Andhra Pradesh: Winds of change blowing

The coming together of Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party (JSP) and Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party is being widely seen as a winning combination against the ruling YSRCP

Congress party workers celebrate their party's victory in Telangana state assembly elections, at Gandhi Bhavan in Hyderabad, 3 December 2023. (Photo: Getty)
Congress party workers celebrate their party's victory in Telangana state assembly elections, at Gandhi Bhavan in Hyderabad, 3 December 2023. (Photo: Getty)
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Suresh Dharur

Will Pawan Kalyan be the X factor in Andhra?

Actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan is a maverick in many ways: he adores Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara and, in the same breath, worships cows at his gaushala near Vijayawada; on one hand he is awe-struck by the global history of left-wing revolutions, on the other he coasts along with the BJP with ease.

The 52-year-old Telugu star, with a massive fan following among the youth, may well be the X factor in the coming elections in Andhra Pradesh, a state where tinsel-town glamour and politics are inexorably linked to each other.

Traditionally, it has been a straight contest between the two key players—the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) headed by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

However, the simultaneous elections to the assembly and Lok Sabha forthcoming in April–May 2024 is set to witness a re-alignment of political forces, with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party (JSP) and the TDP forging an alliance to defeat the ruling YSRCP.

In a state known for its fierce caste loyalties and vociferous fan base for film stars, the coming together of these two parties, bound by a common enemy, is being widely seen as a winning combination. However, there is a catch. The BJP, which is already in alliance with the JSP, is not particularly enthused about sailing with the TDP.

“In fact, the central leadership of the saffron party has a friendly and patronising disposition towards the chief minister and his party. This is because Jagan has been bending backwards to keep them in good humour,” said political analyst and author K. Ramesh Babu.

The younger brother of Telugu megastar and former Union minister K. Chiranjeevi, Kalyan had launched JSP in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. He did not contest the elections, simply supported the TDP–BJP combine and campaigned for its candidates.

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Morale booster

The resounding electoral victories in Karnataka and Telangana have boosted the morale of the Congress and raised the party’s hopes of a revival in Andhra Pradesh, a state where it drew a blank in the 2019 general elections.

“We bore the brunt of public anger over the UPA’s decision to bifurcate Andhra to carve out the separate state of Telangana in 2014. But the public mood is changing now. They understand our past compulsions,” says the state Congress chief G. Rudra Raju. Post-bifurcation, state politics is dominated by three main players—YSRCP, TDP and JSP—pushing the Congress into a corner.

“However, the winds of change are blowing now and we expect a repeat of what happened in the sibling state of Telangana,” a senior Congress leader from coastal Andhra said. A new sense of dynamism and purpose is palpable among the rank and file of the party as it prepares for the next assembly elections.

The party is banking on anti-incumbency being faced by the YSRCP government over a plethora of issues including corruption, cronyism and failure to attract investment into the state. It plans to undertake a statewide door-to-door campaign to expose the misdeeds of the government as well as the politics of opportunism being pursued by the TDP and JSP.

Granting special status to Andhra Pradesh, a promise made at the time of bifurcation that remains unfulfilled, will be one of the key poll planks of the Congress.

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On the brink of a debt trap

Experts have indicated that reckless freebies and fiscal profligacy are fast pushing Andhra Pradesh into a debt trap, with accumulated liabilities crossing Rs 10 lakh crore.

What has intrigued political observers is the silence of the central government over the poor financial health of the state run by the YSRCP, which is known for its friendly overtures to the BJP despite not being part of the NDA.

There are allegations that the Centre has been “unduly soft and patronising” towards chief minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy whose rule is marked by the politics of vengeance, casteism, corruption and cronyism. Since coming to power in 2019, his party has been going out of the way to impress the central BJP leadership, backing the Modi government both inside and outside Parliament on all policy decisions and legislations, including controversial ones.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Credit Rating Information Services of India Limited (CRISIL) has repeatedly warned the state about its ailing financial health. As per the FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Act, the states cannot borrow beyond 3.5 per cent of their GDP.

While Andhra Pradesh’s borrowing limit for the year 2023–24 is Rs 30,500 crore, it has already taken loans to the tune of Rs 28,500 crore in the first three months of the financial year, amounting to Rs 9,500 crore per month.

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Assignment Andhra

Prashant Kishor, the famed poll strategist who has advised parties across the political spectrum in the past, may well have come full circle in Andhra Pradesh. His sudden meeting with TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu at his residence in Vijayawada has set off ripples in political circles, leading to speculation that he would work for the regional party in the upcoming elections.

The irony of an imminent deal was not lost on political observers. Naidu’s arch rival and YSRCP president Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy had roped in the services of Kishor’s team in 2019 and swept the polls. Kishor air-dashed to Vijayawada on a private jet and held a three-hour long meeting with Naidu during which they are believed to have discussed the prevailing political situation in the poll-bound state.

Though Kishor himself described his meeting with the former chief minister as a ‘courtesy call’, TDP sources said preliminary talks were held on the contours of the poll strategy for the TDP– JSP alliance and campaign themes. Interestingly, I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee), the organisation founded by Kishor, continues to work for the YSRCP.

‘We are dedicated to work with YSRCP until Jagan Mohan Reddy secures a thumping victory again in 2024’, the advocacy group posted on X.

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