HYDERABAD: Two-and-a-half years after his death, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy has come back to haunt his Congress successors like the ghost of Banquo. His son, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, is barnstorming 18 constituencies where byelections will soon be due, drawing upon the Shakespearean parallel. He claims to have been denied his rightful throne and driven to exile.
For months, the Congress has pretended that the boy did not exist, despite coming face to face with him in the odd skirmish. But now, these 18 byelections, precipitated by the resignations of Congress MLAs loyal to him, are a standoff that cannot be avoided. So a response is called for. The date for the byelections has not been set yet, but Jagan has already set a hot pace, having touring every constituency twice over. Last week, the ruling troika of the Congress dispensation—Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, his deputy Damodara Rajanarasimha, and PCC chief Botcha Satyanarayana—were called to the high command and told to go forth and bravely do battle. Back home, they convened constituency-wise prep meetings with ministers and local leaders. Many of them dragged their feet to the meetings and some did not even bother to turn up. One minister instead went to the media cameras and declared that the Congress would be lucky to win even one seat.
The question many local chieftains asked of the troika is this: what do we tell voters about the boy’s father?
The Kiran Kumar Reddy government has been caught in the cleft of this question throughout its tenure, having never steeled its will to resolve. Populist compulsions dictate that it continue to run all the welfare programmes started by the late chief minister. A large portrait of a beaming YSR dominates the lobby of the chief minister’s residence. The regime dares not discourage the erection of statues of YSR on the main streets of towns and villagers along the length and breadth of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. And to complicate the dilemma, the CBI last month filed its charge-sheet in the wealth case against Jagan Mohan Reddy, in which it specifically named YSR as a chief minister who helped his son’s businesses by doing favours to investors in his companies. Many of the ministers who acquiesced in those decisions or looked the other way are also ministers in the present regime.
So M/s Kiran, Botcha and Rajanarasimha are being asked, “How would the party attack Jagan without also attacking his father who, nominally, is still in its pantheon of gods?” Their answers have been hair-splitting. While Kiran Kumar says the government must compete for the ownership of the YSR legacy and disowning it would be electoral suicide. Botcha says he will go after the son and say nothing about the father, explaining away the latter’s questionable decisions as something that happened in the after hours. Beyond the troika, leaders like V Hanumantha Rao and Anam Ramnarayana Reddy demand that the YSR legacy ought to be dumped, consequences be damned.
The truth is that the Congress has found no alternative to YSR and therefore allows itself to be confounded by his ghost. As things stand, it is poised to go into battle, weakly disputing Jagan as a legatee of YSR, claiming that the late chief minister did great work only because he was an instrument of the Congress and then being challenged to explain why it would implicate the man in court scandal if it honoured him as such.
Looking at the tortuous dilemma of the Congress, observers cite the precedent of how Chandrababu Naidu threw off the shadow of N T Rama Rao after dethroning him in a public coup back in 1996. Without uttering a word against his illustrious father-in-law, the then chief minister took up radically different policies and toured the rural areas tirelessly to make himself known. He used to spend considerable time at his party office to keep a complete grip on the party affairs. He hardly slept and did not allow party workers and government officials any sleep either.
The Congress regime of Kiran Kumar Reddy does not have the luxury of departing from YSR’s welfarist policies and therefore lies impaled on the horns of its present dilemma.