V for Vendetta: The making of a maverick leader Jagan

YS Jaganmohan Reddy is on a spree of rolling back every single initiative of his predecessor, in the process inflicting damage to the image of the state as a destination for investment and business.

On September 24, 2013, the Hyderabad police had a tough time controlling surging crowds, gathered from all over Andhra Pradesh, to have a glimpse of their favourite leader YS Jagan Mohan Reddy as he walked out of Chanchalguda central prison.

After being in jail for 16 months in connection with the alleged illegal assets case, he was released on conditional bail.

Calm, composed and smiling, with not even a hint of anger or sense of vengeance, Jagan waved at the crowds, greeted them with folded hands and urged them to cooperate with the police and make way for his convoy to move.

It took over three hours for the convoy to cover a 20-km stretch from the jail to his Jubilee Hills residence, with massive crowds gathered on either side of the road going hysteric on seeing the young leader.

Also read | Raised in feudal politics, why Jagan can’t shake off his vengeance for rivals

Jagan’s body language on the day of his release from jail gave no hint of vengeance or vindictiveness that would come to define his style of governance six years later.

It was as if he was silently preparing for a day when he could hit back at those who “foisted false cases against him and his family.” And, his targets included both the Congress, which he quit to float his own party after being denied chief minister’s post, and the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

God will decide

Whenever a question was asked whether he felt vindicated by the landslide victory in the April assembly elections, he simply said, “I strongly believe vengeance is not mine. It is for God to decide.”

“I pray and read my Bible. It is for God to decide,” he would say, even while alleging that both the TDP and Congress were hand-in-glove in pursuing false cases against him.

Also read | 100 days of Jagan: Vindictive, populist politics hinder development

However, his actions after taking over the reins of the state in May this year belie his philosophical tone. In fact, they reek of vengeance, be it the systematic manner in which the opposition TDP leaders are targeted and the reversal of key policy decisions taken by his bete noire Chandrababu Naidu’s government.

No alternative agenda

It is now widely believed that the single point agenda of the YSRCP government is to target political opponents and review all the important projects taken up during the previous regime, ostensibly to “expose irregularities and corruption” in sanctioning them. This, coupled with a string of freebies for various sections, defines the political strategy of the government.

Also read | Media houses face the wrath of Jagan govt in Andhra Pradesh

The skewed focus on populist measures with little regard for their long-term impact on the frail economy of the state has created an imbalance. While dubbing the previous regime as an epitome of corruption, Jagan has not unveiled any alternative vision or development agenda.

A typical day for him ends with ordering review of some project or the other undertaken during the previous regime or tinkering with the ongoing projects, thereby creating a sense of fear among business and industry circles.

The focus of the earlier TDP government was on increasing the revenue base of the state, in which it made progress by registering consecutive double-digit growth between 2015 and 2019. There was also a quantum jump in the per capita income from ₹82,870 in 2013-14 to ₹1,64,025 in 2018-19.

Also read | Quota for Kapus another bone of contention between Jagan and Naidu

Instead of capitalising on this momentum, Jagan is on a spree of rolling back every single initiative of his predecessor, in the process inflicting damage to the image of the state as a destination for investment and business.

Having ridden to power on the promise of a slew of welfare measures called ‘Navaratnalu’ (nine gems), Jagan is already finding it difficult to roll out these schemes due to paucity of funds.

Many of the promises which include providing loan waiver for all women from cooperative societies, college fee reimbursement of up to Rs 1.5 lakh per year, Rs 15,000 per month for mothers who send children to school and interest-free loans to eligible farmers, among others, are yet to be initiated.

According to an estimate, the state government would need at least Rs 50,000 crore to see through all the promised sops, which is a tall order given the fiscal position of the state.

Ruthlessly ambitious

On September 3, 2009, when news channels constantly beamed the images of a grieving young man, receiving the mourners with folded hands on the day the charred body of Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy arrived in Hyderabad, not many outside Andhra Pradesh knew who he was.

Also read: Jagan in a Catch-22 situation over power purchase agreements

However, within hours, it became clear that he was a man in a hurry; barely 36, restless, rebellious and unapologetic about his ambition to take over the mantle from his father.

Just 100 days into his role as MP from Kadapa, the family stronghold once represented by his father for four terms, Jagan made it known to the Congress high command that he was a prince awaiting coronation.

His aggression surprised the Congress central leadership.

Even before the body of YSR, killed in a helicopter crash in Nallamala forest area, could reach the state capital, a swift behind-the-scene operation was set in motion by Jagan’s loyalists to enlist support for him.

For someone nurtured in a feudal political culture of the faction-ridden Rayalaseema region, where loyalties and rivalries run through generations, the inheritance of political power is seen as a matter of legitimate right.

Though the senior most member in the YSR cabinet, K Rosaiah, was sworn as the chief minister, no one was left in doubt that the arrangement was not meant to last long. In the midst of the funeral arrangements, a letter was drafted in the name of the cabinet, without any signatures, urging the then Congress President Sonia Gandhi to make Jagan the next Chief Minister to “fulfil YSR’s ideals”.

Also read: Jagan rechristens Andhra’s populist schemes after self, father

Though “Jagan-for-CM” campaign was expected, the speed and ruthlessness with which it was carried out left many party seniors red faced.

The defiant and irrepressible Jagan quit Congress and launched YSRCP in March 2011. Not surprisingly, his alleged questionable business deals caught up with him only after he quit the Congress.

He was arrested and sent to jail on May 27, 2012.

Corruption case

The crux of the charges against Jagan was that he had misused the position of his father to attract investments into his business ventures in return for doling out favours such as land allotments, irrigation contracts and mining leases. The CBI had disclosed that he took ₹1,172 crore from various investors as bribe and in turn helped them get favours from the state government.

However, Jagan denied the quid pro quo charges and described the case as witch-hunting and a vindictive exercise because he had rebelled against the Congress.

Meteoric rise

From a small-time realtor who used to occasionally help his father during the poll campaigns to a high-profile industrialist with interests in power, infrastructure, cement and media sectors, Jagan’s rise has been phenomenal.

So was his brush with controversies.

The growth of his business empire was only matched by brazenness of his political ambitions. During YSR’s tenure as Chief Minister between 2004 and 2009, Jagan was a businessman on a roll, receiving a generous patronage from his doting father.

Connect with masses

Jagan has a unique style of public outreach; going into the crowds, cupping everyone’s chin, young and old, in a commiserative gesture, holding and cuddling the babies and taking selfies with the youth.

Whether it is election rallies or the record-setting 3,640 km long padayatra across Andhra, the YSRCP leader drew huge crowds, reminiscent of the public response to NTR’s meetings in the early 1980s.

Also read: Andhra projects in the dark as Jagan orders probe on Naidu’s decisions

In many ways, Jagan has striking similarities with his more illustrious father, be it his aggressive streak, outspokenness, nurturing a strong coterie around him and an ability to strike an instant emotional chord with masses.

Like YSR, who had earned the sobriquet “perpetual dissident” for opposing successive Congress Chief Ministers in the past, Jagan had a long friction with the Congress before parting ways.

The irreverence has its roots in the political culture of Rayalaseema region. It is notorious for faction violence and revenge killings and country-made bombs are routinely used in the attacks.

YSR’s father Raja Reddy was a powerful faction leader and an affluent contractor in Kadapa. He was killed in a bomb attack in 1998. The opposition parties had often accused the father-son duo of encouraging faction culture in the region. In fact, Jagan was accused of engineering the murder of controversial TDP legislator Ravindra in 2005. However, the CBI, which probed the murder, exonerated him.

Also read: How syncretic culture makes Jagan’s family unique

Air of negativity

The ruthlessness with which the political opponents are being pursued now has created an air of negativity in a state which is still grappling with the bifurcation blues and struggling to mobilise resources to fund its welfare and development programmes. The state has been turned into a fierce battle zone of revenge politics.

At the root of the rivalry lies Jagan’s belief that it was the TDP leaders’ ‘fabricated complaints’ which led to his arrest and incarceration.

“There is nothing wrong if Chandrababu Naidu is shot in the middle of the road for all his misdeeds,” Jagan had said, while addressing an election rally at Nandyal in the faction-ridden Rayalaseema region in August, 2017.

The shocking outburst in full media glare reflected the nature of rivalry between the two leaders and the bitterness that has come to define the state politics.