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A presidential-style race in Andhra Pradesh

Representational image.

Representational image.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Assembly campaign has been personalised, with Chandrababu Naidu and Jaganmohan Reddy trading charges

The Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh have been reduced to a vote simulating a provincial presidential binary, with people having to make a choice between a young challenger, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, who has been waiting in the wings for quite some time to occupy the Chief Minister’s post, and a seasoned, never-say-die, time-tested incumbent, N. Chandrababu Naidu.

In a way it is a repeat of what happened in the 2014 elections. At that time it was a keen contest between Mr. Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP)-led alliance versus Mr. Reddy’s YSR Congress Party. Mr. Naidu romped home with a margin of less than 2 percentage points. Among the many factors then were a strategic alliance Mr. Naidu had stitched up with the BJP as well as incremental support from actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party (JSP). Hurt by the way the State had been bifurcated — it had left them without a capital city that used to generate revenue of ₹60,000 crore — voters opted for a leader with vast administrative experience and who had transformed Hyderabad into an IT hub.

This time too the electoral battle is essentially between Mr. Naidu and Mr. Reddy, and if the results throw up a cliffhanger, the JSP along with the Left could prove to be deciding factors. The Congress and the BJP (which is no longer an ally of the TDP) are in the fray too but unable to make any headway as people are angry with Congress blaming it for “unfair bifurcation”’and the BJP for denying the State Special Category Status (SCS).

The record and response

So will the magic of 2014 work for Mr. Naidu, given the fact that he has decided to go it alone? Will he be able to buck anti-incumbency? Will he be able to measure up to people’s expectations? In a recent interview, Mr. Naidu said he had done his best in a short time and in a challenging situation, having inherited a budget with a deficit of ₹16,000 crore and been faced with an “uncooperative Centre”. As much as 33,000 acres of land was acquired for a new State capital at Amaravati and ₹40,000 crore of infrastructural works initiated there. The Polavaram irrigation project, which is a lifeline for the State, is on track even though the Centre is yet to release ₹4,000 crore spent by his government. Mr. Naidu said that his government has also been able to attract big manufacturing industries (which includes South Korea’s Kia Motors) and ensured an economic growth rate of over 10%.

For farmers, he waived crop loans of ₹24,000 crore and came up with ‘Annadata Sukhibhava’, an economic support scheme for Annadata (farmers). Under the ‘Pasupu Kumkuma’ scheme, every woman registered with self-help groups has been given capital of ₹10,000. On the welfare front, a chain of Anna Canteens offers a meal ( ₹5) for the poor. Other measures include a hike in pensions for the elderly and widows to ₹2,000 and a scheme to build 30 lakh houses. Mr. Naidu’s campaign has focussed on showcasing these ‘achievements’ and targeting Mr. Reddy for his criminal cases (31), a slew of corruption cases filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and a ‘conspiracy’ with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the BJP to unseat him (Mr. Naidu).

In turn, Mr. Reddy too has focussed on corruption to corner Mr. Naidu. His counter-narrative touches on how this Pedda Manishi (elderly person) has turned governance into a money-making machine, allowing his MLAs to loot the State’s resources. In the name of land for the capital, Mr. Reddy alleges that the Chief Minister has turned it into a real estate business without building even a single permanent building there so far. He asks why Polavaram remains half complete. Mr. Reddy adds that banks have estimated a sum of over ₹80,000 crore for implementing a crop loan waiver, with nothing done so far.

All-important caste factor

Campaign rhetoric apart, elections in the State are all about caste and the capacity of different political parties to marshal their support. Mr. Naidu’s support base is among the numerically strong Backward Classes (BCs) besides his own influential Kamma community. Mr. Reddy has tried hard to breach the TDP’s vote base by giving more tickets to BCs this time besides, strengthening his vote among the Reddys, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities. Mr. Pawan Kalyan has a large following among his Kapu community. It is because of him that they had overwhelmingly voted for the TDP in the last elections. But now that the JSP is in the electoral fray — Mr. Reddy accuses it of backing the TDP — it has to be seen how it will affect the fortunes of the TDP and the YSRCP.

venkateshwarlu.k@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Jul 9, 2020 6:45:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-presidential-style-race-in-andhra-pradesh/article26737901.ece

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