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Congress blunders in Andhra

The CBI arresting the YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy has made him a national hero. The public, instead of seeing him as a villain, who allegedly made illegal money, looks at him with sympathy.  

This is the second big blunder the Congress has committed after announcing the process of the formation of Telengana state three years ago, which has given a new life not only to the Telengana Rashtra Samithi but also its chief Chandrashekhara Rao.

What is happening in Andhra Pradesh does not auger well for the Congress. The state has always stood by the Congress. Even in 2009 elections when every body expected the party to lose, the late Rajashekhara Reddy managed a spectacular victory and contributed whopping 33 seats to the Congress kitty. Had he lived, he would have finished the TRS and the Praja Rajyam, which has now merged with the Congress. The TDP, after the rout is yet to rise again.       

Jagan's rise during the YSR rule was meteoric. His clout and his business interests grew as he ventured into many big businesses including cement plants and infrastructure. He started his Sakshi newspaper and also the channel.

Even as his wealth grew, Jagan's political ambitions came to the fore in 2004 when he aspired to become an MP replacing his uncle Vivenkanda Reddy but the Congress high command nipped it in the bud. Jagan was biding his time until 2009, when he became an MP from Kadapa. He came into prominence when he staked his claim to succeed his father after his untimely death but the Congress high command was in no mood to anoint him. Jagan persisted with the Odarpu Yatra as he went round the state to console families that lost their members in the aftermath of the YSR's death. He waited until Kiran Reddy was appointed and then floated his own YSR Congress, which has done well so far.

Why was Jagan arrested? The CBI, following court orders has alleged that he has disproportionate assets. His tax returns for 2004 were worth Rs 1.7 crore. These soared to Rs 77 crore in 2009 and in 2011, before he won the Kadappa bye elections, Jagan was worth Rs 365 crore.

The timing of the arrest just before the 12 June bye polls has raised eyebrows. Several Congress leaders are critical of the way the issue has been handled while Jagan's people believe that it is the politics of vendetta. They claim that because he is a rebel and floated his own party Jagan has become a political threat.

The ensuing bye-elections to 18 constituencies have become a nightmare to the Congress. The Jagan group of MLAs, who were disqualified from the Congress, held these seats. The Congress is worried about the crowds thronging Jagan's meetings and hopes the arrest might help turn the tide in its favor. The systematic pursuing of cases against Jagan has received huge publicity in the state. The subsequent announcement that his mother Vijayamma will lead the campaign has only added to the already surcharged atmosphere. The entire state is in a state of high alert to prevent possible clashes between Jagan supporters and the Congress workers.

The Congress has no political strategy except arresting Jagan as a last resort. The strategists believe that his arrest would prevent the collapse of the Kiran Reddy government, as the Jagan sympathisers would get a warning. Secondly the Congress hopes that in the intervening period Jagan's supporters would leave him. But the opposition is attacking the Congress that if Jagan had misused his position, then so had many others and they too should be targeted.

The bye-elections are crucial to the Congress and also to Jagan. If his party manages to sweep the bye polls, which is highly likely, then Jagan could build on it for the Lok Sabha polls. He would also boast that the public did not care for the CBI charges.

Secondly such a victory would ensure the erosion of the Congress ranks. This would weaken the already weak Congress, which lacks a leader like YSR. Chief minister Kiran Reddy has proved to be unsuitable to the job.

Thirdly, a victorious Jagan would be emboldened to break the Congress party and bring down the Kiran Reddy government. He could even force a poll if more MLAs shift to him.

Fourthly, before the next Lok Sabha polls, all the anti Congress forces would combine together against the Congress. Telengana issue too would become alive as the TRS is waiting to bring it to the fore.

Fifthly, the Congress would have to reply to the corruption charges in the YSR government when he had been treated as the blue-eyed boy of the party as long as he was alive. The party also has to answer the system of kickbacks and slush funds.

Sixthly the Congress would have to pacify the angry Reddy community as it takes the arrest and victimisation of a Reddy leader as an insult.  The powerful Reddy community has always been the backbone of the state Congress. It would also close an option of removing a Reddy chief minister and replacing him with another from a different community.

Only a miracle could help Congress win these bye polls. The Congress after eight years in power faces severe anti-incumbency. This coupled with infighting, Jagan threat and the Telangana factor, will mean it will be on the defensive. It is time that the Congress high command took a realistic view of Andhra Pradesh. Even now it is not too late to set things right. For this a surgical operation is required. Restructuring the party, tackling indiscipline and changing the leadership could be a beginning.
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