Explaining how Jaganmohan Reddy turned his political fortune from a dead end      

His solid work on the ground through continuous mass contact programmes, coupled with sound strategic perception management, propelled him to victory

Explaining how Jaganmohan Reddy turned his political fortune from a dead end       

KV Lakshmana

Hard work with sincerity pays. YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of former Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhara Reddy who died in a chopper accident in September 2009, has proven this maxim correct.

His solid work on the ground through continuous mass contact programmes since then, coupled with sound strategic perception management, positioned him as a powerful challenger to TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu. The men who managed his campaign ensured that the messaging was just right, enabling him cash in on his father’s legacy as also exploit the loopholes of the ruling TDP regime that were in abundance.

After winning the trust of the people of his family fiefdom in Kadapa after his father’s death, Jagan, as he is popularly known, staked claim to the leadership mantle of the party and the state government, but to no avail, as his image at that time was that of a spoiled and pampered brat. As luck would have it, he was also hounded by a spate of corruption cases that scared the Congress leadership into trying to placate Jagan and asking him to wait for his turn.

Jagan, against whom the CBI had filed corruption cases after a High Court order, was also arrested and jailed in 2012 and spent nearly one and a half years in jail before being released on bail just before the 2014 General Election.

The Congress leadership thought it was wise to trust the experience and sagacity of an ageing leader like K Rosaiah, the finance minister in YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s state cabinet. Somewhat miffed, Jagan charted out his own course, intensifying his mass contact programme – Odarpu Yatra (a tour to condole the death of several people who committed suicide after YSR’s tragic death) and eventually breaking out of the Congress. In what now appears to be a huge judgement of error in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress was seen as the villain for breaking up the state. It may be recalled that YSR was dead against partition of the state and had run a tight ship with an iron hand. It was only after his death that the agitation for separate Telangana gained momentum.

This sentiment of the Andhra Pradesh people was reflected in the Assembly polls of 2014, held shortly after creation of Telangana when the Congress was wiped out. YSRCP narrowly lost to Telugu Desam Party (TDP) with a wafer-thin loss margin in terms of vote percentage.

In that year, the YSRCP won 67 seats in the Assembly and became the principal opposition party.

However, Jagan refused to admit defeat and geared up for another fight with a record padayatra, which stretched for 14 months and ended this January. Jagan travelled through all the districts of Andhra Pradesh.

Jagan wasted not even one minute. His campaign for 2019 began right then.

But for the 2019 campaign, Jagan roped in political strategist Prashant Kishor, who has proven that elections in India are much about the art of managing perception and the science of managing campaign processes meticulously. “The rise of Jagan as a super brand and an electoral phenomenon is a result of Jagan-Kishor modern election machine at work in AP,” said perception strategist John Arokiasamy. Although the padayatra may be erroneously credited to Prashant Kishor, Jagan was already a veteran of this mass contact programme. In fact, Jagan only followed the template set by his own father who too toured the length and breadth of the united Andhra Pradesh.

Mass contact through a yatra in Andhra Pradesh was pioneered by actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao, who launched the TDP and defeated the Congress within a span of just nine months. But the idea of the yatra itself was used very effectively by the BJP. LK Advani’s Rath Yatra is largely responsible for elevating the BJP from its abysmal low of two seats in Parliament to achieving power at the Centre in 1998 and 1999.

But when it came to Andhra Pradesh and Jagan, it was Kishor’s magic that turned the padayatra as a campaign and image building tool, said Arokiasamy. It was meticulously planned, managed and executed.

Jagan had consistently and successfully tapped into and exploited the huge disgruntlement against the government and the TDP in North Coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema regions, that comprise 60 per cent of the state, and his strategist managed to project Jagan as the new and the best hope for Andhra Pradesh, Arokiasamy felt.

Professor Harati Vageesan of NALSAR, Hyderabad, felt that Jagan capitalised on the costly mistakes made by former Chief Minister and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu. “His over focus on the capital city of Amaravati and also being seen as a monochrome of Kamma caste-controlled regime, resulted in consolidation of other powerful castes against Naidu. Reddys, Kapus, Dalits and other backward castes too felt suffocated amid the dominance of Kamma caste and had decided to teach Chandrababu a lesson,” he said adding that “political equation on the ground changed drastically.”

When it came to the ruling BJP at the Centre, even the BJP seems to have blessed Jagan, Professor Vageesan said, adding that around this time, Naidu was losing touch with people. His tours across the state were becoming less in number and he was concentrating more on building the capital city of Amravati. This neglect cut him off from the roots.

So, it was only natural that a resurgent Jagan swept the polls with a brute majority of 151 in a 200-member Assembly and also 22 out of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the state. The TDP was reduced to a mere 23 from the 102 it enjoyed in the outgoing house.

God punishes those who act without justice was how Jagan described the results.

“The fate of Chandrababu Naidu proves that God will punish those who act without justice. Chandrababu had purchased and grabbed 23 MLAs and three MPs of YSRCP in 2014. But now in 2019, his party is left with 23 MLAs and three MPs. God alone can write such great script and do such a wonderful poetic justice,” Jaganmohan Reddy told television channels after his victory.

Challenges before Jagan include tackling the poor financial condition of the state exchequer. Also the promise of Special Status Category, on which Jagan rode to power, has to be fulfilled, said political analyst Bhandaru Srinivasa Rao.

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Published: 13 Jun 2019, 4:32 PM