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In Battleground: Kadapa

Who will come second? That’s a recurring question in Kadapa, the family pocket-borough of late Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, that goes to polls today. On who will come first, there is no debate. In the dusty towns and neo-rich villages of Kadapa, it is a foregone conclusion that YSR’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy will win with a resounding majority.

For Kadapa, this is a contest between Jagan, the victim, and the high and mighty of the Congress. “The sound of celebrations of Jagan’s victory will be heard from this ‘galli’ to ‘Dilli’, says Ravi Reddy, Jagan Mohan’s election manager.

With his newly launched YSR Congress and a ceiling fan as his election symbol, Jagan Mohan is aiming to take the wind out of the Congress’s sails. Wednesday saw a high voltage campaign in Kadapa. One in which ‘Kadapa pride’ was invoked in typical Tollywood fashion—thumping thighs and calls to rival candidates to “prove they were born to their mothers”.

The bypolls for the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency and the Pulivendula Assembly constituency were called after Jagan and his mother Y S Vijayalakshmi, who was declared elected unopposed after the death of YSR from Pulivendula, resigned last November from the Congress, alleging they were insulted by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Jagan is pitted against D L Ravindra Reddy of the Congress and M V Mysoora Reddy of the Telugu Desam. All three belong to the Reddy community, that makes up 67 per cent of the population in Kadapa.

In the Pulivendula Assembly constituency, the fight is within the family—YSR’s widow Vijayalakshmi is pitted against her brother-in-law Vivekananda Reddy, who quit as Minister for Agriculture after he was asked to contest by the Congress.

Both the Congress and Jagan are hoping to cash in on the YSR legacy. While the Congress claims that YSR was a loyal Congressmen and his legacy belongs to the party, Jagan Mohan plays the dutiful son who has been victimised by the Congress.

In the family home, cheers for the son

For nearly three decades, Kadapa was the Congress’s safe constituency, but not any more. Since 1989, the constituency has always elected a member of the YSR family. From 1989 to 1999, it was Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, from 1999 to 2009 it was YSR’s brother Vivekananda Reddy and from May 2009 to December 2010, it was Jagan before he resigned.

Angry with the Congress for overlooking his claim for the CM’s post after his father’s death, Jagan campaigned with a single poll agenda: Kadapa vs Sonia Gandhi. “All of you know why there are elections in Kadapa,” he says as a crowd cheers him on at an intersection near Kazipet near Mydukur. “This shameless Congress party is trying to use YSR’s name but they have no qualms in discontinuing the great work that he had done. This government and the party that my father built with his sweat is in shambles. They are only trying to cash in on his popularity. In this election, all of you must show them what it means when the Kadapa pride is hurt,” thunders Jagan, accompanied by at least half-a-dozen former Congress leaders who have switched loyalties to him.

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In the ‘war room’ at the YSR Congress Party’s office in Kadapa town, a few leaders and senior editors of Sakshi newspaper and TV (owned by Jagan) sift the news on the campaign of other parties. “Our survey shows Jagan Mohan will make a total sweep. The question is, with what majority will he win? In May 2009, he won with a margin of 1,78,846 votes,” says Sakshi’s editorial director S Rama Krishna Reddy.

Meanwhile, in battleground Kadapa, emotions run high. “It is heartbreaking to know that Vijayamma (Vijayalakshmi) is pitted against YSR’s brother Vivekananda. Everyone here knows that Vivekananda declined to contest in May 2009 to make way for Jagan. What has developed in the last year and a half is sad. Everyone here is really angry with Sonia Gandhi,’’ says Chenna Reddy, a ward campaigner for Jagan.

“Kadapa will teach Sonia Gandhi a lesson for ignoring and insulting our beloved leader. After YSR, the natural choice was Jagan Mohan. This is not a normal election, it is a fight between Kadapa and Mrs Sonia Gandhi,’’ says B Shoba Nagi Reddy, a Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) MLA from Allagadda who is now supporting Jagan.

Taking on Jagan in Kadapa is Duggireddy Lakshmireddy Ravindra Reddy, a medical doctor-turned-politician who is currently the Congress MLA from Mydukur and Minister for Health. In the crossfire between Jagan and the Congress high command, DL (as he is popularly known) had reluctantly agreed to contest against Jagan. A self-confessed admirer of YSR, he now regularly attracts the wrath of crowds.

“DL says YSR visits him in his dreams,” says an elderly villager on the outskirts of Mydukur. “If that is the case, he should have resigned from the Congress along with Jagan Mohan. We voted for him in 2009 but this election will bring an end to his political career. Many are already calling him Deposit Loss Ravindra Reddy,” he says.

The Congress’s attempt to cash in on YSR’s legacy has failed miserably. “Even well-attended Congress public meetings turn hostile at the mention of YSR and his son. We have to tone down our corruption agenda against Jagan Mohan so as to not antagonise the people,” says Madasu Gangadhar, vice-president of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, who is coordinating the campaign in Kadapa.

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At the back of DL’s mind are the statistics of the May 2009 election results. Mydukur is one of the seven Assembly constituencies in the Kadapa Parliamentary constituency. Though DL won from Mydukur in the May 2009 Assembly elections, in the Lok Sabha election, Jagan Mohan got more votes from this constituency than DL. DL polled 62,377 votes to win from Mydukur while Jagan (contesting for Kadapa Lok Sabha) got 67, 615 votes from this constituency.

Since 1985, DL and TDP’s Sattipalli Raghuram Reddy have fought each other bitterly. DL won six times while Raghuram Reddy won twice. Now, Raghuram Reddy has joined forces with Jagan and this is certain to tilt the balance in Jagan’s favour.

In fact, the TDP holds the surprise cards in this battle. The anti-Congress vote may profit them, thus reducing the margin of the Congress, and even of Jagan. The TDP belatedly realised that making corruption in the YSR family a poll issue was a grave mistake. TDP candidate Mysoora Reddy and party president N Chandrababu Naidu had to abandon their campaign in Pulivendula constituency when eggs and shoes were thrown at them in Komantula village.

Mysoora was a close friend of YSR but developed differences with him. He quit the Congress in 2004 and joined the TDP. In 2004, he unsuccessfully contested against Vivekananda Reddy for the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat. Later, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2006. There are many in the TDP who feel Mysoora was made a scapegoat by Chandrababu Naidu who could not find a suitable candidate to take on Jagan.

“Mysoora is a Congress veteran who switched over to the TDP when he found he was overshadowed by YSR. Naidu has nothing to lose but Mysoora is his best shot to upset the Congress in Kadapa and put up a fight against Jagan Mohan,” says a TDP leader accompanying Mysoora in Kadapa.

“I think there is a strong anti-Congress sentiment across Kadapa and votes are going to be split between Jagan Mohan and the TDP. This is where the TDP may spring a surprise,” says the TDP MLA from Proddatur, M Linga Reddy.

Though Reddys make up the largest voter chunk in Kadapa, Muslims with a 16 per cent voteshare, can sway the results too. Political analysts say whoever garners a combination of Reddy and Muslim votes will win with a majority of over 1.50 lakh votes.

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Jagan was the first to woo the Muslim vote, promising four per cent political reservation for them if his party comes to power. Earlier, YSR had provided four per cent quota for Muslims in jobs and education.

In Pulivendula, a sympathy wave

An introvert, who breaks into tears at the mere mention of her husband, Y S Vijayalakshmi is an unlikely political candidate. She doesn’t speak much as she goes on a door-to-door campaign in Vempalle village. Accompanied by her daughter Sharmila and Jagan’s wife Bharati, she braves the scorching heat to campaign. “You know why we are having these elections. So vote for the ceiling fan. I know that the government is not implementing YSR’s schemes properly and you are not receiving regular pensions and benefits,” she tells a group of old women sitting outside the village.

The women nod and tell her not to strain herself too much. “People here are very emotional about YSR and they will do everything to ensure that Vijayalakshmi has something to smile about,” says Rajani Reddy, a coordinator of YSR Congress who is accompanying Vijayalakshmi.

The sympathy factor appears to be working in favour of Vijayalakshmi in Pulivendula, the hometown of the YSR family. Like the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency, the Pulivendula Assembly constituency has been in the YSR family’s kitty since 1978 when YSR won for the first time. He was elected MLA from Pulivendula six times—1978, 1983, 1985, 1999, 2004, and 2009.

In 1991, YSR’s younger brother Purshottam was elected MLA from here and in 1994, brother Vivekananda. In 2004, YSR won with a margin of more than 40,000 votes and famously went on to bring the Congress back to power in the state and became Chief Minister. In May 2009, he won with a majority of 67,000 votes.

After YSR’s death, Vijayalakshmi was elected unopposed from Pulivendula. She resigned and quit the Congress on November 29 last year along with Jagan. The Congress cleverly engineered a split in the family, offering YSR’s favourite brother Vivekananda a berth in Kiran Kumar Reddy’s Cabinet. Vivekananda accepted and was immediately labelled a traitor by the family.

“Viveka initially tried to prop his son-in-law N Rajasekhara Reddy but the party refused and asked him to contest. He is very reluctant to contest against his own family members but his first loyalty is to the Congress,” says a Congress leader.

(IE)

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