Union HRD Minister M Pallam Raju, looking to win Kakinada for a fourth time, faces an aggressive YSR Congress campaign and a resurgent TDP-BJP combine. In the middle of his campaign, he speaks to Seema Chishti.
After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has had difficulty even pitching a tent in Seemandhra.
This is not the first time I have gone to the public after the bifurcation.
While the bifurcation process was on, there was a lot of antipathy to it in Seemandhra. So I had to face a lot of hostility. But I did tell people that the Centre is serious about implementing it, so it’s time to think about what we want. But within a few weeks, a huge cyclone had struck Seemandhra, causing lot of agricultural damage. That was a sad event but it made me go back to the constituency and attend to local needs. Subsequently, the bifurcation process was finalised. Its inevitability has sunk in, and people have come to accept it, though there is a proportion that is still unhappy. There are genuine apprehensions, like security of people living in and around Hyderabad, opportunities for students to go to Hyderabad for studies or jobs, smooth flow of waters to both regions, etc. I hope these will be addressed with sincerity. But one thing from which the region will gain greatly is the Centre’s approval of the Polavaram irrigation project as a national project. It will stabilise both the Krishna and Godavari deltas. All the clearances have been firmed up and there will be no dispute between Telangana and Seemandhra. We have seen to that.
Andhra was the only large state where the Congress was a solo, major player. Has the bifurcation rendered you irrelevant? Is this not like 1967 when the Congress became irrelevant in the Tamil Nadu assembly elections and remains peripheral to the day?
It seemed like it may head the Tamil Nadu way while the bifurcation process was on. But now we realise a lot of good has come to Andhra Pradesh. There is a temporary setback to the state and time has not been adequate to explain things to people. But the Congress will bounce back and become stronger as we implement whatever is there in the package.
Did something go wrong with the Congress’s ability to explain its actions after YSR Reddy’s death?
One of the traditional weaknesses of the Congress has been the inability to convey the good work it has been doing. I think if the party was strong, we would have been able to ensure that the message was conveyed. But the entire organisation got distracted by the bifurcation and that did not help. The Congress workers bought into the panic created by the opposition over the bifurcation.
The BJP has joined hands with your principal state rival, the TDP. Is that good or bad for you?
The BJP is hungry for power after being out of power for 10 years. So it will look for opportunistic alliances. I am sure they are happy to have tied up with the TDP and are willing to tie up with the TSR and YSR Congress. And I am sure both these regional parties are equally eager to tie up with the BJP if they smell a chance of power. We are not worried but it’s important to rebuild the Congress and tell the public that a lot of good has happened to Andhra Pradesh.
Several Congress MLAs are not re-contesting. Did you have trouble finding candidates for Assembly elections?
All the seven assembly candidates in Kakinada are fresh faces. That’s a good thing, there is a freshness and a chance to build the party and renew the roots in the state.
Jaganmohan Reddy has appropriated his father’s legacy, and your last CM Kiran Kumar Keddy resigned over the formation of Telangana. What is left for the Congress to claim in Seemandhra?
The message is what we are saying — despite having three different CMs in the past 10 years, the schemes have been implemented and progress has continued under the Congress. I am sure the public sees and realises that. It is evident in the good response we get at the rallies. But there is a certain section that has got distracted by false messages. I am hopeful of getting them back.