The ongoing political events in Andhra Pradesh (AP) are a throwback to the situation that prevailed in the Congress party in the 1970s and 1980s. The party’s local unit would want to appoint a person of their choice as chief minister. The high command would squash such demands.
There is, of course, one big difference: The reasons for not acceding to local demands are very different. Today, the Congress machine in AP is unrelenting in its demand that Jagan Mohan Reddy, the son of the late chief minister (CM) Y.S.R Reddy, be made the new CM. The issue of democracy and leadership has once again gained centre stage in India’s oldest political party.
Reddy Jr is a first-time member of Parliament (MP). His political experience hardly commends him for what is a difficult job even in the best of times. In the political conditions that prevail in most Indian states, maintaining order and ensuring development are tough challenges that increasingly look like trade-offs instead of being two cogs of the same wheel. The problem is more acute in AP, that is battling an ultra-Left insurgency. If that is not enough, the state is caught in agrarian distress, a problem to which its political leadership has no meaningful answers.
The party’s general secretary, Rahul Gandhi, has on different occasions, said that he wants to change the culture of sycophancy and dynastic politics in the Congress. The leadership transition in AP might well be a test case for him. For the moment, though, the central leadership is holding firm: Jagan and his supporters have been made to back down. The question is, for how long? For if the local leaders don’t support the party high command’s choice, there may be renewed demands for Reddy Jr’s anointment.
The problem is not one of personalities alone: Dynastic politics in states has deep roots.
In AP and other states there are caste equations involved that fuel this. The Reddys, the dominant caste of the state, don’t want power to ebb from them. It is a recurrent pattern: The dominant caste rallies behind a family that “represents” them and this “one-family rule” ensures that patronage resources flow to the caste in question. Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have seen this trend. It will be interesting to see how Gandhi and other leaders solve this problem.
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