While father YSR cultivated a pro-poor image successfully, Jagan seems not have that touch
The political atmosphere grew murkier in Andhra Pradesh for the ruling YSR Congress, which dreamed of celebrating the completion of one year by chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy's government in an unprecedented way.
Reddy took oath as chief minister on 30 May 2019.
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus has already hobbled enthusiasm to go full throttle and celebrate the schemes Jagan announced in the preceding year and the grand plans that are in store. There have been no festivities. The party had to revoke even the flag-hoisting call given to the party leaders on 23 May 2019, the V-Day.
Jagan, who scored a stunning victory over rival and political veteran N Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP), has not had any great occasion to showcase the series of achievements that commenced with the counting of votes on 23 May 2019.
The YSR Congress originally planned to project this day as the turning point in AP's political history.
Though Jagan adopted his father YS Rajasekhar Reddy's political model, it has repetitively been proven a herculean task to implement. Barring cash-transfer welfare schemes, all his grand political game plans such as splitting and shifting of capital Amaravati, roll-back of power purchase agreements, the introduction of English medium in schools and the decision to sell TTD lands have hit road blocks.
Finally, with the crippling two-month-long lockdown, poor revenues, looming political opposition, and setbacks in courts, the savour of the wit is lost. How will he respond to these developments is the question.
His father YS Rajasekhar Reddy, who came to power in 2004, did face similar adverse forces to his hard-earned victory which resuscitated life into the Indian National Congress.
Fortunately for him, in recognition of his leadership, the Congress high-command allowed him to declare organisational independence in erstwhile united AP.
With this, YSR first finished dissidence in the party. He crushed the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) by causing a split in Congress' ally.
Later he brazenly engineered defections which were dubbed as Operation Akarsh by the Telugu media. His opposition to the pro-TDP media is also well-known. He, in fact, for the first time, heralded a new regime, Reddy Raj, by appointing members of the Reddy caste to all positions of power and authority.
He is said to have taken controversial decisions in promoting SEZs, mining leases, thermal plants and land allocations as well as acquisitions. Still there had been no modicum of opposition to his moves. By and large the period between 2004 and 2009 was resistance-free.
The opposition TDP, the Left, and many other forces could not organise a state-wide resistance movement against YSR even though there were charges of corruption and nepotism, in some cases with prima facie evidence. Some protests did break out here and there, thanks to his authoritarian attitude, but they remained hyper-local or inconsequential.
This is because, YSR, amid the widening economic activities, growing state revenues and pent up anger against the TDP regime successfully struck a fine balance between his unprecedented authoritarian tendencies coupled with ruthless pursuit of power on one side and a pro-poor image on the other. He successfully combined two contradictory images which left no room for wider articulation of opposition against his rule till his death in a helicopter crash in the first year of the second stint.
So welfare schemes like Arogyasri (healthcare), tuition fee reimbursement, free power, pensions, quota for Muslims, all earned legitimacy among the poor, while numerous Jalayagnam Irrigation projects, SEZs, construction of bridges and flyovers on a massive scale, Hyderabad Outer Ring Road made him a friend of influential sections of the state.
This fine balance is amiss in Jagan’s regime due to many reasons including financial constraints.
It can be safely said that Jagan has inherited all elements of his father's authoritarian material. Jagan is also ruthless in the pursuit of power. He is equally intolerant of opposition and does not hesitate to use the blunt edge of power to silence it.
Like his father, whose oft-repeated refrain was ‘there would be no TDP in the next election', Jagan is also a firm believer in the extinction of the TDP soon.
He is carrying forward his father's Operation Akarsh with the same hope. He has taken control of the state by colonising the government with men belonging to the Reddy caste and loyalists.
Unlike his father, who even accommodated Naidu’s personal staff in prime posts, Jagan chose to deny postings to all those officers who he believed close to Naidu. He has demonstrated such a vindictive approach, that at the time of writing this article more than a dozen officials had been waiting for postings for almost a year.
In fact, Jagan is better positioned politically than his father was. He need not bother about dissidence in the party. He has no high command above him. But like a typical man in a hurry, without realising other limitations, he opened political conflicts on all fronts with the notion that his electoral majority made him unaccountable to anyone.
With this, many of his laudable decisions also got mired in controversies. Many intellectuals, who were disillusioned with the then chief Chandrababu Naidus's manipulative and Amaravati centric politics, supported some of Jagan's decisions like decentralisation of the capital, have now slowly distanced themselves from him.
"With the change in government in 2019, we expected things to improve. We expected the new government to penalise violators of the law, especially the CRZ violators in Vizag and elsewhere, and remove the illegal structures. The new government merely perpetuated the previous violations. Though many "illegal" structures in the cities were demolished, no CRZ-violating structure was touched," said former GoI secretary, Dr EAS Sarma.
Talking to The Lede, Dr Sarma, who has been waging a relentless battle for the preservation of coastal ecology, cited the recent case of destruction of valuable mangrove plantations near Kakinada, ostensibly for allotting that land for "house site pattas for the poor" scheme to buttress his point.
"The local authorities displayed no respect for the rules governing mangrove conservation and went ahead to destroy the valuable bio-resources of the mangroves. This was despite protests from the local people. Appeals to the highest in the state elicited no response," he lamented.
“It is ironic that the CM should express his concern for conserving the environment and propose to bring in a new state law for the purpose, when the existing central and state laws (eg Water, Land & Trees Act or WALTA) are not respected,” he added.
The absence of a fine balance between two facets of his personality - a ‘friend of the poor’ image and ruthless pursuer of power - has been accentuated by organisational anarchy. Governance degenerated into a mere hounding of opposition party and dissent.
The decision to split the capital Amaravati into three - judicial, executive and legislative - has support from many sections. But the authoritarian approach made it a non-starter with the High Court’s intervention.
Similarly, the decision to turn government schools into English medium schools which earned kudos from all middle-class families was struck down by the court. The decision to paint government offices with the colours of the YSR Congress flag, was also quashed by the High Court.
Similarly, all other populist schemes like 4.5 lakh jobs at the village level, cash benefits under weavers welfare, Ammavodi, Rythu Bharosa, Vahana Mitra (Rs 10,000 to auto, taxi drivers), Rs 5000 stipend to law students are bound to enhance his image among the beneficiaries. However, his excessive reliance on vindictive politics and non-accommodative nature are potential enough to cloud the welfare side of his governance.
Professor E Venkateshu of Political Science department, Hyderabad Central University said Jagan disappointed the people by installing a parochial Reddy regime in the place of Naidu's Kamma caste regime.
"Barring populist schemes, Jagan has not been able to bring about any qualitative change in governance. It's clear that sociologically he is anti-accommodative. Maybe the welfare scheme will help to some extent in postponing the expression of resentment for some time among the people, but, the politics Jagan is pursuing has proven that he is no different from his rivals as far as social justice is concerned," Venkatesh told The Lede.
In the past seven days, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh reversed a number of important decision of Jagan’s government, dampening the spirit of completion of one year in power.
The High Court asked embarrassing questions in the cases of LG Polymers gas leak, Dr Sudhakar's arrest, suspension of former Intelligence chief AB Venkateswara Rao, sale of TTD lands and other such cases. The High Court also slapped notices on a party MP, a former MLA and supporters for attributing motives to its rulings in public.
There is a commonality between the previous Naidu's government and the incumbent Jagan's government.
Both are driven by strong personal agendas.
While Naidu, to make the seat of power Amaravati insular from the Rayalaseema Reddys, was abnormally preoccupied with the world-class city model, Jagan now, appears to be equally preoccupied with the agenda of demolishing whatever was associated with Naidu's government.
Both are undesirable in a democratic polity.