The tagline on the official logo of Andhra Pradesh says “India’s Sunrise State.” But, for the voters of this buzzling suburb of Vijayawada, it only means “son rise” as the Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh is making an electoral debut from here.
This assembly constituency of four lakh population forms the nerve centre of the new capital region that is set to witness massive growth in the days ahead. The new capital city is coming up in the Vijayawada-Guntur region. No wonder that the Chief Minister has chosen this seat to ensure a safe entry for his son who is a member of his cabinet.
“We are not looking at Lokesh as just another candidate contesting the election but as a proxy for the Chief Minister himself. If he represents us in the state assembly, we will benefit immensely in terms of new projects and this region will hopefully see massive development,” says Ranga Rao, a master weaver in the town, popular for its handloom sarees.
Ever since his quiet entry into the party politics in 2013, Lokesh, a Stanford Management graduate, has often been the target of derisive jokes on the social media. From being mocked at as “Andhra Pappu” to becoming the number two in the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), he has come a long way.
It is a prestigious battle for him and his doting father.
Clad in a white trouser and yellow shirt and sporting a yellow cap, the party colour, Lokesh is slugging it out in the scorching heat, addressing roadside rallies and reaching out to people during the door-to-door campaign.
“I will transform this town into an IT hub by roping in many big companies to set up their units. We will create many jobs for the local youth,” Lokesh tells a gathering, comprising young men and women, near bus stand in the heart of the town. He holds Information Technology portfolio in the cabinet.
As he heads into the rural parts of the constituency, he turns his attention to the problems concerning weavers, goldsmiths, farmers and backward class communities engaged in traditional occupations. He has promised to develop Mangalagiri on the lines of Dubai’s gold market, set up a special corporation for the welfare of goldsmiths and provide them interest-free loans within six months of the TDP securing second term in office.
A special bank for Backward Classes to provide loans on liberal terms is another promise.
“The choice before you is very clear. On one hand, you have a Chief Minister who has 40 years of administrative and political experience and on other hand you have a person (Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy) with 16 months of jail experience in corruption cases. Who should be in the driving seat to steer the state to prosperity and development?” he asks the gatherings.
The major part of his campaign speeches revolves around how the TDP government has initiated the development process overcoming the difficult situation post-bifurcation, how there is a need to vote for continuity and stability and how his father is best suited to guide the state on a high growth path. However, he intersperses his speeches with an attack on the YSR Congress Party and its president Jagan, dubbing him a “personification of corruption and criminal politics”.
Lokesh also invokes the “conspiracy narrative” to allege a nexus between YSRCP, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and BJP to defame Chandrababu Naidu and obstruct the path of development in Andhra.
“The Telangana Chief Minister (K Chandrasekhar Rao) is interfering in our state. He has a secret understanding with Jagan. We have proof of this. KCR had personally called our MLAs, asking them to switch over to YSRCP,” he alleges.
The TDP chief did consider several “safe seats” in the state for Lokesh’s electoral debut including Bheemli, Visakhapatnam (north), Kuppam and Pedakoorapadu. He finally zeroed in on Mangalagiri. Being part of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), it is expected to witness a development boom in the coming years. And, the Chief Minister can personally monitor the progress of works in the region. Moreover, the constituency is dominated by Backward Class communities and Kammas, considered the key support base of the ruling party.
Lokesh (36) is frequently trolled on the social media for his goof-ups in public speeches and his clear discomfiture while pronouncing certain Telugu names. Recently, in one of his campaign speeches, he asked the people to “come in large numbers and vote on April 9 (voting is on April 11)”. The video of his campaign speech went viral, evoking mocking memes and comments on the social media platforms.
However, it is no secret that Naidu has been grooming him to eventually take over the mantle of the TDP.
He was more of a backroom strategist in his initial days in the party. He is presently a member of the State Legislative Council. This “backdoor entry” to prominence has been evoking the opposition criticism. The coming elections provides the first opportunity for the scion of the TDP’s first family to test the political waters.
In 2014 elections, the YSR Congress Party candidate A Ramakrishna Reddy won the seat by the smallest margin of just 12 votes. He is seeking re-election from the seat while actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party has left the seat to CPI as part of electoral alliance.
Lokesh was earlier managing the dairy business of his family before making a quiet entry into the party. For long, he was widely seen as a “backroom boy” of the party, giving strategic inputs to its policies and programmes. He soon emerged as the cynosure of all eyes in the party for his social outreach and skill development initiatives. He was made the coordinator of the TDP Workers’ Welfare Fund and later a formal party member at the TDP’s ‘Mahanadu’, the annual general body meeting, in 2013.
Lokesh is largely seen as an organisational man with limited public speaking skills. He was elevated as the party’s general secretary and ex-officio politburo member in September, 2015, in a first firm indication of the succession plan in the regional party. He was inducted into the cabinet in 2017.
However, a section of party leaders feel that Lokesh, though educated abroad and gifted with managerial skills, lacks mass appeal. His corporate style of functioning may not be suited to run a political party, they argue.