Congress has very low expectations of performing well in the June 12 by-elections

The systematic pursuing of cases against YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy, followed by the just concluded three days of intensive grilling by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) — which received wall to wall coverage on Telugu channels in the State — had already set the stage for a groundswell of sympathy for him. His arrest on Sunday evening and the announcement that his mother Vijayamma — widow of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy, who died in a helicopter crash in 2009 — will take charge from Monday of the campaign for the coming by-elections to one Lok Sabha seat and 18 Assembly constituencies can only add to the highly surcharged atmosphere in Andhra Pradesh. Already, the entire State is in a state of high alert, while the capital Hyderabad has been heavily barricaded to prevent a possible breakdown of law and order, arising out of rival shows of strength by Jagan loyalists and Congress supporters.

Why was Mr. Reddy arrested? A senior Congress functionary told The Hindu on Sunday said that the situation in the State had so spun out of control that it “did not have any political strategy” for the State, but that “the decision that Jagan would have to be arrested was taken a while back.” The logic is that as the Congress has very low expectations of performing well in the June 12 polls, it should focus instead on keeping its flock together: the arrest of Mr. Reddy, it is felt, will deter those Congress MLAs and Ministers sympathetic to his cause from following him out of the party, and prevent the collapse of the Kiran Kumar Reddy government. It will also give the government, the Congress feels, time to dismantle Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy's empire. The Congress' current limited objective is to keep its government in Andhra Pradesh intact till 2014, when both the State and general elections will be held, in the hope that it can recover some ground by then. An indication that the party feels the situation in the State is hopeless for it, Congress source said, is that the general secretary in charge of A.P., Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, has been focussing his energies on the other State he is in charge of — Jammu and Kashmir.

But the Congress' political opponents are pointing out that if Mr. Reddy had misused his position when his father was Chief Minister to amass wealth disproportionate to his means, so had many other YSR loyalists, now in the Congress, with some in the present State government. The logical follow-up to the arrest of Mr. Reddy will be the interrogation by the CBI — and the possible arrest — of these others.

Apart from that, if the YSR Congress sweeps the June 12 by-polls — as it may well do — it could lead to an exodus from the Congress to it, as Congressmen position themselves for 2014 by switching to the winning side. In 2009, the Congress won a whopping 33 Lok Sabha seats from the State; now, the party is fighting on two fronts — one trying to stem the growing popularity of the YSR Congress, largely in the Andhra region, while trying to figure out how to dampen the agitation in Telengana.

The only trick the Congress has up its sleeve is the fact it got actor — and Kapu leader — Chiranjeevi to merge his party, Praja Rajyam, with the Congress recently. Congress sources say Chiranjeevi is likely to be included in the Union Cabinet when the next reshuffle takes place. That may be a signal to the Kapus of Andhra Pradesh, but what of the Reddys, the mainstay of the Congress? For the Congress, there are troubled times ahead in the beleaguered State of Andhra Pradesh.