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How YSR won Andhra battle

A day before Telugu megastar Chiranjeevi launched his Praja Rajyam Party on August 26 last year...

A day before Telugu megastar Chiranjeevi launched his Praja Rajyam Party on August 26 last year,Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy made the moves that would eight months later deliver a stunning victory to the Congress in the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

With elections less than eight months away,the matinee idol’s raging popularity could mean a formidable political foe for the Congress. That was not YSR’s only worry. His main rival,Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu,was already making the moves to stitch together an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and Left parties. “He foresaw that the party could lose its grip if he let Chiranjeevi and the TDP run the show. A quiet warning went to MLAs who were neglecting their constituencies to either perform or face the axe. Not getting enough support from a worn-out Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC),the Chief Minister also took it upon himself to popularise the various government schemes for the poor. He emphasised that come what may,the Congress had to stay one step ahead,” says Congress leader Dr Tulasi Reddy.

YSR also drew strength from his son Jagan Mohan,a successful industrialist and managing editor of Telugu daily Sakshi,and a few confidants like Rajya Sabha MP KVP Ramachandra Murthy,and ministers Botsa Satyanarayana,Savita Indra Reddy and K Rosaiah. Rosaiah,the Finance Minister,never flinched whenever YSR demanded more funds for the government’s many schemes that included Rs 2-per-kg rice,free medical treatment for BPL families,free power to farmers,pension scheme for widows and the most popular ‘Indiramma’ free housing scheme.

YSR adopted a multi-pronged approach to tackle the opposition. “He launched a flurry of new schemes and individual benefit programmes for the poor. He identified communities and sectors that were in crisis like the weaving community in Telangana,” says Jagan Mohan Reddy,adding that instead of announcing bailout packages,YSR unveiled a long-term plan that would not only help people immediately but also provide education to their children,healthcare,insurance,marketing of their products,and also provide small loans to start small ancillary businesses. “On the other hand,YSR also withdrew anything that was likely to cause vote banks to move away from the party,” says Jagan Mohan.

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In fact,this is the reason that Congress wrested the Karimnagar seat,which was the stronghold of TRS.

YSR scrapped the 1,000-km-long Coastal Corridor after coastal communities protested that land was being forcibly taken away from them. “By doing this,YSR ensured that the coastal communities,including Kapus,did not move away from Congress towards the PRP,” a source said.

After the 2004 victory,the Congress camp was divided into two with one group loyal to YSR while the other was with APCC president D Srinivas. However,YSR slowly weaned most of the MLAs into his camp leaving Srinivas with a few pro-Telangana MLAs. When it was time to select candidates,YSR not only rewarded his most loyal MLAs with tickets from wherever they wanted to contest but also ensured that nearly 180 of his loyalists got the tickets.

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YSR also fielded more candidates from the weaker sections than PRP and Grand Alliance while ensuring that the powerful Reddy community,which has always been loyal to the Congress,was also well represented with 83 candidates.

His son Jagan Mohan matured into a politician on his own right and YSR was glad to lean on him to take care of Rayalaseema region while he himself tackled Coastal Andhra and Telangana where PRP and Grand Alliance were posing a threat to the Congress. “Jagan did not fail. He in fact managed to consolidate the vote bank in the region with his hugely successful road shows and public meetings. His personal charisma and presenting himself as a young and upcoming leader worked wonders in Kadapa and the neighbouring districts ensuring that the Congress swept the four districts,” a source said. Jagan also fought a running battle with Telugu leading daily Eenadu and its editor Ramoji Rao and Andhra Jyoti who were criticising YSR and his government over corruption. Sakshi carried several stories to counter the anti-Congress campaign of the two newspapers.

For the Lok Sabha elections,YSR in consultation with state in-charge Veerappa Moily made sure sitting MPs — including the three of the five Central ministers whose constituencies were scrapped due to delimitation — were accommodated in seats where they could win easily. It was on YSR’s suggestion that S Jaipal Reddy contested from the newly created Chevella constituency where in spite of he being considered an outsider,YSR felt that the Congress could pull him through. He won. In a clever move,YSR moved NTR’s daughter and union minister D Purandareswari to Vizag after her Bapatla seat was reserved,as he sensed cosmopolitan Vizag would embrace her. It did. Union minister Panabaka Lakshmi was also moved from her Nellore constituency,which was dereserved to Bapatla,where she took over from Purandareswari and won.

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Finally,after Chiranjeevi and his actor brother Pawan Kalyan,TDP’s star campaigner Junior NTR and Balakrishna and others started winding down their road shows,YSR embarked on the most important election tour of his life — a gruelling 29-day trip in which he addressed over 150 public meetings in 21 districts,putting in nearly 18 hours daily. “There was no magic formula,no wave. We came back to power because of the goodwill that was created by the pro-poor schemes. We ensured that the aam admi did get roti,kapda aur makan,and not just talk about it,” he says.

First published on: 18-05-2009 at 10:51:29 pm
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