From a low-profile businessman taking baby steps under the watchful eyes of an illustrious father to a mass leader in his own right, Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has come a long way on a path strewn with controversies, politics of betrayal, revenge and even a prison term.
As Jagan completes one year in office, his journey mirrors inherent contradictions in the rise of scions of political dynasties in India.
Despite carrying the stigma of corruption, he has an emotional connect with masses. Despite being impulsive, vindictive and arbitrary, he enjoys the public image of a caring messiah of the poor. Despite being inaccessible and immune to advice from his own inner circle, his public outreach touches an emotional chord and his welfare policies are crafted on the basis of public feedback from these outings.
Take no prisoners
Both his friends and foes carry an equal chance of facing his wrath; friends for not toeing his line and foes for crossing the sword with him.
The last one year of Jagan’s rule saw his government going on the offensive, targeting not just the political opponents but also the unbending bureaucrats, constitutional functionaries and sections of the media.
Whether it was foisting of cases against the opposition Telugu Desam Party leaders and critics of the government, the unceremonious removal of a chief secretary or a running battle with the state election commissioner, it has been a ‘take no prisoner’ policy to tame dissent.
His government has suffered an unusually high number of setbacks in courts, with several of its decisions being reversed and the GOs quashed. This has prompted Jagan’s party colleagues to even cast aspersions on the judiciary and judges of the high court.
A slew of welfare schemes, particularly the cash dole-outs, have no doubt consolidated his vote bank at the grassroots level. The establishment of village secretariats, the appointment of over three lakh village volunteers to ensure delivery of benefits to the doorsteps of people and introduction of English medium in government schools were some of the disruptive reforms initiated in the last one year.
His entire focus has been on delivering the promises made during his marathon 3,600-km long padayatra in the run-up to the general elections last year.
For someone, who led his party to a landslide victory with 151 out of 175 state assembly seats and 22 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats, it should have been smooth sailing in the administration.
But, the going has been anything but smooth.
For someone who aspires to craft his political career in the mould of his illustrious father and former chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, it has been a faltering mission.
The last one year is marked by political vindictiveness and reversal of policies of the previous TDP government. As a result, there is an air of negativity and bitterness in the state.
Going by a string of impulsive policy decisions ever since he took over the reins of the state on May 30, Jagan (47) comes across as a young man in a hurry to crush his political opponents rather than improving governance. This is particularly ironical because the Telugu state is at a crossroad, still grappling with bifurcation blues and desperately needs to shore up revenues and attract new investments.
Jagan’s style of functioning so far has demonstrated how a massive electoral victory does not necessarily translate into good governance. By solely focusing on undoing whatever his bete noire Chandrababu Naidu had done in the past, he appears to be squandering away the massive mandate and rapidly losing the narrative.
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. His emphasis on cash dole-outs and freebies stems from his political positioning in the mould of his father YSR whose tenure as chief minister of the combined AP between 2004 and 2009 was known for launching a string of popular welfare schemes.
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 the 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 was believed to have business links with the controversial “Reddy brothers” of Bellary.
Jagan’s media ventures — a Telugu daily “Sakshi” and a news channel by the same name, have also triggered a controversy with the TDP alleging that the ill-gotten wealth of YSR had gone into the media ventures.
Jagan was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 2009 from Kadapa, the family stronghold once represented by his father for four terms. Soon after the death of his father in September 2009 in a helicopter crash, Jagan made it known to the Congress high command, in no uncertain terms, that he was a prince awaiting coronation.
After the party leadership rejected his clumsy display of political ambition, he quit the Congress and floated his own party, positioning himself as the sole inheritor of his father’s political legacy.
Even die-hard supporters of the family rule found it hard to digest his blatant and audacious approach to take over the reins of the state with no administrative experience.
There has been no headway in the alleged illegal assets case against him. The crux of the CBI charges was that he had misused his father’s position to attract investments to 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 Rs1,172 crore from various investors as a 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.
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.