Two former Union ministers, a retired bureaucrat and a physiotherapist – these are the candidates that major parties have fielded for the April 17 by-election to the Tirupati Lok Sabha seat.
More than the contest or the result, the campaign is likely to indicate where Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party and N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) stand vis-à-vis the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The YSR Congress and the TDP both accuse each other of being subservient to Modi and compromising the interests of Andhra Pradesh.
In 2014 Modi made two promises to Andhra Pradesh from this temple town: to fund a world-class capital, bigger than Delhi, for truncated Andhra and to give the state special category status for ten years, instead of the five promised by the UPA-2 government.
In 2015 the PM laid the foundation for the much hyped capital at Amaravati. In 2016 the Naidu government, which was in alliance with the BJP, accepted a special economic package in lieu of special category status for the state. The YSR Congress accused him of surrendering the state’s interests to save himself from a cash-for-votes scam.
In the run-up to the 2019 general election, Jagan promised to secure the special category status if the electorate blessed him with victory in all 25 seats. He got his wish. Nearly. Jagan’s party won 22 seats, but the CM soon changed his tune and said because the BJP had full majority in Parliament, it did not need anyone’s support. “I will still fight for the status,” he said.
In the past 20 months, the BJP has said both inside and outside Parliament that the matter is closed. The TDP and other opposition parties accuse Jagan of reneging on his promise and compromising the state’s interests to escape conviction in disproportionate assets cases against him.
As for the ‘world-class’ capital, the BJP government gave around ₹2,500 crore for Amaravati and Jagan recently decided to shift the crucial executive and judiciary from Amaravati, which he described as a capital proposed for the benefit of one particular community, the Kammas, to which Naidu belongs. The BJP remains neutral, though its leaders say Amaravati would remain the capital. The Centre, through an affidavit in high court, shirked responsibility by declaring that it is a state matter.
Tirupati is a reserved seat. The by-election was necessitated by the death of sitting YSR Congress MP Balli Durga Prasad in September last year.
The BJP has fielded retired Karnataka chief secretary Ratna Prabha. Former Union minister Panabaka Lakshmi is the TDP candidate, while another former Union minister, Chinta Mohan, is the Congress nominee. The YSR Congress has chosen to field physiotherapist Dr Maddila Gurumoorthy, a political novice. He became close to the YS family when he first met then chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2006 with a representation seeking establishment of a physiotherapy council. The CM’s positive response turned him into a staunch supporter. He served as Jagan’s physio during his marathon padayatra in 2017.
Usually when a sitting MP or MLA dies, their party nominate a family member for that seat. Jagan deviated from that convention. He made Durga Prasad’s son Balli Kalyan Chakravarti an MLC, with a view to elevate the physiotherapist.
Overjoyed by the recent series of victories in the urban and rural civic body polls, the YSR Congress leadership vowed to send 36-year-old Gurumoorthy to the Lok Sabha with a three-lakh majority.
Gurumoorthy comes from an agricultural family in Mannasamudram village in Yerpedu block of Srikalahasti assembly segment.
The party made him a member of the election campaign team in 2014.
“Jagan has backed me, a common activist… I am ready to take up any work he assigns me,” Gurumoorthy said after bring nominated.
The TDP’s Naidu is expected to campaign hard on behalf of his nominee, Lakshmi. But YSR Congress sources told The Federal that Jagan would leave campaigning to second-rung leaders and ministers. This will help him avoid saying anything against Modi – as well as proving that all he has to do is pick a candidate to ensure their victory.
Political analyst Telakapalli Ravi said: “Jagan and Babu never question or attack Modi. They always act humble, to the point of surrender. Even when they raise crucial issues, it is in an obliging manner.”
Another political analyst, Chalasani Narendra, said Jagan’s claim that he regularly raises state issues with Modi would only gain credence if he spoke at Tirupati.
The BJP faces an awkward situation. People are angry with the Modi government. The prominent Balija community has urged its members to press the NOTA option instead of voting for the saffron party.
The TDP and the BJP, along with their partner Jana Sena party, recently accused the YSR Congress of hurting Hindu sentiments and promoting conversions.
BJP national secretary Sunil Deodhar, state president Somu Verrraju and other leaders have been meeting various sections of people, assuring them that a BJP victory would bring development to Tirupati constituency and the entire Rayalaseema region.
Deodhar vowed to give Tirupati seat as a gift to the PM. The BJP held this seat (N Venkataswamy) in 1999, in alliance with the TDP.
Chinta Mohan may have personal appeal, but the Congress is still not in public discussion.