Even as the dust settles on the pitched battle in the Nandyal bye-poll, all eyes are already looking ahead to the 2019 Assembly elections. After all, the Nandyal election, coming three years into Chandrababu Naidu’s tenure as Chief Minister, was pitched as a crucial referendum for 2019.
The TDP’s Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy bagging a big victory – with a margin of over 27,000 votes – comes as a major boost for the ruling party, therefore. The victory is doubly sweet for the TDP, since it successfully penetrated into a historical Rayalseema stronghold of the YSRCP, claiming a vote share of 56.06%.
As the YSRCP retreats to lick it wounds, therefore, one big question on everyone’s mind is how to read the Nandyal result and its implications for 2019.
Ironically, says K Nageshwar, Political Analyst and Editor of The Hans India, the YSRCP may have made a costly mistake by looking too far ahead to the Assembly polls.
Nageshwar observes that in the absence of strong anti-incumbency, bye-polls favour the ruling party, pointing out that the AAP and the BJP recorded similar victories in states where they rule. “It is the YSR Congress that made the contest so prestigious,” he says.
Nageshwar adds that the YSRCP had started with a strong initial advantage, especially with the defection of key TDP leader Silpa Mohan Reddy. However, the YSRCP squandered this advantage by turning the contest into a straight out battle between YSRCP chief Jagan Mohan Reddy and CM Naidu. “When the government and the Chief Minister, in particular, enjoy relatively better approval ratings, such a strategy is always counterproductive,” he says.
Senior journalist TS Sudhir points out that Jagan’s language of attack on the CM did not help matters either. Jagan had raised more than a few eyebrows when he suggested in campaign speeches that Naidu should be “shot” and “hanged”.
“In 2014, people gave their votes to Naidu because it was felt that Jagan did not have enough experience as a political leader. He should have acted in a more sober and mature manner while criticising the Chief Minister," says Sudhir.
Both Sudhir and Nageshwar point out that Jagan’s high-decibel campaign also failed to capitalise on the under-development of the Rayalseema region, and the excessive focus on Amravathi. “The unprecedented concentration on Amaravati has certainly created a sense of alienation in the people of Rayalaseema,” asserts Nageshwar. Sudhir says that this was the crucial positive element of the critique against the CM that was missing from Jagan’s attack.
Sudhir adds that another element in favour of the TDP was the presence of Akhila Priya, late Nandyal MLA Bhuma Nagi Reddy’s daughter, as the youngest Minister in the Naidu cabinet. “As far as Akhila Priya is concerned, having lost her father gained sympathy, and being the youngest woman Minister also helped to attract women voters,” he says, pointing out that women polled 88,639 votes more than men in the polls.
One big difference for the YSRCP in 2019 could likely be the presence of election strategist Prashant Kishore and his Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) on Jagan’s team. While I-PAC began working with the YSRCP even before the Nandyal bye-polls, a representative of the organisation is careful to emphasise that their work is focused on 2019, and the Nandyal result is no verdict on them.
As the YSRCP retreats to lick its wounds from the Nandyal debacle, the party itself seems to be denying any faults in leadership. "There was nothing wrong with the leadership. Going by history ruling parties win bye-elections. We should remember that Chandrababu did not win a single seat in 54 bye-elections between 2004 and 2014,” says YSRCP Spokesperson and Secretary Arun Kumar.
For his part, Jagan too is eager to lay the loss behind him. Refusing the result as a referendum on 2019, the YSRCP chief said, “Today we were punched and we will await our turn to punch. He socked us today. We have the capacity to take it. You must have the guts, be man enough to take the hit. We will await our turn.”
(With inputs from Nitin B)