YSR dies in crash; power struggle on

YSR dies in crash; power struggle on

New Delhi: Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was on Thursday morning confirmed killed in a helicopter crash in a hilly forest area, triggering a jostling for power soon after, with his son emerging as the front-runner for the top post.

State finance minister K. Rosaiah, 76, was sworn in as the interim chief minister (CM). He will serve until the Congress party chooses a new leader, officials said.

Also See Y.S.R. Reddy’s Political Journey (click here)

Tragic end:Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who died on Wednesday. Bharath Sai / Mint

Andhra Pradesh, with 42 Lok Sabha seats, is critical in the Congress scheme of things.

The 60-year-old YSR, as he was widely known, had helped the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to victory both in the 2004 and 2009 general elections and had won a second term for the party in the state, against expectations.

The state unit won 33 seats in the May election to Parliament, giving the Congress a strong edge.

“He has been a major fund-raiser for the party and the party president (Sonia Gandhi) and Rahul Gandhi (her son) trusted him thoroughly," a senior party leader said on condition of anonymity.

Reddy had been missing since Wednesday morning after the helicopter he was travelling in, to assess the implementation of relief programmes in the state’s remote districts, went off the radar over jungle area. The crashed helicopter was found on Thursday morning. The four other people on board were also killed, officials said.

It was not known immediately why the helicopter crashed, but some officials cited bad weather.

“The aircraft is broken up into several parts and is charred, the bodies are also charred," Union home minister P. Chidambaram said in New Delhi on Thursday.

Soon after the mourning started, state leaders of the Congress party began behind-the-scenes jockeying on who would succeed him.

While Reddy had emerged as a force in the state over the years, even winning a second term as CM, he ran a centralized administration with nobody designated as a clear No. 2.

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Over a period, he cut to size other senior party leaders such as Jana Reddy and Diwakar Reddy, both of whom were kept out of the cabinet in his second stint.

“He was one person who was keeping various groups together within the party and they will find it difficult to replace him and ultimately his absence could lead to a power struggle in the state," said political commentator Kuldip Nayar.

A large section of Congress legislators have declared support for Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, the only son of Rajasekhara Reddy and a member of Parliament (MP), wanting him to take over as the CM.

At the helm: State finance minister K. Rosaiah was sworn in as the caretaker chief minister of Andhra Pradesh on Thursday. PTI

“The entire Congress legislature party is in favour of seeing Jagan as the successor of YSR," said Anam Ram Narayana Reddy, a senior cabinet member who holds the municipal and urban development portfolio. “The party needs youth leadership and we strongly believe that Jagan can fulfil the dreams of his father."

Other contenders who are being discussed for the post of CM include Union urban development minister S. Jaipal Reddy, Andhra Pradesh Congress committee president D. Srinivas, its former chief K. Keshava Rao, and Union minister of state for education Daggubati Purandareswari, the daughter of Telugu Desam party founder N.T. Rama Rao.

Political analyst Sandeep Shastri says Rosaiah could still emerge at the top.

“Since Rosaiah is non-controversial and a senior member of the party and the cabinet, he might get the nod (to become full-time CM) and Jagan might be inducted into the cabinet," he said.

K. Nageswar, a member of the Andhra Pradesh legislative council and a faculty member at the journalism department of Osmania University in Hyderabad, said the Congress high command may not favour Jagan’s candidature as he is known more as a businessman.

“Lack of political acumen could play against Jagan. Moreover, since he is a member of Parliament and not a member of the legislative assembly, the Congress high command may not accept his candidature to succeed YSR," said Nageswar. “The demand for his candidature and the sympathy wave may not last long."

Meanwhile, industrialists in the state fear a slowing in the pace of development, though they do not see major policy changes.

Andhra Pradesh principal secretary (industries and commerce) Busi Sam Bob said some Rs70,000 crore of investments had taken place in the state in the last five years and projects worth at least Rs1 trillion were either in the pipeline or being planned, the latest being a joint venture between Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd and NTPC Ltd in Chittoor district to make equipment for the power generation industry.

“No leader had ever thought of and taken up such massive infrastructure projects that YSR took up boldly in the state involving lakhs of crores of rupees," said E. Sudhir Reddy, chairman of the Hyderabad-based IVRCL Infrastructure and Projects Ltd.

Liz Mathew in New Delhi, Venkatesha Babu in Bangalore and Reuters contributed to this story.