The struggle for succeeding Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy as Chief Minister has begun in the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, with a large section of Ministers, MLAs and other leaders going all out to project his son and Kadapa MP, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, as his rightful political heir.

Even before Dr. Reddy's body was laid to rest on Friday evening, his loyalists worked overtime to promote the claims of 36-year-old Jagan Mohan Reddy. Many of them are either first-time MLAs or die-hard supporters of Dr. Reddy, and owe their positions to him.

The leaders launched a signature campaign and claimed that more than 120 out of the 154 Congress MLAs have thrown their weight behind Mr. Jagan Mohan Reddy.

However, they could not submit their petition to AICC general secretary in-charge of Andhra Pradesh M. Veerappa Moily, who was disinclined to entertain any such demand in the midst of a tragedy.

The campaign manifested even on Thursday afternoon, at a meeting of ministers in YSR's Cabinet convened by Chief Minister K. Rosaiah to adopt a condolence resolution.

The Ministers availed themselves of the opportunity to adopt a unanimous resolution to propose the candidature of Mr. Jagan Mohan Reddy for Chief Minister. They argued that Jagan, as he is popularly known, enjoyed the support of the masses and was acceptable to all sections, just like his father.

The initiative is now being taken forward by government chief whip Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, a YSR loyalist. He has taken the lead in convening an informal meeting of the Congress Legislature Party for Saturday to discuss the issue.

"It is necessary to elevate Jagan to the top post in order to take the message of YSR forward and to complete the pending irrigation projects," Mr. Vikramarka said, reasoning that when A.K. Antony and Omar Abdullah could become Chief Ministers in their late 30s, there was nothing wrong in choosing Jagan for the post.

Wary of AICC response

The leaders are, however, quite conscious and wary of the response of the AICC to such a campaign. For, similar lobbying by other leaders in the past has been frowned upon.

Pradesh Congress Committee president D. Srinivas and Union Minister S. Jaipal Reddy are among the contenders for the top post. Party seniors who are opposed to Jagan's candidature were reluctant to air their views at this juncture and are biding their time.

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