There cannot be two contrasting personalities than Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP and Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party.
Chandrababu Naidu is known to be efficient, with enormous attention to detail, a micro-manager, an e-governance enthusiast and tech-friendly. He is also known to seek out novel projects to implement and runs his party with a tight leash. He is called the CEO of Andhra Pradesh, and he is partial to this narrative, a technocrat running the state.
Jagan Mohan Reddy’s public persona and discourse are always about the farmers and the poor. Though tech-savvy, his speeches or his rhetoric has no place for tech-inspired utopias. It is very much grounded in farmers, students and unemployed youth. It is these categories, he returns to repeatedly in his speeches. He plays by the ear and runs his party Congress-style; without excessive rigour.
Naidu was not a great public speaker when he started off, preferring to be a back room organisation man, always underplaying his importance and looking self-effacing in his white-yellow shirts and matching trousers. His speeches were made fun of by mimicry artists, (when there was no internet and memes had not taken over the world). Now his speeches have improved, but Telugus don’t consider him a great orator.
Jagan is no great orator either, tries to speak like his father, even waves his hand to the audience like him, copies his intonations, and has the same ease when he interacts with farmers, students and rural youth. He is at home with crowds, and larger the better. He ‘under-dresses’ and cultivates the look of a rural youth in AP.
Naidu had come up the hard way, from a son a farmer to student leader to a Congress minister to becoming the leader of the TDP, then taking over the party and government and becoming the CM. He has a firm grasp of ground realities but he has never been in the agitationist mould of dharnas, road rokos and facing up to arrests.
Jagan for his part has started off his political career as the son of a chief minister YS Rajashekar Reddy and was always tuned to political power with his father and his grandfather literally controlling the politics of his native district, Kadapa. Jagan was known as one of the shrewdest businessmen, mixing politics and business with ease and benefiting enormously from the same. He is facing more than a dozen cases on these counts, with the CBI and ED.
Naidu, at times stiff, gives out the vibes of a senior bureaucrat rather than that of a popular leader and appears aloof without the backslapping ways of popular leaders. He is at ease as a chief minister, taking decisions and clearing files, and is not someone who relishes sitting in the opposition.
Jagan is at ease with people, crowds and admirers. He holds people’s hands, touches them, puts arms around shoulders, and even kisses young and old people on their heads. His interaction with people has something of a faith healer approach, a Healer amongst common men.
Jagan’s party, the YSRCP does not have the organisational heft of Naidu’s party, the TDP. It is built around the personality of Jagan, while the voter base is built around the pro-poor image of Jagan’s father, YS Rajashekar Reddy. YSR, as he is known, is a suave politician, the perfect socialist with a pro-poor image, amidst serious allegations of cronyism. His untimely death had left a void in certain large sections of the population which Jagan is gearing up to fill.
This election is a clash of parties and also of personalities. Naidu has controlled aggression, planning, deep thought and a robust organisation built over the years. Jagan seems to play by the ear, bank on his connect with the people, his ability to communicate, a pro-poor lineage coming from his father and the tenacity to go repeatedly on Padayatras for thousands of kilometres.
Naidu is relentless in his ability to build alliances while Jagan prefers to go it alone. Despite being in the opposition, he has not shown great interest in cobbling coalitions nor does he search for allies. There is a loner in him.
It was said that Jagan would have won in 2014 if not for losing steam at the fag end of the campaign. One can never blame Naidu for ever losing steam.
The news from the ground is that it is a tough contest, with Advantage Jagan. But Naidu too has a few aces up his sleeve.
Naidu has finally started playing the populist – a role he is not comfortable with- giving away doles to farmers, women and old age pensioners. Given his penchant to think big, he has played this too in a big way. Around 97 lakh women’s self-help group members in villages and towns are being paid Rs 10,000 each and money has apparently reached their accounts. 45 lakh farmers have also been given Rs 3,000 each. He has recently raised the old age pension from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000. These could prove to be a game changer.
Organisation vs chemistry. Tough to take a call.