It takes an extraordinary amount of recklessness and arrogance for someone to squander away massive public mandate within six months of earning it.
From the dizzy heights of popularity to self-inflicted losses in the perception battle, it has been a rapid fall for Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Going by a string of impulsive policy decisions ever since he took over the reins of the state on May 30, he 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.
At 46, Jagan, the son of charismatic Congress leader and former Chief Minister of combined Andhra Pradesh late YS Rajasekhar Reddy, scripted a stupendous success story when he steered his YSR Congress Party to a landslide victory in the April elections, bagging 152 seats in the 175-member Assembly and 22 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats.
Losing the narrative
However, for someone who aspires to craft his political career in the mould of his illustrious father, it has been a faltering mission. The last six months of his regime is marked by political vindictiveness and reversal of policies of the previous Telugu Desam Party government. As a result, there is an air of negativity and bitterness in the state.
Jagan’s animosity against his bete noire TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu seems to have got the better of him in his penchant for reversing or scrapping the earlier government’s initiatives, in the process upsetting the business applecart and scaring away potential investors.
The biggest shocker has been his government’s latest move to pour cold water on Amaravati, the dream capital city project envisioned by his predecessor.
The YSRCP government has come up with a bizarre idea of having three capital cities—Visakhapatnam as executive capital, Amaravati as Legislative capital and Kurnool as the judicial capital. This has surprised both the urban planning experts and the general public in equal measure.
The politically-motivated decision has triggered massive protests from farmers of the Vijayawada-Guntur region who had voluntarily given over 33,000 acres of land for building an ultramodern capital city, the likes of which “India has never seen before.”
A question mark hangs over their fate as Amaravati will now be reduced to hosting assembly sessions a couple of times a year, a far cry from the grandiose plans envisioned by the previous TDP government which had invested much political capital on brand building and positioning it as a world-class riverfront capital city.
Apart from triggering widespread public unrest in the coastal region, the three-capital idea has given a peek into Jagan’s brand of politics: Brash and unmindful of consequences. It is the same streak that marked his earlier decisions, be it the cancellation of key irrigation contracts awarded by the previous regime, review of power purchase agreements or scaling down the security of Chandrababu Naidu and going after the opposition leaders.
Jagan’s style of functioning so far has demonstrated how a massive electoral victory does not necessarily translate into good governance.
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.
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 Rs 82,870 in 2013-14 to Rs 1.64 lakh in 2018-19.
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 the 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.
On the face of it, the Chief Minister’s three-capital proposal appears to favour a decentralised development model to ensure regional balance and equitable development. However, it is the complex caste dynamics that have come to influence the decision.
By shifting the capital out of Amaravati, Jagan has struck at the financial roots of the TDP’s key support base: the Kamma community which controls lands in the south coastal region. Besides, the TDP leaders close to Chandrababu Naidu had invested heavily in the lands in and around Amaravati.
The politically influential Reddy community, which Jagan hails from, is mostly concentrated in the backward Rayalaseema region where there has been growing public resentment and a sense of neglect. There is a growing demand in the region for locating the High Court in Kurnool. In fact, Kurnool was the capital of Andhra for a brief period from 1953 to 1956 before Andhra was merged with Hyderabad State to become Andhra Pradesh, the country’s first linguistic State.
The change of guard in the state is largely seen as an outcome of an all-out caste war between the two dominant communities — Kammas and Reddys — for power. Jagan’s consistent attempts to erase the legacy of Naidu must be seen in this backdrop of simmering caste tensions.
Why so much vengeance
The people had voted Jagan to power to create jobs, improve governance, attract investments and provide corruption-free administration. However, his actions so far show him as an overzealous, vengeful politician bent upon settling political scores with opponents rather than focusing on bringing about the changes he had promised.
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 in the alleged illegal assets case in 2012. The crux of the CBI 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.
For someone nurtured in the feudal political culture of the faction-ridden Rayalaseema region, where loyalties and rivalries run through generations, Jagan apparently cannot shrug off his revenge instincts.
By solely focusing on undoing whatever his bete noire had done in the past, this businessman-turned-politician appears to be squandering away the massive mandate he secured in the simultaneous elections and rapidly losing the narrative.
Jagan’s obsessive focus 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.
Friendly with BJP
He may be ruthless in dealing with his opponents back home but Jagan has been virtually bending over backwards to keep the BJP’s central leadership in good humour.
Despite the state BJP leadership sharpening its attack on his government over governance issues, Jagan has supported the NDA on all the contentious bills in the Parliament, be it abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Citizenship Amendment Bill and RTI amendment bill.
Neither the Chief Minister nor his party colleagues have made any comments critical of the central government. With the CBI case hanging over his head, Jagan cannot afford to antagonise the BJP leadership.
The political bonhomie between YSRCP and BJP was never publicly declared but was an open secret. In the run-up to the April 11 elections, the two parties were bound by a common objective of defeating the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP.
It is no secret that the BJP wants to spread its wings in AP by using Jagan’s shoulders to fire at the TDP and then occupy the opposition space before the next assembly polls.