Opinion
With discontent against the Congress and the YSRCP, can Pawan Kalyan's party fill the political vacuum in the state?

In a press conference yesterday, Pawan Kalyan, the president of Jana Sena Party (JSP) made some major announcements. Chief among them was confirmation that they would contest the Assembly elections in 2019 from both Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana (TS).  

Now it is too early to say anything about JSP’s chances of winning. But it would be a useful exercise to evaluate its tactics so far, to understand them as part of its strategy to win and also to try and locate these in the larger political space in both the states. 

Let us begin by looking at AP where the JSP has so far focused much of its energies. Between the two regions of AP, Rayalaseema is by far the least developed. And Pawan Kalyan announced that JSP would be based out of Ananthapur and also that he would be contesting from Ananthapur itself. 

The major issues ailing Rayalaseema, historically, are irrigation and agriculture. Ananthapur (63), Chittoor (53), Kurnool (36), and Kadapa (32) — all four districts belong to the Rayalaseema region — are among the 268 mandals which were declared to be severely affected by drought this year. 

The other issues, at present, in the region include employment for the youth. It is important to note that Rayalaseema has a substantial kapu population. And therefore, the issue of employment is closely linked to the issue of kapu community demanding inclusion in the OBC list.

Interestingly, the issues mentioned about, are listed among the 32 issues on the Janaswaram platform, announced yesterday, on the JSP website which seeks to act as a public platform for participation in policy making. This indicates that JSP’s tactics for Rayalaseema have great potential.

Coming to Seemandhra region, which is seeing the most developmental projects, the major issues are regarding land acquisition, mining, industrialisation, environment, corruption, tribal welfare and other development-related issues, all of which are mentioned in the Janaswaram list. 

Moreover, Pawan Kalyan has already visited the farmers protesting the land acquisition policies in the Amaravati Capital Development Region and showed his support. He also met villagers protesting against the proposed Godavari Mega Aqua Park suggesting that the project would pollute the river and the environment and harm the livelihoods of the villagers. He announced that JSP is ‘against pollution, and are for responsible industrialisation’. 

After bringing to light the neglected Uddanam kidney issue, he asked rhetorically as to why ‘thousands of crores are being spent for building the state capital, but nothing is being spent in a region where people are dying’. He also did speak out against the government’s approach regarding bauxite mining in Chintapalli. 

With the kapunadu movement, which did receive good attention with the ‘praja darbars’ organised by JSP, going very strong in the delta districts, one should expect decent support base for JSP. But these tactics in the coastal region, which is a strong base for the TDP, are unlikely to pay much dividends primarily due to the general ‘perception management’ of the government in power. 

If the UP election is any indication of Modi’s power to manage perceptions of people towards, probably the vaguest of all political terms this season, ’development’, then Naidu can manage this all too easily for he is more experienced than Modi when it comes to matters such as these. Case in point being the massive campaign that was launched to counter that other major issue of ‘special status’, of which JSP is a vociferous supporter, in the background. 

But one thing that can be said most definitely is the role that JSP would play in the larger political context in AP. The main opposition YSRCP is seen as corrupt; let us say more corrupt than the ruling party. It has lost a substantial number of legislators who have defected to the TDP. And Jagan does not seem to have any answers; this desperation is more than evident given his bullying tactics. Meanwhile, the Congress is a spent force both at the centre and the state. It is this political vacuum, as the principle opposition to the TDP, which the JSP can occupy. 

Coming to TS, Pawan Kalyan himself said that JSP hasn't focused much until now on the state. Without elaborating much, he also said that they would focus on various developmental issues. With the TRS government virtually wiping out the opposition and its voices, the best chance of making any progress in TS would be to align with Prof. Kodandaram and TJAC. With KCR going all out with Mission Kakatiya and Mission Bhagiratha, it would be extremely challenging for any opposition, let alone JSP, to contest and win in TS.

Finally, the chances of JSP winning will largely depend on something extraordinary to take place which will increase the disaffection towards the government or an equally extraordinary effort by its charismatic leader Pawan Kalyan, or both. For if we look at the recent history of combined AP, it took an extraordinary disaffection — neglect of farmers and their suicides — and extraordinary effort — padayatra — by YS Rajashekar Reddy in 2004 to dislodge the 8-year TDP government. Similarly, it took an extraordinary disaffection — bifurcation of the state — to defeat the 8-year Congress government. 

 

Note: Views expressed are personal opinions of the author.