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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Jagan’s Yatra: Raising a party from ground, one step at a time

10 yrs after he split from Cong, the YSRCP leader has emerged as the rare political scion to form own party and rise to power. The Indian Express on how the 46-yr-old carved out his path — literally through 23,000 km and thousands of days spent on the road — and what lessons it holds for other dynasts waiting in the wings

Written by Sreenivas Janyala |
Updated: June 9, 2019 1:15:13 pm
The scale of the win has sealed Jagan’s command over the party.

On May 25, two days after his landslide victory in Andhra Pradesh, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy told a gathering of supporters how God had delivered “poetic justice” to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and its leader N Chandrababu Naidu. “Naidu engineered the illegal defection of 23 YSRCP MLAs… now he is left with only 23 MLAs. He purchased three YSRCP MPs, now he is left with only three MPs,” Jagan said.

A thunderous applause greeted his statement, underlining the achievement of the 46-year-old, and his 10-year struggle, including a jail term, to here against all odds. The scale of the victory also stood out for making him the only regional satrap who founded a party after the demise of his father to have risen to become CM without anyone’s help, in an election that saw the decimation of most dynasts.

The win must have also been sweet for another reason. It also signified the continuous free fall in Andhra Pradesh of the Congress (down to 1.29% vote share from 40.72% in 2009) — the party that cast aside Jagan, setting him off on his solitary path.

The YSRCP leader did most of his long haul in public — walking 3,648 km and travelling 23,000 km over three yatras — even as, behind the scenes, he raised a party from the ground.

A special victory

In its internal calculations, the YSRCP had thought it would get 100-110 seats out of 175 in the recent Assembly polls. With 2014 in mind, when it had expected to win but was bested by Naidu, it also kept expectations low. The final tally of 151 constituencies, plus 22 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats, surprised even them, admits a senior YSRCP MLA. “We did not anticipate such huge silent support for Jagan.”

In four of Andhra’s 13 districts —Nellore, Kadapa, Kurnool, Vizianagaram — the YSRCP made a clean sweep in the Assembly polls. In both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, it got nearly 50% votes.

Acknowledging supporters after his swearing-in at Vijayawada.

Among the heavyweights felled by YSRCP candidates were former Union minister P Gajapati Raju, five-time MP Rayapati Sambasiva Rao, five-time MP V Kishore Chandra Deo, BJP Andhra chief Kanna Lakshminarayana, and Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh. Lokesh lost from Mangalagiri Assembly seat, which falls in the Amaravati Capital Region, the dream city being raised by the Naidu government.

In Visakhapatnam Lok Sabha constituency, a novice, M V V Satyanarayana, won against the likes of a former IPS officer, an ex-Union minister, and the grandson of a TDP leader.

Nara Lokesh says people voted “emotionally”. “The work is there for everyone to see. With limited resources, we did whatever was possible,” he says.

Kanna Laskhminarayana, the chief of the Andhra unit of the BJP, which drew a blank in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha, says people voted for change. “They were fed up with the TDP and Naidu. They saw an alternative in Jagan.”
The scale of the win has sealed Jagan’s command over the party. While he is the president, mother Y S Vijayamma is the honorary president. The only other person with authority is Jagan’s confidant V Vijay Sai Reddy, a YSRCP Rajya Sabha MP.

Until the April 11 elections, the YSRCP largely operated out of the Lotus Pond home of Jagan’s family in Hyderabad. While the YSRCP has now started moving to a new head office in Amaravati, this building too is attached to an equally sprawling residence owned by Jagan. The construction on this bungalow started a few months ago as, in anticipation of a win, the YSRCP chief sought to shed the charge that he preferred staying in Hyderabad, which now belongs to Telangana.

His father’s choice 

Exactly a decade ago, then a businessman in his prime 30s, Jagan was based in Bengaluru, running real estate firms and power projects. One day, “out of the blue”, according to him, his father and Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy asked him to contest the May 2009 Lok Sabha elections from the family pocketborough of Kadapa. Jagan had no exposure to politics, not even in his father’s campaign.

Speaking to The Indian Express in May 2012, Jagan had said, “YSR’s personality overshadowed everything then. I never expected he would suggest that I contest.”

Jagan’s family after meeting him at Chanchalguda Jail, Hyderabad.

Uncle Y S Vivekananda Reddy promptly vacated Kadapa, and Jagan won by 1.78 lakh votes. The Congress won 32 other Lok Sabha constituencies in Andhra in the 2009 polls, securing a surprise second term at the Centre and sending YSR’s stock within the party skyrocketing.

Within months, Jagan’s life took another twist. On September 2, 2009, three months after being re-elected to power, YSR died in a chopper crash. “The initial shock gave a wave to a chorus from YSR supporters and Congress loyalists to make Jagan the CM. But the pressure exerted on this even before YSR’s funeral upset (then Congress president) Sonia Gandhi, who refused to say anything,” says long-time friend Bhuma Karunakar Reddy.

Party leaders talk of Jagan making numerous visits to New Delhi to meet Sonia, who refused to see him or, when she did, did not commit to making him CM. Jagan’s mother and sister were also made to wait several times. Later, Jagan was refused permission to take out the yatra he had promised to undertake at the grave of his father, to meet families of YSR’s supporters who had died reportedly in grief. Ignoring the high command, Jagan had finally set off on his Odarpu Yatra in April 2010.

For the next 265 days, he was on the road, covering 17,262 km. Mid-way, in November 2010, he resigned as an MP and from the Congress. On March 12, 2011, he launched the Yuvajana Sramika Raithu Congress Party or YSRCP. Most YSR loyalists did not go with Jagan at the time, though they are believed to have covertly supported him. It was only in 2013, before the elections, that many quit the Congress and joined the YSRCP.

Congress never recovered. Having also cleared the bifurcation of Andhra in a midnight Parliament session in February 2014, the Congress fell to less than 3% votes in the 2014 polls. Fighting his first election, Jagan got 47.9% of the votes.

The yatra way 

When he set off on Odarpu Yatra, Jagan was following a template set by his father in 2003, who had undertaken one such yatra to victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

Leading a convoy of five Mahindra Scorpios, Jagan covered all 13 districts. Along the way, he unveiled 3,292 statues of YSR, delivered more than a thousand hours of speeches, met 486 families whose members had died reportedly in grief over YSR and drew lakhs of people, who turned up to see the son of YSR.

Says old YSR loyalist A Ramakrishna Reddy, “Jagan listened to the people, just like his father had done in 2003. He heard out the woes of thousands, even if he had to forgo lunch and dinner. He spent nights in tents in places no one had before.”

File photo of a condolence meeting for YSR, one of many held by Jagan

The YSRCP leader adds that while they lost in 2014, it was a narrow defeat, with many of their candidates losing by 900 to 4,000 votes. “Just 2% more people felt that Babu (N Chandrababu Naidu) had a reputation as a good administrator, and would take Andhra post-bifurcation to the right path,” Ramakrishna Reddy, who defeated Naidu’s son Lokesh this time, says.

Adds another YSR loyalist, Botsa Satyanarayana, “No one had seen Jagan till then, he was considered a child. But with Odarpu Yatra he displayed signs of becoming a mass leader.”

Like the Congress before it, the TDP dismissed the crowds thronging to see Jagan as a temporary phenomenon. It even refused to read signs in Jagan’s 5.45 lakh-vote win in a 2011 by-poll from Kadapa parliamentary seat.

Soon after, in March 2012, the CBI registered a case against Jagan, saying that as CM, YSR had handed out contracts to companies in return for money deposited with shell firms belonging to Jagan. Jagan was arrested by the CBI on May 27, 2012.

While Jagan is said to have discouraged family members, especially his wife and two daughters, from visiting him in jail, a large number of Jagan supporters would gather daily outside.

Released after 16 months, Jagan again hit the road. Starting December 2013, he embarked on a ‘Samikya Shankharavam (United Announcement)’ Yatra, to mobilise opinion against the proposed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.

The lesson from 2014

While the YSRCP was widely expected to win in the May 2014 polls, the TDP did. Jagan’s detractors expected him to take the blow hard, and the TDP struck immediately by luring his leaders away. By 2018, the number of YSRCP MLAs was down to 45 from 67. The August 2017 bypoll loss from Nandyal came as another blow. After this, Jagan became increasingly isolated in the YSRCP.

Ramakrishna Reddy says it was perhaps Jagan’s mother Vijayamma who advised him to take tips from YSR. “Jagan resolved he needed to be among the people. He said Andhra needs ‘Rajanna Rajyam (a reference to YSR’s welfare state)’.”

On November 6, 2017, Jagan set off from native Kadapa on a ‘Praja Sankalpa Yatra’ — again to cover all the 13 districts of Andhra. When the initial response was lukewarm, he started raising the issue of Special Category Status (SCS) and how the TDP government had failed to secure it despite being an ally of the BJP at the Centre.
He also announced ‘YSRCP’s Navaratnalu’ — nine promises ranging from increased pensions to senior citizens and single women, reimbursement of students’ fees and free healthcare for eligible beneficiaries, to farm investment support and Rs 15,000 per month grant to mothers who send their children to school.

As the issues Jagan raised started hitting home, the defensive Naidu was forced to take a stand on the SCS. The TDP’s exit from the NDA in March 2018 over the Centre dilly-dallying on the matter was seen as a damage-control exercise.

Jagan’s yatra, meanwhile, continued. By the time he wrapped up on February 2, it was the longest padayatra by any politician in the country — he had walked 3,648 km in 341 days. Says a party leader, “Jagan walked between 15 and 30 km daily. He interacted with everyone he met. Every Friday he returned to Hyderabad to attend the CBI court.”

Leaving Congress, BJP blank 

Even as the victory is yet to sink in, the celebrations are subdued by the realisation that Andhra’s financial condition is too dire to meet the promises on the campaign trail. One of the first halts made by the new CM was to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office, seeking aid. What the YSRCP has going for it is its cordial relationship with the BJP, unlike Naidu who, riding on national ambitions, burnt all bridges with the Modi government.

For now, though, the rise of Jagan has halted attempts by the BJP to gain a foothold in Andhra, with the party anyway facing a backlash over the SCS. The BJP didn’t win a single Lok Sabha or Assembly constituency in Andhra, with most of its candidates losing their deposits. In 2014, the BJP had won four Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats.
Admitting that “it may take some time for the BJP to establish roots in Andhra”, former party MLA P Vishnu Kumar Raju says, “Many people blame the BJP for Andhra’s financial woes, but that it is not true. Naidu had accepted the special package (given by the Centre) in lieu of the SCS, but made a U-turn after Jagan raised the SCS issue.”

Congress did worse. Second time in a row, the party that had 156 Assembly and 33 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 in undivided Andhra, drew a blank, with all its candidates losing their deposits again.

The possibility of the party making a comeback looks bleak. A YSRCP leader says that the results show national parties have no place in Andhra politics. “When we have strong regional parties, why would anyone vote for the Congress or BJP? The Congress bifurcated the state unscientifically while the BJP has denied the SCS and financial assistance, after promising the same in Parliament.”

Ramakrishna Reddy says Jagan’s win holds another lesson for the Congress, particularly its president Rahul Gandhi. “Jagan may not have been born with qualities of a leader but he became one by spending the last nine years among the people. He has now proved himself to be a mass leader. Rahul Gandhi has not been able to do so… I don’t think Rahul would be able to walk through even a single district to understand their issues. He can learn a lot from Jagan’s life.”

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