Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Why Sonia fears Jagan. . Why has a first-time MP held the mighty Congress machinery to ransom for the last 14 months? Jagan Mohan Reddy, the son of late Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, rebelled within 30 days of not being made chief minister after YSR's death last September. Since then, he has provoked and dared Congress President Sonia Gandhi to expel him from the party. On November 19, his TV channel Sakshi launched an unprecedented and vicious attack against Sonia. Yet Jagan was not expelled. Instead, the party choreographed the ouster of his bete noire Konijeti Rosaiah from the chief minister's post. The new chief minister is 50-year-old N. Kiran Kumar Reddy whose principal political asset is that he is an apparent foil to Jagan. The message for Jagan is clear: he has no chance even when the older generation steps down. Sonia condoles Jagan after the death of his father, YSR Reddy.Why did the Congress act in such haste? The Jagan-sponsored television show had rattled the Congress leadership. It felt that Andhra Pradesh was slipping out of its hands. With as many as 33 MPs from the state, the Congress could not afford to lose this support base. It was on the strength of the state that the party had grabbed power in 2004 and 2009. The Congress has been reduced to a non-entity in the cowbelt; it is in a flux in the other big states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. With a projected income of about Rs 500 crore in 2010-11, Jagan has the power to finance a Congress rebellion all over the country. This potential to become another Sharad Pawar is what worries the party leadership. On November 21, Rosaiah met Sonia and made it clear that enough was enough. Blaming New Delhi for his inability to run the Government, Rosaiah claimed that certain party officials who had links with the late YSR were encouraging dissent. He is said to have told Sonia that expelling 38-year-old Jagan was the only answer. The beleagured 77-year-old also pointed out that the Telangana crisis had been foisted on him by New Delhi's mishandling of the situation. The Srikrishna Committee report that is looking into the demand for a separate state is due by December-end. JAGAN PRADESH: Jagan travelled 8,950 km, held 1,791 meetings, met 273 families and unveiled 1,537 statues during his Odarpu YatraIn choosing Rosaiah's successor, the Congress was at first veering towards a candidate from Telangana. But clearly it feels that its first priority is to contain Jagan rather than address the Telangana issue. Though he is a YSR loyalist, the new chief minister is not on the best of terms with YSR's son. "So we hope he will be able to wean away YSR loyalists from Jagan's camp," says a Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh. As for the other hot potato, the Telangana crisis, highly placed Congress sources claim that there is a plan to install a deputy chief minister from the Telangana region, though not immediately. This will probably happen on the eve of the Srikrishna Committee report. Rosaiah resigned citing poor health. "There is no specific reason. Because of my age and the situation, I am not able to withstand it. So I sought permission from the high command for my resignation and at last they have agreed and permitted me," he said, adding rather significantly: "I am neither a big leader nor do I have any group in the party." So Rosaiah lost his job while dissident Jagan got away scot-free. Yet again. "The state Congress chief has been asked to file a report on Jagan," says Congress General Secretary B.K. Hariprasad. Not even a showcause notice has been served on Jagan despite his blatant disregard for the Congress president. When asked what action would be taken against Jagan, a Cabinet minister smiled and said, "None." The timing could not have been worse for the Congress. This was a day on which the news cycle was dominated by Nitish Kumar's triumph and Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyuruppa's refusal to resign. The Congress could have let the BJP stew in its own juices. Instead, it deflected media attention by providing an alternate story. The mystery of Rosaiah's sudden resignation stole the headlines. "We do not want to make Jagan a martyr by expelling him," says a Congress general secretary. "Instead the idea is to bring in someone who can control Jagan better than Rosaiah," he adds. As for the lousy timing, the Congress claims that one reason for this is the fact that this would take attention away from the BJP sweep in Bihar. Also, the removal of a weak chief minister would stand out in sharp contrast to the BJP's failure to take action against one perceived as corrupt. But this is not quite how it worked out. With Rosaiah's resignation, all the Congress did was to highlight its failure to deal with the rebellious Jagan. Not surprisingly, the Congress Legislature Party meeting did not discuss Jagan's case. It simply adopted a one-line resolution leaving the choice of leader to Sonia. Oneforty four of the 156 MLAs were present. Jagan's mother Vijayalakshmi who represents YSR's Pulivendula Assembly seat did not turn up. The high-level Congress team led by Pranab Mukherjee already had the name of the new candidate. The new chief minister is relatively young, coming from the age bracket Rahul Gandhi wants to promote. Jagan with a bereaved familyCongressmen say Kumar is savvy enough not to become another Ashok Chavan. He is from the Chittoor district in the Rayalaseema region to where both Jagan and the TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu belong. Unlike the new Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan who spent his first few days in office brushing up his Marathi, Kumar is already a familiar player in state politics. As the Assembly speaker, he showed remarkable maturity in handling the Telangana crisis last year. When a group of legislators sent in their resignations last December over the issue, he did not immediately accept them. He put them on hold, giving the MLAs time to ponder and staved off a constitutional crisis. To further strengthen the new chief minister's hands, the Congress has already sent feelers to Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) leader Chiranjeevi who has 18 MLAs in the 294-strong Assembly. The same day that Rosaiah came calling, the Congress leadership had another visitor from Andhra Pradesh. Chiranjeevi dropped in to meet the prime minister in Delhi. The visit was to discuss micro-finance, but Chiranjeevi later dropped in to meet Sonia's political secretary Ahmad Patel. Rosaiah was present. The PRP MLAS could counter Jagan's support base of 12 MLAs. The Congress' current strength is 156. And the half-way mark in the Assembly is 147. Rosaiah's outburst at 10 Janpath was not without merit. Unlike her mother-in-law, Sonia prefers to play the role of Benevolent Leader instead of Ruthless Rajmata; instead of quelling rebellion herself, she delegates the axe instead. In this case, however, both her troubleshooters fell short of the mark. The Congress in-charge of Andhra Pradesh is the hapless Veerappa Moily, a man who is more at ease scripting epics than fighting fires. In the last 14 months, whenever Jagan was summoned to Delhi for a reprimand, Moily would lecture the young man with a fatherly pat on the back. Sonia's other trouble shooter was the chief minister himself. The Congress strategy of choosing its seniormost minister, Rosaiah, to succeed YSR failed. The veteran could not muster sufficient strength to match Jagan's combative style. Fed up of being the fall guy, he threw up his hands against the onslaught that peaked with a vituperative attack on Sonia. YSR's death unleashed a pan-Andhra support for his son. No stranger to dynastic rule, the Congress leadership, however, was wary of crowning his politically inexperienced 37-year-old son as chief minister. A piqued young Jagan proceeded on a year-long show of strength against the Congress nominee. He accused Rosaiah of trying to obfuscate YSR's legacy. In the Congress, where the only cult allowed to flourish is that which bears the Gandhi-Nehru name, this is usually a career-breaking move. Yet, Jagan was allowed to carry on with barely a rap on his knuckles. To further bolster Brand YSR, Jagan embarked on his Odarpu Yatra to reach out to his father's supporters. Even Sonia tried to dissuade him, suggesting that the money he was offering the families of those who had committed suicide after his father's death could be distributed through party organised functions in each district. But Jagan had already chartered a course parallel to the state organisation. Party diktats banned his loyalists from accompanying him. Only two ministers, Pilli Subash Chandra Bose and Baellineni Srinivas Reddy, defied the order. Jagan's speeches were filled with fond recollections of the work his father did for the poor-and jibes against Rosaiah. He accused Rosaiah of neglecting the welfare schemes launched by YSR. A minister, Konda Surekha, even resigned from the Cabinet, claiming that her first allegiance was with Jagan and not Rosaiah. It's this goodwill that has worried the Congress leadership that is naturally wary of promoting regional satraps. Most of the other Congress chief ministers lack a mass base and are dependent on the central leadership's goodwill for survival. The only exception is perhaps Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, and she is kept on tenterhooks by the high command. Now suddenly a phenomenon called Jagan has upset the Congress applecart. He has single-handedly held the entire state to ransom, forcing the chief minister out. By bringing in the younger and more politically-savvy Kumar, the Congress hopes it can curtail Jagan's role as a parallel power centre in the state.

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