At a time of irreparable loss, the family of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy needs sympathy and support from the Congress party and the people of Andhra Pradesh. But what middle-level State leaders of the party have put on display in the hours following confirmation of the death of YSR is not emotional support but political feudalism, an unseemly display of calculated and self-serving fealty to the First Family of the State. Even before YSR got his hero’s burial, pre-emptive efforts were on to have his son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy accepted as the next Chief Minister, with more than 120 of the party’s 154 MLAs pressed into service as signatories to a petition backing this demand. India is no stranger to dynastic politics at the Centre and in several States, with the top jobs and privileges in certain parties reserved for family members, however inexperienced or unqualified they might be. YSR worked his way up the political ladder, first as an intrepid factional politician and then as a mass leader and strategist. His 36-year-old son, who until recently insisted that he was a businessman and not a politician, is a political novice with only the experience of managing a media organisation to back his case for heading the government. His formal entry into politics came during the 2009 Lok Sabha election, when he was elected from the Kadapa constituency. That however is of no concern to a support base that has prospered solely on the basis of allegiance to YSR and suddenly finds itself without its benefactor.
However, the campaign to anoint Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy as Chief Minister is not all about the feudal spirit. In the five years of YSR rule, some big business interests benefited hugely from concessions handed out in a corruption-ridden environment; these have figured in the documented allegations levelled by Opposition leader N. Chandrababu Naidu against the Congress government. What is clear is that vested interests that have wielded enormous influence in the State administration and have much to lose would like to see continuity in the ways of governance. In their eyes, Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy is the best bet to preserve the status quo; anyone else in the Chief Minister’s chair would mean taking a chance. The Congress high command cannot be oblivious to these facts on the ground. Ironically, a party that has long been criticised for imposing Chief Ministers from above, ignoring the views of the legislature party and undermining the democratic process, may need to do so once more — in the democratic and development interests of South India’s largest State and to set a no-nonsense example. The question is: will it do it?