100 days of Jagan: a political scion’s tumultuous rise to power

Jagan Mohan Reddy, Andhra Pradesh, YSR Reddy
Populism has been the key element of Jagan’s brand of politics. During election rallies, he has sought to strike an emotional chord with the people, promising to bring back the schemes promised by his father YSR Reddy. Photo: PTI File

From a reticent businessman, working under the shadow of his illustrious father and former Congress chief minister of the combined Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhar Reddy, to a mass leader in his own right, the political journey of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has been as tumultuous as it is controversial.

The roller coaster ride, over a span of ten years, had all the elements of an intense drama; personal tragedy, power politics, betrayal, court cases, imprisonment, mass outreach and a landslide public mandate.

After a bitter fallout with the Congress and a failed maiden attempt to capture power, the 46 year old businessman-turned politician pulled off a swashbuckling victory in the April 11 elections, decimating his rival N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), and lost no time in reversing the key decisions of the earlier regime.

Revenge is the name of the political game being played out in Andhra as Jagan completes 100 days in office.

Who is Jagan?

On September 3, 2009, when news channels constantly beamed images of a grieving young man receiving the mourners with folded hands on the day the charred body of YSR, who died in a chopper crash in the Nallamala forest area, arrived in Hyderabad, not many outside Andhra Pradesh knew who he was.

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.

It was widely known in political circles that YSR, a charismatic mass leader who steered the Congress to victory for a second successive term in 2009, and delivered 33 MPs to the UPA’s kitty from Andhra Pradesh, wanted to groom his son as his political heir. In fact, the Kadapa seat was vacated by YSR’s younger brother YS Vivekananda Reddy to pave the way for his nephew’s political entry from the home turf in the 2009 elections.

However, what pitchforked Jagan into the national limelight was the brazenness of his pitch to inherit his father’s legacy.

Enfant terrible

Even before the body of YSR 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 Congress’ then president Sonia Gandhi to make Jagan the next chief minister to “fulfil YSR’s ideals”.

The signatures of 122 out of the total 156 party MLAs were taken in his support. Going into an overdrive, his supporters drew parallels with the anointment of Rajiv Gandhi soon after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, and sought to pitch for Jagan’s case on similar grounds.

This kind of unabashed campaign had irked the party high command. The speed and ruthlessness with which it was carried out left many party seniors red-faced.

Jagan remained defiant and irrepressible even after he was clearly told that he would not be made the chief minister. His lack of political and administrative experience, his questionable business dealings, mercurial temperament and the inability to carry along all the groups went against him.

That he was set on a collision course with the high command was clear when he defied its directive not to take up his proposed “Odarpu Yatra” (consolation tour). Though it was ostensibly meant to meet families of those who died of shock or committed suicide following YSR’s death, its political overtones did not go unnoticed.

Meteoric rise

From a small-time realtor who used to occasionally help his father during 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 the brazenness of his political ambitions. During YSR’s tenure as chief minister between 2004 and 2009, Jagan was a businessman on a roll, allegedly receiving generous patronage from his doting father.

However, his allegedly questionable business deals caught up with him only after he quit the Congress and launched YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in March 2011.

The meteoric growth of Jagan’s business empire since Congress came to power in 2004 raised many eyebrows. The opposition parties had raised allegations of money laundering and FERA violations by companies owned by him.

He also has interests in power, uranium and bauxite mining, cement plants and SEZs. There are also real estate investments and mining interests in Karnataka where he is believed to have business links with the controversial “Reddy brothers” of Bellary.

Jagan’s media ventures —Telugu daily Sakshi and a news channel by the same name, have also triggered controversy with the TDP alleging that the ill-gotten wealth of YSR had gone into the media companies.

The media group played a key role in whipping up an emotional campaign to anoint Jagan as YSR’s political successor. It played up reports of “shock deaths and suicides” in the aftermath of YSR’s death.

The Jagan camp claimed that more than 460 people had died of either shock or had committed suicide. However, there were allegations that these reports were fake. “They were part of a brand building exercise,” says Kancha Illaiah, writer and professor of political science at Osmania University.

Connect with masses

Clad in a formal striped shirt and trousers, Jagan comes across as an unconventional politician. He can be both curt and caring at the same time. This management graduate from Osmania University in Hyderabad does not mince words while airing his views on sensitive issues and does not bother about political correctness.

Fit and smartly dressed, Jagan has a penchant for branded shirts and good things in life. Brash and irreverent, he, however, commands huge following among the youth, and his loyalists vouch for his commitment to keep up his word.

“People see YSR in him. He alone can carry forward YSR’s legacy and implement the welfare programmes enunciated by his father,” says NTR’s widow N Lakshmi Parvathi who is now a supporter of YSRCP.

Jagan has a unique style of public outreach — going into crowds, cupping everyone’s chin in a commiserative gesture, holding and cuddling 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 supremo’s rallies are reminiscent of the public response to NTR’s meetings in the early 1980s.

In the mould of YSR

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

Like YSR, who had earned the sobriquet “perpetual dissident” for opposing successive Congress chief ministers in the past, Jagan had friction with the Congress before parting ways with the party.

The irreverence has its roots in the political culture of Rayalaseema region. It is notorious for faction violence and revenge killings. YSR’s father Raja Reddy was a powerful faction leader and an affluent contractor in Kadapa who was killed in a bomb attack in 1998. The Opposition often accuses 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.

Corruption case

The crux of the charges against Jagan was that he had misused his father’s position 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 has denied the quid pro quo charges and described the case as witch-hunting and a vindictive exercise because he had quit the Congress in 2011 and floated his own party to carry forward the ideals of his charismatic father.

He was arrested and sent to Chanchalguda central jail in Hyderabad on May 27, 2012. After 16 months in jail, he was granted bail on September 23, 2013.

In the personality-driven politics of Andhra, padayatra and political power have a strange connection. YSR’s 1,470-km-long walkathon in 2003 became a turning point in his political career and propelled him to power in the Assembly elections held a year later. Similarly, Jagan’s record-breaking 3,640-km-long walkathon played a major role in turning the tide in his favour.

‘Rajanna Rajyam’

Populism has been the key element of Jagan’s brand of politics. During election rallies, Jagan sought to strike an emotional chord with the people, promising to bring back Rajanna Rajyam — a reference to the welfare schemes enunciated by YSR during his tenure as chief minister from 2004 to 2009.

In tune with his political positioning as a pro-poor politician wedded to the cause of equality and social justice, he had unveiled a manifesto promising a galore of freebies and welfare schemes touching upon virtually every section of society.