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Reddy and able: Congress problems in Andhra August 29, 2011

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

Brian Stoddart

As the UPA struggles through the Anna Hazare uproar and the continuing fallout from the Commonwealth Games as well as the 2 G matters, all of which have an impact on the government’s composition and fortunes, its potential political nightmare in Andhra Pradesh is taking clearer form. A few days ago a serious number of MLAs resigned from the state parliament, among them 24 Congress members who also indicated to Delhi that they would also leave the party. Given that the strong Congress cohort from Andhra has been central to the UPA’s power, this is potentially devastating.

The ostensible reason may be even more so. The recusants say that they have been moved primarily by the Delhi moves, via the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), to investigate what are said to be financial irregularities in the vast array of companies created by former Chief Minister the late Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) and now inherited by his son, Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagan has already resigned from Congress to lead the newly formed YSR Congress in frustration at not having been made Chief Minister to succeed his father. In the polite parlance of some of the commentary, it is suggested that the considerable wealth inherent in these companies sprang from “donations” by other companies seeking preferential treatment in development project tenders put up by the YSR government. In less polite terms, of course, the suggestion is that corruption helped YSR and his family build up a massive fortune.

While this might be seen as a laudable attempt by the UPA to attack corruption as demanded by such various agencies as Anna Hazare’s fast and the “tweeting” from actor icon Anupam Kher, most analysts see it as an unsubtle at best and crude at worst attempt to wreck the rising support for Jagan. If that was the intent, then the MLAs’ resignation suggests that it has had the exact reverse outcome.

What Jagan has succeed in doing with his on-going tour, to sympathise with those whose family members committed suicide in grief over his father’s death, is mobilising a YSR cult campaign. An entire new iconography has emerged across the state, sharpening another facet in all this.

In retrospect, several commentators now suggest that one of the many legacies from the YSR period is the creation of a Reddy Raj. Thirty years ago political scientist Carolyn Elliott wrote insightfully about how caste politics played out in Andhra between the two major groups, the Reddy and the Kamma. Her analysis was borne out in the rise of the Telugu Desam Party and the later Chandrababhu Naidu regime when the Kammas came to dominate over the Reddy groups that constituted the top end of the Congress governments. YSR, it is said, changed all that by attracting back what had become the split-off groups of Reddys who had gone to the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) and other parties. That weakened the opposition and substantiated his own base. That was further reinforced by his alliances with the neighbouring Karnataka Reddy factions, most notable those of the “Bellary Boys” now the subject of official scrutiny because of illegal mining. Jagan is also close to that group.

Following this line of analysis, the argument is that Jagan is now attempting to protect his own position (and wealth, in the eyes of many) by bolstering this Reddy Raj in the face of what is seen as a direct attack from Delhi.

One counter to that might be that a Reddy already runs the show, now Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy. There are some relevant subtleties here, though. YSR and Jagan hail from Kadapa in the Rayalaseema, the traditionally undervalued and impoverished section of the state. Kiran Kumar Reddy is very different. He was born and educated in Hyderabad though the family came from Chittoor. His father was a minister in one of the P.V. Narasimha Rao governments, was close to Indira Gandhi, and is later thought to have been a strong influence on Chandrababhu Naidu. In short, the line is of what has sometimes been called the “Delhi Reddy” brigade, for whom caste has been an important but not sole political driver.

The Kiran Kumar Reddy government has had a series of difficulties, allowing the Jagan juggernaut to gather significant momentum. From looking like a marginal player – if player at all – a few months ago, it is now entirely possible that Jagan could control the state, given the defections from Congress.

That means the UPA finds itself in yet another bind of its own making. Having essayed an open attack on Jagan and so invoking the wrath of YSR supporters who might not necessarily have supported the son, the UPA might well have to somehow do a deal with Jagan if it wants to retain any hopes beyond the 2014 elections. Its recent deal with film star Chiranjeevi’s party designed to strengthen Kiran Kumar Reddy and offside Jagan has not worked. Now its choices might be limited, and certainly embarrassing.



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