Hyderabad: The ruling Congress suffered an electoral eclipse in Andhra Pradesh on Friday at the hands of a political fledgling led by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the party rebel who was arrested on corruption charges in the midst of the campaign for by-elections to 18 state assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat and emerged triumphant on the back of a perceived sympathy wave.
The debacle in a state once seen as key bastion of the Congress is the latest electoral setback for the party, which also met with defeat in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Goa in February-March state elections.
Political legacy: Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, mother of YSR Congress chief Jagan Reddy, after their party’s victory in the by-elections, in Hyderabad. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The by-polls were seen as a mini referendum on the performance of the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh, where it swept to back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2009 elections under Jagan Mohan Reddy’s father, late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.
The YSR Congress Party, which the 39-year-old Jagan Mohan Reddy formed last year after quitting the Congress in 2010, won 15 of the 18 assembly seats and the lone Lok Sabha seat up for grabs in the 12 June by-elections. The Congress managed to win two and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which is fighting for a separate state of Telangana it wants carved out of Andhra Pradesh, won one. The main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu did not win any seat.
(In by-elections elsewhere, the Trinamool Congress retained two seats in West Bengal, and sprang a surprise by winning one in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress lost the Maheswar seat in Madhya Pradesh to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The All Jharkhand Students Union won the Hatia seat in Jharkhand. In Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party retained the Kej seat. The ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist in Tripura retained its hold on the Nalchar seat. In Tamil Nadu, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam won the Pudukottai seat. The ruling United Democratic Front in Kerala won the Neyyattinkara assembly seat.)
Jagan Mohan Reddy was arrested last month by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and lodged in Hyderabad’s Chanchalguda jail. In his absence, his mother Y.S. Vijayalakshmi and sister Sharmila led his party’s campaign in the by-elections. Jagan Mohan Reddy was not allowed by jail authorities to meet his followers outside the prison on Friday.
The results “have vindicated Jagan anna (brother),” said Sharmila after meeting him in the prison.
“Everybody knows this is a referendum; there will be a much greater wave than this (bypolls) in 2014 elections, there is no doubt about it. Under Jagan Mohan Reddy’s leadership, definitely YSR Congress will come back to power. He will be the next CM (chief minister),” she said.
Naidu said Jagan had benefited from popular sympathy.
“The way in which he was arrested... his mother’s and sister’s campaign, all generated some sympathy for Jagan and that helped the YSR Congress,” he said.
The reverses come as an ominous warning for the Congress party, which won 33 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from Andhra Pradesh in the 2009 general election—its biggest tally in any single state. The results also indicate that Jagan Mohan Reddy has emerged as a political force in his own right in a state where he claims to be the true inheritor of his father’s political legacy.
Jagan Mohan Reddy, who has business interests in media and cement, among others, has described the by-elections as a semi-final before the 2014 elections. He left the Congress in 2010 after being sidelined by the party leadership following his father’s death in a September 2009 helicopter crash. He formed his own party last year.
CBI has charged him with misusing his father’s office to attract investments into his companies in exchange for land allotments, mining leases and the like. Jagan Mohan Reddy has denied the charges, saying he was being harassed after leaving the Congress.
The by-elections were necessitated by the disqualification of 17 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs)—16 from the Congress and one from the Praja Rajyam Party that has merged with the ruling party—who voted in favour of an unsuccessful no-confidence motion brought by the TDP in December. The Tirupati assembly seat became vacant after Praja Rajyam Party founder and movie star Chiranjeevi’s elevation to the Rajya Sabha.
Congress member of Parliament (MP) Mekapati Rajamohan Reddy resigned from his Lok Sabha seat in support of Jagan Mohan Reddy and was re-elected on Friday, defeating Congress strongman T. Subbirami Reddy by a massive margin of 291,000 votes. The YSR Congress will now have two MPs—Jagan Mohan Reddy, who won the Kadapa seat last year by a landslide, and Rajamohan Reddy—in the Lok Sabha. The results were in line with analyst forecasts of a handsome victory for the YSR Congress. One political analyst said the performance of the YSR Congress could persuade the ruling party to seek a rapprochement with the rebel politician.
“With his victory in the bypolls, Congress would look at prospects of even re-associating with Jagan Mohan Reddy,” said I. Ramabrahmam, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad. “Congress is known for inviting people back into its fold. It all depends on how the Congress high command tames Jagan and gets back Jagan to the table.”
Jagan Mohan Reddy’s victory could trigger an exodus of leaders and cadre from the other parties in the state, analysts said. “Jagan’s victory will give confidence to the MLAs who are looking to jump the fence,” Ramabrahmam said.
Jagan Mohan Reddy’s father was a popular political figure in Andhra Pradesh because of an array of populist welfare programmes he launched in his 2004-09 tenure as chief minister.
“Jagan Mohan Reddy enjoys general goodwill because he happens to be Rajasekhara Reddy’s son. Rajasekhara Reddy has some goodwill because of the welfare programmes. Now they have cashed in on that,” said G. Haragopal, a professor at the School of Social Sciences in the University of Hyderabad (UoH).
Analysts also said the bypolls are an opportunity for the Congress to rethink its strategy. “The Congress needs to reconsider its approach,” Haragopal said. “The Congress high command is ill-informed of the party’s state of affairs in Andhra Pradesh. Now they may just see where they have gone wrong. But dilly-dallying doesn’t work,” he said.
Both the Congress and TDP said they respected the people’s verdict. Leaders of both parties said they will review their performances.
PTI contributed to this story