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Change in Andhra December 2, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , trackback

Brian Stoddart

The current evolution in Andhra’s political order provides an almost-perfect model of the intricate checks and balances to be maintained in any Indian state, and it is likely that the success or otherwise of the changes will be seen as a pointer to the shape of the national order over the next two to five years. Some background is necessary to set the scene, however.

In 2004 Congress returned to power under Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a largely rural backlash against the technocrat-driven administration of Chandrababhu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) that was founded by his father-in-law, the Telugu movie star N.T.Rama Rao who was also Chief Minister. YSR emphasised more rural development, and  particularly pushed irrigation development that has been a political and economic driver in the region now for over 150 years. Congress held office convincingly in 2009.

The new Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy.  Source, Wikimedia Commons

Then YSR died in a helicopter crash late in 2009. His son, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy made it clear he expected to succeed his father, even though he had little real support anywhere. The Congress high command was having none of that, and placed Konijeti Rosaiah, a Vysya, in the Chief Minister’s slot. Rosaiah was a stop-gap, and a classic one. He was 73 when appointed as Chief Minister and had been in state politics over 40 years, most notable for being a long-serving Finance Minister under a succession of Chief Ministers. Born in 1933 he hails from Tenali in Guntur district, a village centre with a history of vigorous agrarian political activity stretching back a couple of hundred years. In 1998 he became MP for Narasaraopet, another well known activist centre. In his youth Rosaiah became a devotee of the notable agrarian leader N.G. Ranga whose Swatantra Party he eventually joined before later returning to Congress. He was an “old style” Congress man in many respects, then.

Rosaiah immediately faced several problems. Jagan Mohan Reddy refused to accept the decision and began public demonstrations. Some comments made then withdrawn by Union Home Minister Chidambaram ignited another round of pro- and anti-Telangana agitation, that in turn tipped off the Rayalaseema lobby. Once more the three geographical regions of the state were at odds. Severe floods in the state were handled poorly, many of YSR’s reforms and policies seemed to drift, and Congress was losing support.
Rosaiah then announced last week he would resign on personal grounds, but it was obvious that Delhi had decided on a change, and what a change.

The new Chief Minister is Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy, a 50 year old from Chittoor in the Rayalaseema and a man who has never held a ministry during his time in state politics. One indicator of the significance of this choice is that the other major contender is thought to have been S. Jaipal Reddy. The current Union Minister for Urban Development and Manmohan Singh’s choice to chair the Group of Ministers overseeing the Commonwealth Games during its final and controversial stages, Jaipal Reddy is just the sort of person who might normally be drafted in.

The high command clearly thought a real change was needed, though, and Kiran Kumar Reddy touches a lot of bases. He can hold the all-important Reddy vote, and cover off on the Rayalaseema front. However, though born in the Rayalaseema he is also seen very much as a Hyderabad man, with a lot of networks there, many stretching back to his days as a student at Nizam College and Osmania University that is, of course, at the forefront of the Telangana movement. His father was also a cabinet Minister and the whole family was close to former Chief Minister and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. He was also a YSR acolyte and is reckoned to have the same kind of populist, can-do, activist approach.

In the modern Indian consideration he even has another claim that is particularly evocative in Hyderabad: cricket. A fair wicket keeper and batsman he is said to have played for Hyderabad and South Zone, though his statistics do not readily show up. However, in that circle he mixed with the now well-known commentator Harsha Bhogle, and the even more famous (or infamous) former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin who was banned for life as a result of the betting scandals in the late 1990s.

He has a range of credentials, then, and Congress seems to be moving to bolster them further.  The suggestion is that his deputy will be a Dalit, the favoured candidate coming from, surprise, Telangana and having connections into the TDP from which it is hoped to drag some votes. Additionally, it seems YSR’s brother may well be offered a ministry, so helping to nullify Jagan Mohan Reddy’s crusade – that has already had an effect, because Jagan has resigned from Congress, apparently to create the YSR Congress.

As several commentators point out, there is a powerful and symbolic link here in that Kiran Kumar Reddy was named on the very day that Congress took such a pounding in the Bihar elections. With Tamil Nadu and UP also looking fragile, even this far out from 2014 the Congress is looking to shore up its support in Andhra which has become a pivotal state for it nationally.

If that is so then Kiran Kumar Reddy can cover them on caste, separatism, dynastic succession, rural, urban and even popular cultural matters. All he must do now is succeed.


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