Anti-incumbency stares in Jagan’s face

Anti-incumbency stares in Jagan’s face

While the Chief Minister is banking solely on the “welfare-centric” governance of fulfilling Navaratnas, the opposition is gaining and making inroads into his strongholds. Further, the arrest of Chandrababu Naidu, dissent due to denial of tickets, the combined might of Chandrababu, Pawan and Lokesh, influence on Dalit and Christian base by Sharmila, growing keenness of Kapu leaders, like Mudragada, to rally under Jana Sena, YSRCP’s softness towards BJP, and, finally, padayatra by Lokesh are queering pitch for the YSRCP whose strategies may backfire. From a clear edge to YSRCP, there is a revival of fortunes for the TDP-JSP combine

Once the Sankranti festival is over and cockfights end, marked by heavy betting and exchange of crores of rupees, another high-octane fight would begin. Though there will be no roosters in this fight, crores of rupees will flow like water. All political leaders from Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy to main opposition leader N Chandrababu Naidu and his ally Pawan Kalyan would hit the roads.

Till about seven months back, there was a general feeling that the ruling party would come back to power – though with reduced seats. But the dramatic developments that had taken place towards the second half of 2023 have changed the dynamics of the state politics. Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections will coincide with Lok Sabha elections 2024 and the indications are clear that it will prove to be a litmus test for the “welfare-centric” governance of the YSRCP.

The YSRCP has been conducting a mammoth exercise for the past six months to assess the graph of each MLA and has been getting a series of survey reports prepared by I-Pac teams. Based on the reports, so far, the party has appointed 50 constituency in-charges for Assembly who would be the contesting candidates from those constituencies. It has also appointed 9 in-charges for the parliamentary constituencies. In some cases, it has shifted the incumbent MLAs to a different constituency and in others it has given chance to new aspirants. This naturally has led to dissent in the party.

The ruling party’s campaign would be two-pronged: One to highlight the Rs 2.5 lakh crore worth welfare programmes; and, the second would be to unleash no-holds-barred campaign against the opposition parties, particularly the TDP-Jana Sena Kalyan combine. It would try to create an impression that welfare would disappear if YSRCP does not return to power. This was also the line taken up by the BRS party in Telangana. The Chief Minister has already taken the line that it is going to be a ‘Dharma Yudh’ akin to the battle of Kurukshetra. He called upon the people to vote for him if they thought that their families have benefitted during his regime.

YSRCP feels that the welfare schemes will be its shield and would help the party come back to power again. But the ground reality indicates that the going is not so smooth. The situation in the state is not what it was six months ago. The anti-incumbency factor is clearly visible. Every leader is seeing the writing on the wall, and, add to it YSRCP is beset with its own problems.

In 2019 YSRCP had consolidated a majority of the Dalit and the minority votes in its favour. They believed in the Navaratnalu (9G) promised by Jagan. Along with that they felt that he would fight with BJP-led NDA and secure the special category status for the state so that youth can get jobs. But that did not happen. Though the government claims that it had implemented its 9G promises religiously and the schemes have benefited at least one member in each family of the state, the dynamics do not seem to be working as the party expected.

Anti-incumbency factor seems to be high. There is clear split in Dalit and minority votes. The Kapu factor, too, is going to play a major role this time. They are the dominant factor in the East and West Godavari districts and Uttara Andhra region. Kapu community, which includes Kapu, Telaga, Balija, Vontari, etc., has a share of about 25% of the votes in the State. Kapus for long have been striving for due share of seats for their community and this time they seem to be keener to claim their share of the cake. They want to be part of the political executive not just king makers.

Though India has entered Amrit Kal, Kapus who could become big leaders are not many. Some of the powerful leaders from the community were late P Shiv Shankar, Ch Harirama Jogaiah, Mudragada Padmanabham, Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga, Dasari Narayana Rao, Mandali Buddha Prasad, Botcha Satyanarayana, Kanna Lakshminarayana, Jyothula Nehrul, Jakkampudi Rammohan Rao, Akula Veerraju etc.

With the Jana Sena led by Pawan Kalyn having entered into alliance with TDP, the Kapus want due representation. Hence, the YSRCP too has been making overtures to win over the Kapus, but in the East and West Godavari and Uttara Andhra, there seems to be a clear division among them. Out of a total of 175 Assembly constituencies, this community including all sub-castes can make or break the fortunes of any party in about 75 constituencies.

Against this backdrop, the YSRCP made all out efforts to rope in the Kapu leader Mudragada Padmanabham into the party fold. At one point of time it appeared as if Mudragada would join the party. But now there is shift in his strategies and he is likely to join the Jana Sena and is also contemplating to re-enter active politics by contesting the elections. Further, an impression has gone around that YSRCP and BJP are two sides of the same coin just as it was the case with BRS and BJP in Telangana.

YSRCP which wanted to ensure that the opposition parties do not come together and remain confined to fighting legal battles, arrested the former Chief Minister and TDP national president N Chandrababu Naidu in an alleged multi-crore ‘scam’ and kept him in jail as remand prisoner for about 50 days. This brought the Jana Sena and the TDP together. This led to a sudden turnaround in the political situation in the state and the YSRCP strategy seems to have boomeranged.

However, as of now the YSRCP continues to enjoy support among the women from the Below Poverty Line segment as they have been the beneficiaries of schemes like Amma Vodi while the TDP-Jana Sena combine seems to be gaining support in the urban areas. How the TDP-JSP will try to cut into the rural vote bank of YSRCP remains to be seen.

Amidst all the political churn, the BJP, has remained unsuccessful in making inroads in the state and the Congress has laid the foundation stone for its revival in Andhra Pradesh as Y S Sharmila, sister of Jagan Mohan Reddy who was the star campaigner for YSRCP in 2014 and 2019, merged her newly formed YSRTP with Congress and is now set to play an important role in Andhra Politics.

Though the chances of revival of fortunes of the decimated Congress are remote at least for this election, it can certainly help creating a dent in the Muslim and the Christian minority votes. With TDP-JSP combine taking a decision to be highly selective in admitting those who quit YSRCP, the only available option for them is Congress party. An exodus into Congress can make the grand old party that it was back in the race.

The overall political scenario at present is that there has been dip in the popularity of the ruling party. To what extent the popularity of the Chief Minister among poor would help the YSRCP in the upcoming Assembly elections needs to be watched. One thing is clear that there is a class divide among the voters and the TDP-JSP combine has been able to resuscitate after some failures. The padayatra by the TDP national general secretary Nara Lokesh has helped both the party and Lokesh to connect with the people better and understand the aspirations of the people.

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