If pre-poll surveys are to be believed, the game is well and truly over in Andhra Pradesh. The state's tech-savvy, hands-on Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu may as well pack up and leave. The surveys indicate that Naidu is losing the 11 April simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and Assembly seats in the state.
We are being led to believe that the runaway winner will be YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the 46-year-old honcho of the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), an offshoot of the nearly-decimated Congress in the state.
Surveys by India Today, Times Now and Republic TV have projected Lok Sabha seats ranging between 19 and 22 (of the state's 25) for YSRCP, leaving no more than three to six for Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and none for Congress and BJP. This might turn out to be true, except that this can also change in two weeks in the run up to polling.
The only thing that can be said with any conviction at this point is that there indeed is that odious spectre and unmitigated horror of ruling parties called anti-incumbency against Naidu to a degree that rattles him despite his record of good work. But even as he trumpets his achievements to get votes, he hopes the votes against him will be so hopelessly divided between YSRCP and actor Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena Party that TDP will walk away with seats.
Naidu may prove to be right but the question that begs an answer is: Will it happen sufficiently enough to ensure him a fourth term as Chief Minister?
The triangular fight is indeed unravelling a new phantasmagorical twist almost every day that could make and alter voter choices in the state's dreadfully caste-ridden society on 11 April. Some important issues at play are:
- Naidu's perceived love for his upper-caste Kammas which is angering vast sections;
- Jagan's clout among the other dominant upper-caste of Reddys;
- Pawan's influence in his backward Kapu community;
- Naidu's performance and populist gimmicks;
- Naidu's aggressively anti-Modi stand;
- Jagan's subtly pro-Modi posture, and;
- Jagan's record of corruption
How will these issues add or cancel each other in determining the final outcome is anybody's guess.
As psychologists would tell us, people believe what they would like to believe. Naidu's opponents are obviously tickled to death by the pre-poll projections, while his supporters believe pollsters have got it all muddled up. Nobody is surprised that Jagan is already strutting around with head in the clouds, believing that voting and counting are mere formalities before he takes oath as CM.
That's precisely what Naidu wants to stop. Though a victory for him is still possible, it doesn't look easy despite his many good points and sundry populist schemes.
For sure, lollypop schemes can work both ways. While those who benefit from a scheme may be overjoyed, those denied can turn against a party with even more vengeance than they would have if there was no allurement in the first place.
Naidu's also is a case of over-promising and under-delivering. A leader who makes 50 promises and makes good on only 30 may be seen as a better performer than one who belts out 100 assurances and delivers only 60, at the same rate of accomplishment. Naidu might have gotten away with unkept assurances on the strength of the ones he made good, and got himself a fourth chance to straighten things up. Many voters may, however, think of giving Jagan the first chance.
So, who is Jagan?
Jagan is the son of YS Rajasekhara Reddy (popular as YSR) who led Congress to a landslide victory, replacing Naidu as Chief Minister in 2004. With populism of a kind rarely seen before in Andhra Pradesh, YSR-a Christian-made himself a darling of all sections especially Reddys. He won the 2009 Assembly election, too, but died in a helicopter crash four months later.
Ditching Congress in 2011, Jagan became the head of the new party named after his father. With the popularity of his father and the vote banks of Congress transferred to him, Jagan has become a force multiplier in Andhra politics despite having nothing to show as an accomplishment of his own.
What gives Naidu sleepless nights is that in 2014, Jagan came dangerously close to him in terms of vote share. The YSRCP scored 44.12 percent votes and 67 seats in the Assembly against TDP's 44.45 percent and 101 seats. In the simultaneous Lok Sabha election, it had 45.38 percent votes and eight seats while TDP bagged 40.54 percent votes and 15 of the 25 seats. Naidu's alliance with the BJP and Pawan's campaign for him — Jana Sena didn't contest polls — helped TDP scrape through five years ago.
But BJP and Pawan are no longer with Naidu now. At the same time, election results can't be predicted by additions and subtractions of past vote shares.
Naidu is doing what he can. Besides showcasing his achievements, he harps on Telugu "self-respect" which he claims is at stake because of Jagan's covert nexus with Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR). Naidu is also in full cry against Jagan's corruption. By his own admission in the nomination-affidavit, Jagan said he has 31 criminal cases registered against him for offences, including, corruption and money-laundering.
Pawan may be the key
Considering all things, Pawan's Kapu community, significantly poised in at least 50 of the 175 Assembly constituencies, may tilt the final tally. But therein lies the rub: While Jana Sena might rob Naidu of the Kapu vote which helped him win in 2014, the actor could also take away the anti-TDP vote that would have otherwise gone to YSRCP.
Despite the surveys, game is still on in Andhra Pradesh where campaigning seems to be getting more vicious by the hour.
Author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: Mar 25, 2019 13:36:57 IST