SR Congress chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy will be completing his state-wide padayatra in a couple of days. The nearly 4,000-km long walkathon has taken him almost a year. Padayatras are not new to Andhra Pradesh. His father, the late YS Rajasekhar Reddy, had undertaken a highly successful one in 2003 and his bete noire TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu took the same route to power in 2014. But Jagan’s Praja Sankalpa Yatra is different from theirs in many ways. No matter what his detractors say, there is no denying that people came out in large numbers wherever he went. It gave him an opportunity to bridge the trust deficit in 2014. Importantly, it helped him negate to an extent the perception that he is impatient, obstinate, arrogant and ambitious. In other words, he has come a long way from being seen as the man in a hurry to the man of the hour.
With the state heading into elections along with the Lok Sabha polls in a few months, now, the question on everyone’s mind is whether Jagan can sustain the momentum. He has a history of scoring self-goals, but now, wisened by experience and very much in form, he is playing with a straight bat. No wonder Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and his team are trying hard to turn the Assembly election too into a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The TDP strategy to blame Modi for the alleged injustice done to the state and portray Naidu as the knight in shining armour while painting Jagan as an accomplice of the BJP is being executed well. The only problem with this approach is that it has been dragging on for far too long.
The blitzkrieg did give the TDP early advantage when it was launched early last year. As it progressed, the BJP - a fringe party in Andhra Pradesh - emerged as the villain of the piece but the TDP has not been able to put up a convincing argument to prove that Jagan is in cohorts with the saffron party. Definitely not convincing enough for minorities in the state.
On the other hand, the TDP peaked too early and is playing catch up with Jagan, who has his nose in the front in almost every recent opinion poll. The strategy, though brilliant, is being blunted by Jagan’s campaign to keep the public discourse mainly on Naidu’s governance. Especially after the drubbing in Telangana, the TDP think tanks seem to have gone back to the drawing room. Realising that blaming Modi won’t take them far, they are now harping on the good work done by the government - borrowing a leaf from Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s playbook.
The TDP is also rethinking whether to have an alliance with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. The grand old party too is being cautious. Voters in Andhra may not be as angry with it now as they were in 2014 when the state was divided. But barring traditional Congress voters, there may not be anybody who would prefer to vote for it. Even traditional voters may never vote for the TDP - alliance or no alliance. With transfer of votes uncertain, it makes sense to contest elections separately. This is the growing consensus among seniors in both the parties. Contesting separately, the Congress may not win even one seat, but it can surely cut into Jagan’s minority vote-bank - that is their reasoning. The two parties are likely to announce a decision within a week.
If the alliance is called off, this will be the first time that Naidu would be contesting without an ally. Jagan has already announced that he would not have any alliance with anyone. The other player in the poll fray will be actor and Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan. Naidu is wooing him relentlessly and grapevine has it that the actor may, after all, get back to the TDP camp either before or after elections. For now though he has issued a mild clarification in response to Naidu’s appeals that he would ally with only the Left parties. With these battlelines drawn, it is going to be a triangular contest in Andhra. Nonetheless, given Pawan’s consistent inconsistency and lack of seriousness in creating a party structure till date, it is certain that he is in the fray as a spoilsport.
T Kalyan Chakravarthy
Deputy Resident Editor, Andhra Pradesh