If present political trends and shifts in Andhra Pradesh intensify, the State could see an election within a year. And not just over Telangana.
When Chandrababu Naidu sits on a hunger fast for suffering farmers, you know something is afoot in Andhra Pradesh. Excessive rains have devastated the crops in the State. And losses have been enormous. But a farmer losing over Rs.15,000 on an acre of paddy will get less than Rs.2500 in compensation. And the nature of land relations in Andhra Pradesh ensures that most tenant farmers won’t get even that.
Yet, it is the political shifts that are less seen. If — and it is very much an ‘if’ — present trends intensify, Andhra Pradesh could see an election within a year. And not just over Telangana. That election could throw up big surprises and a new regional formation of some strength.
The ruling Congress seems preoccupied with shooting itself in the foot. Faced with an array of issues that demand attention, it has focussed all its energies on fighting Jaganmohan Reddy. The highlight of the handling of Telangana was not to address the problems of that troubled region but to order the son of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy not to go there for any kind of campaign. In public perception, rightly or wrongly, this was writing off Telangana to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. For those opposed to statehood for the region, this seemed a betrayal. They recall how ‘YSR’ had undermined K. Chandrasekhar Rao whose previous resignation saw him lose strength in the Lok Sabha. This year, KCR’s TRS swept the region. For those demanding a separate state, the Congress has promised little and delivered less. Not a single one of their burning problems has been taken up, let alone resolved.
The State government needed to tackle a growing crisis on many fronts, farming being one of them. A year of total paralysis under K. Rosaiah meant this did not happen, even though the then Agriculture Minister tried to reverse some awful policies flowing downwards from the Centre. Ultimately, the Centre’s policy direction on agriculture had to further undermine small farmers everywhere, including Andhra Pradesh.
Already, the lack of land reform within Andhra Pradesh makes the plight of tenant farmers — who account for a third of the farmers in the State — a lot worse. Tenancy farming has grown and the AP Kisan Sabha estimates there are 40 lakh such farmers across the State. Most lead a life bogged down in anxiety, tension and debt. The few rights they have are fragile, the farms they operate are failing even without natural calamity. They account for a large number of farm suicides in the State. Even when compensation is paid out for crop losses, these are grabbed by the owner whose land the tenant has leased for farming, since the land is in his name.
Getting loans from banks is sheer torture. (At this point, Collectors in some districts are appealing to bankers to extend credit to tenant farmers.) The banks have not given out even a fraction of these loans promised to tenant farmers by official diktat.
Tenant farmers have little security of tenure and are subject to rack-renting. Three commissions in recent years, those headed by Jayati Ghosh, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and Konneru Rangarao have made major observations and recommendations relating to this group. In practice, the government has done nothing about them. And as times get worse for farmers as a whole, tenant farmers take a bad beating.
Then there are the problems of the MNREGS, once doing relatively better in Andhra Pradesh than in many other States. The past year has unsettled a once-working programme. Again, for many, this compares badly with the YSR period when in districts of Anantapur there was a member from almost every household at the NREG sites in many villages. Back then, distress migrations had actually fallen in districts like Mahbubnagar as the NREGS expanded. So quite a few do hark back to that period as one of hope. Even in urban Andhra Pradesh where the YSR government restored lakhs of BPL cards cancelled by the Naidu regime.
There are also the issues of mega projects and the lakhs of people displaced by those. Of flawed irrigation projects, dubious land deals, and a bizarre number of SEZs. These and major corruption scandals were pretty much a part of YSR’s time, too. However, the negative outcomes of some of these would unfold more slowly. So in the 2009 elections, the positive policies paid off — while the bills for the destructive ones would and will come in later. So in public perception, the YSR era comes out looking good compared to the chaos of the present. As of now, a lot of this translates into public goodwill for Jaganmohan Reddy. While this situation lasts, the negatives of his own politics, ambition, character and charges of corruption might seem less important to those fed up with the way things are now. These problems could well catch up with him but at present, he seems to be on a roll.
The default gainer could be Jagan!
That Mr. Naidu, of all people, has decided to go on a hunger strike in support of suffering farmers confirms that the Opposition sees the government as being in real trouble. Yet the Congress mess-up has not seen Mr. Naidu gain greatly so far. As for the Praja Rajyam Party of Chiranjeevi, it now seems a severely edited scene in the unfolding drama. If the present trends hold, the default gainer could be Jaganmohan Reddy and his yet to be named new party. The Congress will be the big loser — beyond the State too, given Andhra Pradesh’s importance to its strength at the Centre. With Tamil Nadu also in flux, the Congress problem becomes national. Its allies know it is in trouble. Note Sharad Pawar’s increasingly strident criticisms of government policies.
The more the Congress has tried to can Jaganmohan Reddy, the more — so far — he gains. Indeed, its perceived “insults to the YSR legacy” could translate into a matter of regional pride that works in favour of YSR’s son. Jagan Reddy has made deep forays into the districts and the Congress is unable to counter him. More important, the public response to his visits has been impressive and, at least for now, appears to be growing. Sitting Congress MLAs show up at his meetings. Followers of other parties attend them in big numbers.
Splitting of the YSR family has not gone down well
Large turnouts to receive him at railway stations have made the Congress nervous. The party’s shot at playing Reddy politics has shown little success so far. And the splitting of the YSR family has not gone down well with a public already seeing Jagan Reddy as the wronged party.
It’s a classic Congress dilemma. The party has no leaders of any consequence in the State (or most States) because that is how it needs it to be. It cannot allow the emergence of strong State leaders independent of the Centre. YSR was an exception. The same problem in Maharashtra has seen it bring in a Chief Minister with no base, let alone a State-wide standing. It matters little now, who it makes Chief Ministers in the States — it has no leaders. Anyone seen emerging was choked off. In Maharashtra, where the NCP was an endangered species, it gets a new lease of life. In the just concluded Assembly session, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar seemed dominant. While Prithviraj Chavan appeared to be wondering what he had got himself into. In Andhra Pradesh, it gets more embarrassing, where to fight Jagan Reddy the Congress has to (without saying so) oppose dynastic succession. Something it is not best qualified to do. A growing number of Congress supporters seem drawn towards Jagan Reddy.
By-election results could see a bigger flow of MLAs towards Jagan!
It can, of course, prolong its tactical manoeuvres. It is the most experienced political force in the country at that. But Andhra Pradesh might not be so easy to control from here on. The report of the commission on Telangana is barely two weeks away. It will certainly recognise the historic neglect of that region and its huge and long ignored problems. Whether it advises statehood for it or draws up a list of options including that one, who will contain the fallout? Either way, there is turbulence ahead. Who is the State leader who commands respect in all regions? What happens if and when the number of MLAs joining Jagan Reddy’s camp reaches a critical mass? What will the Congress go to the people of Telangana and Andhra with in the event of an election? Leave alone the next State polls — which could happen two years ahead of schedule if the Congress government folds — the by-elections to the seats vacated by Jagan Reddy and his mother will prove humiliating. The results could see a bigger flow of MLAs towards him. Across all regions of the State, the Congress is between a rock and a hard place.
– P. Sainath( Courtesy: The Hindu,21-12-10)