By T S Sudhir
For 14 hours everyday, in the last two weeks, the 365 crore rupees worth Y S Jaganmohan Reddy has been talking about a ceiling fan. The side story that the aggressive promotion drive has triggered a spurt in sales this summer in Kadapa is irrelevant.
Jagan and his supporters have been holding up fans in the sweltering heat to drive home the point to the voters of this district that it needs the power of their vote to start swirling and blow cool winds their way. And they tell you that claiming to be a Jagan or a YSR fan is not enough. You have to wear your loyalty on your index finger by pressing on the fan symbol on the EVM on Sunday, May 8.
Especially when there are some 8 other Jagans in the fray, their sole purpose to confuse the voter. After all, you can’t phone a friend from the polling booth, a la Kaun Banega MP of Kadapa, to ask which Jagan to punch the button on.
It is obvious Jagan hasn’t completely discarded his businessman skin. He switches to that lingo when he talks of marketing his fan. “Our symbol has had a penetration time of only two weeks. That is a disadvantage. Whereas people know the hand and the cycle symbols and we ourselves have popularised the hand symbol for years. But I am hoping word of mouth will ensure confusion over our symbol will be minimised.”
The concern is reflected in the repeated appeals Jagan, his mother, sister Sharmila and wife Bharathi make to the public, showing them how an EVM would look like, asking them to take their time to look carefully for the fan symbol and then cast their vote.
Travel through Kadapa and you realise YSR fights YSR here. Jagan and his mother Vijayalakshmi invoke YSR’s name in every second sentence. Ditto the Congress. YSR was the party’s tallest and for all practical purposes, the sole mascot in Kadapa for the last thirty years and Congressmen have been instructed to invoke his name, his sacrifices, his deeds, his achievements, while rubbishing the “over-ambitious” Jagan.
Half the Andhra Pradesh cabinet that has been camping in Kadapa to tell the voters why the son is not like the father. Ironical, considering the same MLAs and ministers, as many as 150 out of 155, endorsed the demand to make Jagan the chief minister after YSR’s death in September 2009.
Kiran Kumar Reddy says YSR had waited for years to become chief minister. But his son had no patience. That YSR had appealed with folded hands that no one should repeat a mistake he himself once made, that no one should revolt against the Congress. That YSR always said he owed everything he was to Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
Call it a veiled threat, an enticement or simply politics. Kiran Kumar Reddy reminds people that YSR had started a project to irrigate two lakh acres of drought-hit Kadapa. That can happen “only if you vote for the Congress”. That Jagan is not the rising son, they should invest their future in. That Congress alone can continue the YSR legacy and his schemes. That Vivekananda Reddy is Laxman if YSR was Ram. That you need the `hand’ to switch on the `fan’.
“All over there are hundreds of YSR statues. In each of them, don’t you see YSR waving the `hand’ ?” says Kiran. He knows it better than anyone else that if Jagan increases his 2009 victory margin of 1,79000 votes, he would have to spend the next few months fire-fighting to save his seat in Hyderabad. A loss would hurt more particularly when the Congress has been Kadapa-centric the last one month, with matters of administration put on hold.
Jagan has reverted to copying his dad’s mannerisms and body language all over again, and uses Sonia Gandhi as his favourite punching bag in every meeting.
“If I had not kept the promise I made on my father’s deadbody, if I had dumped my values and beliefs, if I had killed my self-respect, then may be these elections would never have happened. Then may be Sonia Gandhi would have made me a minister in Delhi and made me sit next to her. But I could not do that. I can’t break my word, dump my values, kill my dignity, because I am YSR’s son.”
The TDP started off sensing an opportunity. A senior leader from Chittoor district who was drafted into the election campaign called me some ten days back to say the vote split between the Congress and Jagan would work to its advantage. But the TDP soon realised that proclaiming `Yellow yellow’ and calling YSR `a dirty fellow’ isn’t quite the line that would work in Kadapa. Especially when he is no more.
For both the Congress and the TDP, Jagan is enemy number one here. Which is why Naidu has focussed on Jagan `inheriting’ his father’s legacy in wrong doing and amassing weath. That if Sonia Gandhi had checked YSR in time, the Congress would not have had to contend with a Kalmadi, 2G and Jagan today, he says.
The YSR Congress believes the TDP and the Congress have fixed the match in Kadapa. If Jagan falters on home turf, it will be the end of his political career. He will be another has-been, like a Lakshmi Parvati. But if he wins, he will be the third party in the contest, that could, with its emotional pitch and money power, put up a formidable challenge.
But will the result on May 13 immediately change the political dynamics within the Congress? Jagan himself does not think so. He does expect the fence-sitters to actively woo him and build bridges with him after his victory. “MLAs will be in touch with me since they need to get re-elected but I don’t expect political instability as elections are still three years away.”
For the Congress, the challenge is to ensure Jagan does not gain momentum in the event of a huge victory in Kadapa. The fan may not provide much comfort in the searing heat of Kadapa and this byelection is only turning on the political heat in Andhra Pradesh.
(You can also find T S Sudhir’s blogs on http://www.thesouthreports.com)