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The Big 3 in fray,Congress in sight of No. 1

As Andhra Pradesh wraps up its polls tomorrow,the fate of the three chief ministerial candidates —Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.....

As Andhra Pradesh wraps up its polls tomorrow,the fate of the three chief ministerial candidates —Y S Rajasekhara Reddy,N Chandrababu Naidu and Chiranjeevi — will be decided.

So fierce is the fight in the four districts that comprise Rayalaseema that for the first time in their political careers,Reddy and Naidu are foraying into each other’s strongholds,determined to make a dent in the vote banks to gain that much-needed edge in a triangular contest.

Undaunted,Chiranjeevi is giving both a tough fight by campaigning hard in their constituencies. With the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) fancying its chances in the coastal districts,he hopes to tilt Rayalaseema too in his favour.

The second phase of voting,April 23,will cover 20 Lok Sabha and 150 Assembly constituencies in Rayalaseema and south coastal Andhra. While Reddy is contesting from Pulivendala in Kadapa district,Naidu is contesting from Kuppam and Chiranjeevi from Tirupati in the neighbouring Chittoor district.

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The Congress and TDP seem to be evenly poised in the four districts that make up Rayalaseema — the Congress in Kadapa and Kurnool,and the TDP in Anantapur and Chittoor. What the PRP hopes to encash on is the caste factor,with the region’s sizeable backward class population.

But despite the Chiranjeevi factor,the Congress — which had won seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats in Rayalaseema in 2004 — is set to retain all except Anantapur. The TDP could end up losing even Chittoor,the only Lok Sabha constituency it won last time,and which includes Naidu’s Assembly segment Kuppam.

Even in the Assembly elections,the Congress support doesn’t seem dented very significantly. The contest in Rayalaseema has traditionally been between the Reddys and Kammas,with the former dominant. Kadapa has the highest proportion of Reddys (27 per cent) among the 23 districts in the state. The Kammas are present in a sizeable number in Anantapur. The PRP’s hopes of making it a triangular contest rested on uniting the other backward classes behind it,in which it hasn’t been very successful. If the other backward classes vote for the Congress again this time along with the Reddys,the party will retain most of its Assembly seats.

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In Kadapa,the fortress of the Reddys in the heart of Rayalaseema,the soaring mercury rivals the heat generated by high-pitched campaigns. “Jagan anna”,“Jagan anna”,the chant reaches a crescendo as the Chief Minister’s son Y S Jaganmohan emerges out of an SUV during a roadshow on the Kadapa-Chennur road. The 38-year-old is contesting the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat for the first time but is already a popular leader.

He talks about development and bringing a change in people’s lives more passionately than his father. Standing tall in his family home ground,he dares N Chandrababu Naidu and Co. to contest from Kadapa. “They will lose their deposits. Leaders who betray their own relatives don’t hesitate to betray the trust of people,” he roars as excited youths crowd around him.

With his father making whistle-stop tours across the belt,Jaganmohan is holding the fort in Kadapa,the traditional party stronghold,guarding it from invasions by the TDP and PRP.

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Last week,Naidu sent in popular actor and NTR’s son N Balakrishna as one of his chief warriors,and he bulldozed through Kadapa with a raging roadshow. On Sunday,thousands waited outside a hotel for Chiranjeevi to arrive. “Balakrishna’s campaign was very good. He twirled his moustache on popular demand. Let us see what Chiranjeevi does,” said K Gopal,the local student federation leader.

YSR hasn’t shied away,in turn sending Jaganmohan and Union Minister D Purandareswari to campaign in Naidu’s Kuppam constituency,while he himself made a whirlwind tour of Chiranjeevi’s home district of West Godavari,as well as other coastal regions. To counter Chiranjeevi,Naidu and allies of the Grand Alliance also held a mammoth public meeting at Chiranjeevi’s seat Tirupati on Monday.

While rural development,drinking water supply and irrigation facilities have been main issues for decades in this region,it continues to remain a backward and underdeveloped area. However,that’s not been the fate of the VIP constituencies.

Kadapa has seen a turnaround since YSR became Chief Minister,and has good roads,drinking water supply,schools and colleges. The municipality was converted into a corporation and a Rs 100-crore urban infrastructure fund has been sanctioned,apart from a number of irrigation projects for the district. The Rajiv Institute of Medical Sciences came up about two years ago. An airport has been sanctioned,while an IIT and a Rajiv Gandhi Technological University are also coming up. It’s a similar story in Naidu’s Kuppam seat.

While Jaganmohan is pitted against the TDP’s techie candidate Palem Shrikant Reddy in the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat,YSR faces the TDP’s Satish Kumar Reddy in the Pulivendala Assembly constituency. There are few doubts that the Congress will sweep the district again this time,like 2004.

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In sharp contrast is the arid Anantapur district,where the lack of rural infrastructure,irrigation and drinking water facilities is immediately evident. There is a strong anti-incumbency wave against the Congress sitting MP,Anantha Venkatarami Reddy.

In 2004,of the 52 Assembly constituencies in Rayalaseema,the Congress had won 34 while the TDP eight. But the TDP had performed well in Anantapur district,winning six of the 14 seats there. This time it may increase the tally here to nine. Of the 14 seats in Kurnool district,10 had been won by the Congress. In Kadapa,the Congress had won nine out of the 10 constituencies,and is set for a similar sweep this time.

First published on: 23-04-2009 at 11:31:54 pm
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