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Andhra Pradesh 2009 : A satrap’s legacy – Amarnath K Menon జనవరి 2, 2010

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Andhra Pradesh 2009: A satrap’s legacy

Amarnath K. Menon India Today
Hyderabad, December 31, 2009

Andhera Pradesh. It is the catch phrase in local lexicon the distraught depend on to dismiss derisively anything going wrong in the fourth largest state. In 2009 there was more reason to refer to Andhra Pradesh in that manner. But, by the end of the year, the relevance of the phrase appeared to dim following the political convulsions to carve out Telangana.

The tragic death of Yedugiri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) is making the difference. Of the 14 chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh since 1956, he was the first to die in office-in a helicopter crash. Dynamic, resourceful, a powerful enemy and a valuable ally, YSR, was a man of the people in every sense of the term. He believed in greening to create a harita Andhra Pradesh – water to all, whatever the cost and has succeeded making significant strides in taking water to the parched fields and bringing the rivers to their homes with every step he took as part of his Jalayagnam mission. This will be his most enduring legacy.

As a natural reformer and modernizer he is singularly responsible for the revival and return of the Congress with a consistent campaign to rebuild connections at the grassroots to take on and humble the rival TDP. Now, the legacy of a popular strongman has both the Congress and even Andhra Pradesh trapped in turbulence. Had he been around things would not have come to such a pass is a widely heard refrain among those sore at the disruption caused by the Telangana turmoil. For one, Hyderabad suffered a forced shutdown for five days in the last 30 days of the year as belligerent pro – Telangana agitators took to vandalism as part of their campaign for separate statehood.

Yet others argue that the maverick TRS president K. Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR) could not have taken his campaign to the streets after his party lost credibility after the electoral rout having won fewer seats in 2009 than it did in 2004 if YSR were alive. For he would have stood his ground and persuaded the UPA to stand firm rather than buckle under pressure as it did in the face of KCR’s hunger strike and rampage of youth supporters of separate statehood.

The lament about missing YSR is hardly surprising. Regional satraps are always decisive and call the shots with their deep understanding of grassroots political equations. He did this in phenomenal measure with the help of a long time trusted friend K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao. (KVP) Two brains in the place of one pursuing the same goal is an extraordinary asset. KVP, a Rajya Sabha member, who has a deep understanding of political nuances, is adept at micro management with personal knowledge of constituencies and direct contact with local leaders and has worked tirelessly backroom for YSR. Together, they used both knowledge and skills to carry forward the Congress policies and keep a vibrant party alive and united in the state.

The unmistakable stamp of YSR’s personality – a friend to a friend and a foe to a foe – has encouraged many to switch sides and join the Congress even as a large crop of budding young politicians discovered it as a welcome trait to be drawn towards him. This personal trait has also made the Congress remain a cohesive force rather than be the fractured party riven with squabbling factions like in the past. And it made him a loyal, dependable and perhaps the most trustworthy lieutenant of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

With his unwavering commitment to the development of the state and unflinching loyalty to the party YSR ran what was virtually a benevolent and indulgent one man show. That the Congress bagged 156 of the 294 assembly seats and 33 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in this year’s election for the party made him a towering figure and enabled YSR appoint ministers at entirely his personal choice.

As one who quickly became the foremost of Congress chief ministers, heightened by the increase in the number of Congress MPs elected to the Lok Sabha from the state, YSR took the initiative in the state securing sizeable, at times more than proportionate, share of central government resources and allocations and made sure of its effective use. His hard line against a separate Telangana, for reviving the legislative council and a bi-cameral legislature, according four per cent reservation for Muslims, similarly reservation for Christians among Dalit and offering travel subsidy to Christians going on pilgrimage to Bethlehem like the Haj subsidy for Muslims may not have evoked widespread support. Some may have seemed controversial but he stood his ground facing the odds including the challenge in courts.

Rarely have politicians evolved in this manner to contribute and leave an indelible mark on governance in a state even more so a large one such as Andhra Pradesh. And, at the same time, impact on his party across the country as a satrap who delivered on his promises whatever the consequences. He was a confident leader, who while working for the party and the people, brooked no opposition to his authority. He may have used the many tricks in the trade to humble his political opponents but YSR will be remembered most for what he has done to revive a slack Congress in the state and for the welfare of its poor.

Having built an enduring rural connect by keeping his word on a plethora of promises made since 2004, YSR, as incumbent chief minister went into the election campaign for the 2009 polls without making any fresh promises to the electorate. What he did though, significantly, was to induct fresh blood – first time aspirants – who constitute half of the 156 elected on the Congress ticket in the legislative assembly.

YSR’s is a rich but complex legacy and, undoubtedly, a tough act to follow as chief minister. Still a bizarre attempt backed by a strident campaign began to make his son Jaganmohan Reddy, a fast growing entrepreneur, as CM. It did not click. Though his primary focus has been in diversifying the family interests in mining to establish and run mini – hydel power stations in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Jagan has, in recent years, shown political savvy, by raising resources to launch a multi edition Telugu daily Saakshi and a television channel as a sequel in the face of formidable competition to present the Congress perspective on issues and in governance. Its tremendous impact, apart from negating what the pro – Telugu Desam Party dailies portray, has also helped in playing the role of a symbolic unifying factor for Congress activists though it is not run or presents news like a conventional party paper such as the mouthpieces of the communists. What is more he has helped some new generation aspirants get party nomination and win in the recent elections. Jagan says he will also strive to fulfil YSR’s dreams.

All this failed to impress the AICC president Sonia Gandhi though the Congress in panic delayed the traditional practice of getting Konijeti Rosaiah, whom she is banking on to use his seniority and statesmanlike approach to settle issues, elected as the legislature party leader for nearly three months. After opting out of the electoral race to become a MLC, Rosaiah is perhaps the luckiest and biggest gainer among politicians during the year to receive the chief minister’s post, as it were, on a platter.

No sooner than that happened the simmering Telangana issue began to boil. Rosaiah is well versed with the macro aspects of governance though he is far from aggressive. What he can do though is to placate disgruntled elements easily by relying on a mix of tact and vitriol. It is this that enabled him and the government to tackle the instant discontent after the worst ever floods in a century wreaked by a swollen Krishna ravaged parts of the state barely a month after he took charge. He is capable of holding his own ground like in his refusal to increase the subsidized rice quota for the poor or increase the number of hours of free power supply to nine hours for farmers despite criticism from cabinet colleagues that he was reneging on the promises of YSR. That the state is strapped for cash weighs heavily on his mind having presented the state budget 15 times, including seven times in a row, as the finance minister.

Yet, divergent perceptions and conflicting opinions, made the Congress ignore Rosaiah’s standpoint when it virtually caved into the demand for separate statehood with the ambivalent statement on the eleventh day of the KCR fast and hours before the proposed rally of students to the legislative assembly in session at that time. It may have been done to defuse tensions but the December 9 statement of Home Minister P. Chidambaram may ultimately because of its phrasing turn out to be a major political blunder.

It has signalled the start of troubled times for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. The political convulsions that have followed with the resignation drama of MPs, MLAs and MLCs and targeted violence makes a mockery of democratic rights and responsibilities besides engendering a deep social divide between people of Telangana and other regions of Andhra Pradesh. What was initiated by the young and ambitious party MP Lagadapati Rajagopal who announced his resignation from the Lok Sabha, some seven months after his re – election from Vijayawada, set off chain reaction that may have brought him some brownie points. But it appears to be doing more harm than good for the Congress.

Instead of furthering a deeper discussion on carving out Telangana based on the pros and cons of viability, the regional divide in Andhra Pradesh has raised shrill voices to demand Telangana and more states on the basis of emotions rather than economics. It has enabled the acerbic KCR queer the pitch to the point at which all influential political parties in Andhra Pradesh find that local leaders as well as the rank and file are divided sharply on regional lines.

None is perhaps more embarrassed by this than the TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu. His reputation as a shrewd tactician lay besmirched for he went back on the support for separate statehood after favouring it while joining hands with the TRS, the CPI and CPI (M) to form the maha kutami against the Congress in the 2009 elections. At the polls, it turned out to be an alliance in disarray as mutual distrust made them lose votes to the Congress as well as the fledgling PRP founded by K. Chiranjeevi. It is for the first time that the TDP has lost two elections in a row. Its seasoned campaigners K. Yerrannaidu, a former parliamentary party leader, and Yanamala Ramakrishnudu, an ex – Speaker of the legislative assembly, who have never tasted defeat managed to do so this time. The TDP’s consolation is that it doubled its strength in the legislative assembly.

For the electoral allies it turned out to be a poor show from which they may not easily recover. The TRS won ten seats as against 26 in 2004, the CPI (M) strength came down from nine to just one while that of the CPI fell from six to four. What the 2009 poll will also be remembered for is the deft manner in which the Chief Electoral Officer I.V. Subba Rao removed the partisan officials, checked irregularities and malpractices to ensure a free and fair election.

In trying to repeat, what N.T. Rama Rao did in a distinct scenario in a different era when the Congress had no worthy rivals leave alone an united opposition, Chiranjeevi came a cropper. His PRP promised to offer a plank for all disadvantaged groups including the BCs, SCs and STs. What made it worse is that, like the TRS, the PRP also faced the ignominy of public accusations in cash for party tickets scandals. His brother in law Allu Arvind, who managed his films business, stood accused of running the PRP like a film production company to collect huge sums promising success with the party ticket and also at the polls. Many felt betrayed and cheated. To top it Chiranjeevi reversed the PRP’s initial pre – election stand on separate statehood for Telangana from endorsing the demand though it is well known that he raked in most collections as the top billing Telugu film actor from this region. Only two of the 18 elected on the PRP ticket to the legislative assembly were from Telangana constituencies.

Evidently all this is a fall out of YSR developing team Congress under his leadership in a manner no other party leader has done in a long time in the face of an influential regional party like the TDP and the grim prospects of other alternatives emerging on the state’s political landscape. But by the end of the year with the prospects of a separate Telangana looming large the fears deepened about the all important political stability being rocked. Potential investors are already apprehensive and may even shy away from Andhra Pradesh or the geo administrative entities that may emerge if division takes shape in 2010.

With it the worrisome cry ‘Brand Hyderabad takes a beating’ is also getting shrill for the future of the city, post-division, is uncertain given the clamour that it should be set apart – a joint capital of different states if not Union Territory – for its growth to keep the current pace and is not to be impeded in any way. As if this was not enough, Governor by Narain Datt Tiwari added a new dimension to night life in the city’s Raj Bhavan amid allegations of vile conduct and sex romps. It will bring the curtains down, for one last time, on a stormy and seamy political career. After serving as chief minister of the largest state, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand carved out of it, a rare double distinction, for him it is the political nemesis or its curtains down, finally, in ‘Andhera Pradesh’ before 2010 allows it to pass into old lexicon.

Highs

• YSR steers Congress to the second win in a row on personal charisma, kept promises and a United Andhra Pradesh plank.

• The pro-Telangana campaign gets a shot in the arm with the fast unto death by Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao.

• The slew of development and welfare measures, including the Jalayagnam mission, helps Congress fight incumbency.

• Chief Electoral Officer I.V. Subba Rao comes down heavily on irregularities and malpractices to ensure a free and fair poll.

• Konijeti Rosaiah, the seniormost Congressman, puts his tact and vitriol coupled with administrative skills to best use in mitigating havoc caused by the worst flood in a century along the Krishna river.

Lows

• Chandrababu Naidu cobbles up the Maha Kutami (Grand Alliance) that flounders and falls.

• Governor N.D. Tiwari resigns embroiled in sex scandal

• The pro-Congress daily Saakshi takes on pro-TDP rivals Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi in a no-holds barred battle.

• Chiraneevi’s fledgling Praja Rajyam Party fails to inspire and goes down like a box office flop.

• Separatist statehood campaign leads to deep social divide.

Source: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/story?sId=77321&secid=22

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