In a state that is witnessing political turmoil, Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress is gearing up for the 2019 state polls.
Six months after Jagan set off across Andhra Pradesh on his 'Praja Sankalpa Yatra' (people's determination journey), he has crossed 2,000 km on foot, marking a trail of fierce political opposition against the ruling dispensation in the state.
Taking advantage of the rift in the ruling coalition between the BJP and the TDP, Jagan has not only made waves but has kept himself in the headlines through this tour which recently crossed paths with actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan.
The Leader of the Opposition embarked on his yatra in November last year and reached the 2,000 km mark in Eluru on Monday.
His tour across the state is primarily aimed at unseating Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who is embroiled in a bitter battle against the Centre over the granting of Special Category status to the state.
The state’s collective uproar over the Special Status issue has led to a battle of commitment display among the parties who will face off in a crucial poll early next year.
While the Chief Minister broke off the Telugu Desam Party’s alliance with the BJP over the issue, claiming that his state has long been ignored by the Centre, Jagan has sought to make his presence felt through the yatra that aims to cover 13 districts and a distance of 3,000 km in a duration of six months.
Speaking to TNM, YSRCP MLA Gadikota Srikanth Reddy says, “We have never changed our stand on Special Category status unlike Chandrababu Naidu who, in fact, appreciated the BJP government for merely the announcement of a special package."
“The TDP government failed to implement even a single promise. There is crisis across various sectors. Chandrababu Naidu’s negligence is the prime reason along with the union government's. While we treat both as the same, we must say that TDP is shifting the blame towards the BJP for every mistake they've done," he says, referring to the heated TDP campaign against the Centre.
Gadikota believes that YSRCP MPs resigning en-masse compelled CM Naidu to quit the NDA coalition and "adopt" the SCS movement.
YSRCP leaders across the 175 assembly constituencies in the state took up the 'Vanchana Pai Garjana Padayatra' in support of their leader.
While Jagan’s yatra comes in light of last year’s embarrassing defeats in the Nandyal bye-elections and the Kakinada municipal elections, the MLA of Pulivendula has come under fire from civil society as well as the TDP for skipping Assembly sessions.
Jagan’s outreach to the farming and weaving communities in the state and his outrage over the issue of unemployment has not gone unnoticed by political observers. This, as he continues to provide assurances of welfare schemes or ‘Navaratnalu’, Dr Pentapati Pullarao, a political watcher, says,
Commenting on Jagan and his party pulling seemingly huge crowds to Padayatra and public meetings, Dr Pullarao says that the scene appears to be in favour of the YSRCP but that Jagan's future moves will play a big role in the forthcoming polls. He observes, "Jagan's yatra and the current political situation, such as the TDP’s terms with the BJP have definitely become a disadvantage to Chandrababu Naidu. But Jagan's moves in the future will be the defining factor in 2019. The whole episode of SCS and the raw deal from the Union Budget have showcased BJP in a critical position as the party which denied Andhra Pradesh what it deserves.”
“While it is premature to conclude things, Jagan has to carry the momentum, the yatra definitely gave him a core place in politics in his 8 year political career," says Dr Pullarao.
Recently, the YSRCP also faced allegations of a secret tie-up with the BJP after Jagan said that he would support those who provide AP with the Special Category Status.
Significance of the yatra
Interestingly, political yatras in the Telugu states are not a new phenomenon. In fact, Jagan's father and late Chief Minister YS Rajashekar Reddy captured power in 2004 in a similar fashion, unseating the then united Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu.
Over a decade after the demise of YSR in a tragic plane crash and a state that has split into two, Chandrababu Naidu catapulted himself to power in 2014 by confronting Jagan with his statewide 'Meekosam(for you) Yatra'.
Speaking to TNM, Professor G Haragopal, a senior academic and political commentator says, "Chandrababu Naidu coming to power is an example; yatras do give a sense of mobilisation and interaction which definitely helps parties."
Jagan's journey on foot began with the self-admitted goal of unseating Naidu but has gradually taken advantage of the fight for Special Category Status.
"Jagan's Special Category Status slogan has slowly become the slogan of the state, and it has become the epicenter of the issue now. Everyone, including the TDP is participating in it," says Professor Haragopal.
As the Leader of the Opposition, Jagan has also launched a no holds barred attack on Naidu, accusing him of misgovernence and not fulfilling his poll promises.
Professor Haragopal also points out that while manifestos and promises of any party have never really transformed into votes in India, "sometimes people do believe in them".
Media reports in the state also suggest that Jagan's yatra is seeing patronage from rural areas.
While Jagan has a self-professed 1000 km left to cross and five coastal districts to meet, CM Naidu is preparing for a party congregation in Vijayawada.
On the other hand, Pawan Kalyan, has announced his own 'Grama Swarajya Yatra' in a bid to do it alone in the 2019 elections.