walked his way into everyone’s heart. Srinivas who runs a fruit juice shop in Dowleswaram, says ultimately Jagan is also trying to become CM. “Nothing more than that,” he declares with an emphatic flourish.
Jagan says the stark contrast in the way YSR’s family and Chiranjeevi have been treated by Sonia Gandhi has not gone unnoticed by people. One of his supporters tells me Usha Rani, the giantkiller who defeated Chiranjeevi in Palacole has, till date, not been able to meet Sonia. I don’t know if that is indeed true.
When does he announce his party, I ask Jagan. “We are doing the technical work of filing the applications and waiting for the mandatory 30-day period to get over. We have filed for both YSR Party and Rajanna Rajyam. I expect they will give me the name very close to the byelections in Kadapa. That may mean we may not be able to have a big party launch.” he says.
YSR’s brother, Y S Vivekananda Reddy is likely to take on YSR’s wife Vijayamma in Pulivendula assembly constituency while Vivekananda’s son-in-law Rajasekhara Reddy may be Jagan’s opponent to win the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat. How does he see the Jagan vs Rajasekhara and mother vs uncle battles, I ask.
“Whoever wins or loses, I will definitely feel sad as a close relative will lose. The Congress will try its best to see me lose as it would be an embarrassment for it and its president if I come back to the Lok Sabha, after having taken them on like this.”
What does he think will be the Chiranjeevi impact on the Congress and the politics of Andhra Pradesh? “God is with us,” he says, adding it is a sweet deal for the actor-turned-politician.
Does he expect the state to go to polls soon? “One thing is certain. People are waiting for elections now. But if there is a mid-term poll, it will be because of the mistakes that this government will make.”
I notice Jagan is wearing Nike sneakers. `Just do it’ is pretty much his slogan as well.