Lok Sabha 2019
In the first polls in the state after the bifurcation, the stage seems to be set for a three-way contest between the TDP, YSRCP and Jana Sena.

Five years after the bifurcation, Andhra Pradesh goes to the polls in about three weeks. In a political scenario that has changed significantly in the last 5 years, the stage seems to be set for a three-way contest between the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), YSRCP and Jana Sena Party.

The Jana Sena, which had allied with the TDP in 2014, is now fighting against it. The two national parties, Congress and BJP, seem irrelevant in this election. The third front, in the form of Jana Sena, CPI, CPI(M) and BSP, is trying to challenge the established political order.

TDP and Chandrababu Naidu’s victory last time came about not because people trusted him with the new state; he scraped through with the help of the Modi phenomenon that swept the nation and Pawan Kalyan’s staunch support. His flipflops with the Special Category Status for the residual state and his obsession with Amaravati are not easily forgotten. Everyone knows CBN is big on self-promotion and branding, but even his supporters acknowledge that he went overboard this term. Succession planning has also been put in action with his son Lokesh being everywhere and this is likely to hurt the TDP more than help. A large number of sons and daughters of TDP leaders are in the fray this time, making it look more like a family affair. The recent episode of voter data mismanagement exposed the insecurities of the TDP.

Many surveys seem to give a clear edge to the YSRCP, a reflection of the relentless campaign mode that Jagan was on for more than a year. The long, state-wide pada yatra helped him engage with voters and announce candidates ahead of any other party. The fact that many TDP leaders defected to join his party is a clear indication that the political class too is looking at Jagan as a winning horse. Jagan has established himself firmly as a successor to the late YSR who millions still love as a result of direct benefits received during his tenure, such as Arogya Sri, fee reimbursement and housing programmes. In the last five years, the YSRCP has occupied the political space vacated by the Congress party at the booth level.  However, Jagan hit a self-goal of sorts by rubbing shoulders with KCR, as this has not gone down well with AP voters. The allegations against him in the recent murder of his uncle YS Vivekananda Reddy seem to have further dented his image.

Jana Sena was not seen as a strong contender to form the government, but recent events might give it a big boost heading into the election. Ex CBI officer VV Lakshminarayana, known popularly as ‘JD’ (Joint Director) across the Telugu states for his fearless handling of the high-profile Satyam scam, the Obalapuram mining scam (involving the Gali brothers), and the biggest of them all – the disproportionate assets case against Jagan that landed the leader in jail – has recently joined Jana Sena and will be contesting in these elections.

JD’s entry is significant for multiple reasons. After taking voluntary retirement from the IPS, he has been travelling and speaking to students everywhere; he has earned trust from people, young and old, as an inspiring leader. He had declared his intentions to start a new political party but that didn’t materialise. His mere presence adds gravitas to Pawan Kalyan’s message of cleansing politics of caste and corruption. While the TDP and YSRCP rely entirely on CBN and Jagan as star campaigners, Jana Sena can rely on two: Pawan Kalyan and JD Lakshminarayana.

Pawan Kalyan was able to create a stir among the youth but the older generation is sceptical about his ability to govern owing to his to lack of experience. JD’s entry helps change these perceptions as he has a clean image with instant recognition that very few can bring to the table in this election.

Pawan Kalyan also pulled off a small miracle by announcing a seat-sharing alliance with Mayawati’s BSP. While the BSP is not a political force in Andhra, it will certainly add to the support base of Jana Sena in all constituencies. The two Left parties will bring in some votes as well.

Jana Sena’s ticket allocation is also interesting – it has a good mix of seasoned politicians who have won elections earlier, a lot of young, first-time candidates, and academics and professionals who have jumped into politics for the first time, reminiscent of NTR’s candidate selection in 1982. This conveys that the party is committed to change but doesn’t shy away from actively recruiting seasoned hands as well.

The politics of Andhra Pradesh revolves around caste, money and party loyalties. The stakes are extremely high and the swing voters are likely to decide the winner. Usually, they end up voting ‘against’ and not ‘for’. But this time around, there seems to be a viable third option at the ballot.

Srinivas is a citizen activist and an occasional commentator on politics. He was an invited speaker at the Jana Sena Fact Finding Committee in 2018.

Views expressed are the author’s own.