Nandyal bypolls results: Chandrababu Naidu's thumping win could thwart YSR Jagan Mohan's 2019 aspirations
During the 2014 elections, voters had told the author that they would vote for Naidu because the bifurcated state of Andhra needed an experienced administrator.
In the run-up to the by-elections in Nandyal assembly constituency in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh on 23 August, Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, on more than one occasion, indulged in a bodyline attack. The Leader of the Opposition, in his desperation to win the bypoll, had clearly decided to throw caution to the winds and reduced the political battle into a bitter personal rivalry with chief minister Chandrababu Naidu.
"Naidu should be shot dead for cheating people of Andhra Pradesh and his false promises and double speak on every issue. Naidu made so many promises to farmers, minorities, women, unemployed youth but failed to deliver. He is treacherous. He is like a Kaliyuga demon," he said. At another meeting, Jagan said there was nothing wrong if "someone like Naidu was hanged for his wrongs".
Jagan's irresponsible rant earned him a FIR that was filed at the behest of the Election Commission. The rap on the knuckles was apt because his utterances betrayed a fondness for a kangaroo court. The Nandyal result showed Jagan had shot himself in the foot with his virulence. If he had to pin the blame for the humiliating loss on anyone, it would be himself. The margin of over 27,000 votes is a story in itself, that the voters of Nandyal have rejected Jagan and his brand of politics.
On the face of it, Jagan got the basics right. He was accessible, parking himself in Nandyal during the campaign. Many thought he would be able to tap the resentment in the Rayalaseema region over Naidu's over-emphasis on the Amaravati capital region and neglecting other parts of the bifurcated state. Additionally, Nandyal has traditionally been a Congress seat, with the TDP an occasional winner.
In its postmortem, like is the case with most political parties, the YSR Congress is expected to point to money power and abuse of official machinery by the TDP. It is true that the ruling party pumped in goodies in the form of roads, borewells, water pumps, pensions just before the poll was announced. But then both parties, according to reports from the ground, distributed money.
The YSR Congress internally may also bemoan the choice of its candidate, Shilpa Mohan Reddy, a turncoat from the TDP at the last minute. It showed the paucity of talent in its ranks and pointed to the fact that in faction-hit Rayalaseema region, political parties are unable to look beyond candidates hailing from powerful feudal families.
The problem with the YSRC is no leader has the courage to tell Jagan that the king is naked. That while aggression is acceptable, personal attacks especially of the vicious kind are not. During the 2014 elections, voters had told the author that they would vote for Naidu because the bifurcated state of Andhra needed an experienced administrator. They wanted someone sober, not someone who would fly off the handle. Three years ago, Jagan lost because of the corruption taint on him and his lack of sobriety and experience. Nandyal is proof he still has not learnt his lesson.
The result is a setback to the YSRC that was banking on Nandyal to give it momentum for 2019. Jagan is slated to follow in his late father's footsteps by undertaking a padyatra from Kadapa to north coastal Andhra, starting October. The takeaway from Nandyal is that while Jagan attracts the crowds, they do not quite translate into votes. Nandyal is a reminder that people expect him to be not just a leader, but a statesman as well.
In hindsight, a wiser strategy would have been to give the TDP a walkover. It would have made Jagan look good, as someone who respected the late Bhuma Nagi Reddy, whose demise caused the byelection. That he was willing to let bygones be bygones even though the Bhuma family defected lock, stock and barrel to the TDP earlier this year. By deciding to fight the election, Jagan went for broke, with his party treating the result as a referendum on three years of Naidu rule. After the verdict, the party has been left with egg on its face.
Usually, a high polling percentage is seen as bad news for the ruling party. But here even though Nandyal registered a voter turnout of over 79 percent, the EVM was largely pressed for the TDP bicycle. More importantly, Jagan would need to beef up his party's intel-gathering because it could not pick up such a groundswell of support for the TDP. It shows his own rank and file does not have its ear to the ground.
Twenty one MLAs defected from the YSRC to the TDP this year and there is no guarantee, more may not knock on Naidu's door now.
Not that Naidu covered himself with glory during the campaign. By questioning those who vote for the YSRC as to why they avail of government schemes, Naidu forgot he is chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, not of the TDP.
But the results will give him enough reason to cheer. He would use it to claim that the TINA (There is no Alternative) factor is at play. In fact, a better slogan for the TDP would be to say Andhra has the TINO factor, the acronym expanding to 'There is Naidu Only'.
The BJP for some months, has internally been mulling a divorce from the TDP ahead of 2019. It would be forced to put any such discussion into cold storage now. At a time when Amit Shah is looking southwards to pick up a rich harvest for the NDA, the Nandyal conquest sets at rest any doubts about Naidu's pinch-hitting abilities at election time.
Jagan has engaged Prashant Kishor to advise him in the run-up to 2019. Kishor's challenge will now be to repackage him, by ironing out the creases. Post-Nandyal, the assignment has only got more tough.