The Congress in Andhra: What Not to do in Politics

For those of you who haven’t been watching the news recently, these are tumultuous times in Andhra politics. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the only son of the late Y.S.Rajashekhar Reddy (YSR), possibly one of the most beloved Chief Ministers ever, has taken the political scene in the state by storm. His rise, from first time Congress MP in 2009 to a man on the verge of bringing down the Congress in its biggest bastion in 2012 has been meteoric to say the least. And much of this is as much the Congress’ fault as Jagan’s own political shrewdness. A look at the actions of the Congress during this time is necessary to understand what not to do in politics.

First of all, it is necessary to remember that in 2004 and in 2009, Andhra Pradesh under YSR sent up the most number of Congress MPs from any state, effectively propping up the UPA. In the aftermath of the tragic demise of YSR in 2009 in a helicopter crash, Jagan assumed that Chief Minister’s post was his for the taking, but the Congress high command refused to give it to him. Slowly bidding his time, Jagan launched an Odarpu Yatra (Condolence Tour), to console the families of the people who ostensibly committed suicide because of YSR’s death. What it ended up becoming was Jagan’s vehicle to usurp the legacy of his father and his father’s policies, and take them away from the Congress, which quite calculatively brought him into conflict with the Congress. Long story short, Jagan tendered his resignation from the Congress in 2011, and made it seem like the Congress was forcing him out and announced the formation of his own party, the YSR Congress. The timing of this development could not have been better planned. The ever changing stand of the Congress on the Telangana issue alienated people from all the three regions of Telangana, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra. Further, Chandrababu Naidu and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was unpopular among vast swathes of farmers. This created a vacuum for an effective third front to rise, a vacuum the YSR Congress seeks to fill. The Congress, which through massive infighting had already weakened its position, has effectively shot itself in the foot with the recent CBI case against Jagan (which everyone knows was brought on by the Congress). Big mistake number one.

Big mistake number two came with the arrest of Jagan three weeks before the crucial by elections to 18 Assembly seats and 1 Lok Sabha seat, which the YSR Congress is all set win. This arrest has made it look like the Congress does not want Jagan to campaign and is doing everything in its power to stop him from doing so. And in the process, it has unleased possibly the most potent force in India, the mother. With Jagan in jail, it is his mother who will be doing the campaign rounds, bringing in even more sympathy votes.

Big mistake number three is not reckoning with the power of the media. Jagan controls the Sakshi media group, which runs a very popular newspaper and a TV news channel. And Sakshi has made sure that it no longer matters whether Jagan is actually corrupt or not. Whatever the outcome of the case, to the common man, it is the Congress which, afraid of a 38 year old boy (in political terms) is trying to show him down. Sympathy, sympathy, sympathy.

Big mistake number five is thinking that a farmer really cares whether YSR got a private corporation to invest in Jagan’s company in exchange for land, which ended up benefitting that farmer. As long as the state exchequer was not involved, it simply does matter who eats how much. What matters is who does what after eating. Instead of questioning Jagan’s corrupt practices, people are questioning as to why wasn’t the CBI case brought forth when YSR was in power.

These are mistakes that even an apolitical outsider would not make the first time he or she enters politics. And yet, you have seasoned campaigners making the same mistakes again and again. But what has truly surprise everyone is the political acumen of Jagan. Every corruption allegation thrown against him has been turned around and morphed into an attack on his father’s legacy. Every challenge thrown his way, has been accepted and the challenge thrown back at the Congress like as though the Congress was the new comer and Jagan the incumbent. When, for it no longer a question of if, the Congress loses Andhra, it will have lost the state that effectively propped it up in the Centre. And all because they politics worse than school boys.

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