Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha Election battle, YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy and ruling Telegu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu are locked in a direct battle in Andhra Pradesh, which is going to polls for the first time since the state's bifurcation to create a separate Telangana state. Reddy, who is seen as the most likely alternative to Naidu's government spoke to CNN-News 18 about his poll plank, the rival parties in fray, and why he thinks neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Congress chief Rahul Gandhi will be able to impact election results in Andhra Pradesh. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.
Your father YS Reddy was the tallest leader of united Andhra Pradesh. He governed the state for 5 years. Today as you fight to claim his legacy, would you father have allowed bifurcation of Andhra?
My father was the chief minister for 5 years 3 months. He passed away within 100 days of winning his second term. When he passed away things changed. In 2009, – Telangana Rashtra Samiti of K. Chandrashekar Rao, TDP of Naidu were in an alliance – the Congress was fighting alone. So it was a fight against bifurcation. He strongly believed in developing Telangana. He did so in five years. Under my father's government, the feeling that the Telangana region was being neglected was dispelled. He launched irrigation projects and welfare schemes in Telangana; he was connected to the people of Telangana. Even though the TRS-TDP were in alliance and he was alone in 2009, the majority of seats were won by the Congress under my father’s leadership.
At the time of bifurcation, there was talk that Andhra Pradesh would have no resource constraint, but it wasn’t the case. Do you think Andhra was cheated in this bifurcation?
No one believed that Andhra would have revenues. Since people believed that we wouldn't have sufficient revenues and opportunities, special status to the state of Andhra was promised during the bifurcation. This was the first time in the history of the country that the state demanding a separate state took away the capital. This was acknowledged. The capital constitutes the majority of the revenues for any state. Be it Bombay, Chennai or Hyderabad. Also job opportunities. Our children graduate from schools and colleges and are attracted to big cities to earn their livelihood. So because of these factors, they knew bifurcation would not lead to justification for Andhra Pradesh. Which is why on the floor of the House it was promised by Congress and BJP and all other parties in Parliament as a pre-condition that Andhra would be given the special status.
The Centre says that the special status is not constitutionally viable and that a financially equivalent package was given. Modi said that the Centre gave much more than asked in special status and that the Andhra Pradesh chief minister acknowledged the package, but took a U-turn as they couldn’t utilise the package funds and failed to develop the state.
It’s the Parliament's promise. The Parliament broke the state with a precondition that special status would be given to the state. In Lok Sabha, people who were against bifurcations were suspended from the house. In Rajya Sabha, the entire opposition and ruling parties acknowledged that injustice was done and accepted special category status. Who is Chandrababu Naidu to accept anything? How is it fair for someone else to say that they have given a package when later the chief minister said on record that he hadn't received anything.
So who is lying?
You should find that out. The fact is none of the people have the moral right to cheat our people. It is Andhra Pradesh that has been betrayed. Today kids who graduate need jobs. Special category ensures special incentives and tax exemptions. Income tax and GST exemptions will bring in more businesses like hostels and hospitals and factories. Why would anyone set up business in Andhra versus a Bangalore, Chennai or Mumbai which has infrastructure readily available?
You have to be on the right side of Centre if you come to power to get your demands met. Will you comfortable dealing with Narendra Modi or with doing business with Congress?
We don't trust any of them. There's an element of mistrust. Both have cheated and betrayed our state. Congress went against the majority sentiment and divided our state. It didn't incorporate the special status promise into the Andhra Pradesh reorganisation Act. Hasn't Congress betrayed us by not doing so? The BJP being in power promised in Parliament that they would grant special category status. They had it in their manifesto. Modi in Tirupati spoke of special category. Both have betrayed state. People mistrust national parties. Once we have the numbers we will put pressure on the central government to incorporated the special status into the Act. We could have approached the Supreme Court.
How do you rate Modi’s performance?
Maybe Modi has done well. I don’t know. Post the (Pulwama) attack he has emerged as a strong-willed leader. But as far as Andhra Pradesh is concerned, both Modi and Rahul do not score well here.
So you’re saying Modi is not a factor in Andhra Pradesh?
Both Modi and Rahul are non-factors. Both have betrayed Andhra Pradesh on special category status.
You have been in a perpetual election mode for last 3 years crisscrossing the state. What is the difference between 2014 and 2019? What is giving you confidence this time?
What happened in 2014 was Chandrababu Naidu had no anti-incumbency on him as he wasn’t in govt. People believed in his false promises, in his manifesto. People believed he would deliver better as he was experienced. The Modi euphoria around the country also helped him. Pawan Kalyan factor also helped him. All these factors helped him get that 1 percent gain. We got 44.5 percent vote share and their share was just one percent higher than what we got.
You were at your weakest when you lost the bypolls in Nandyal which was a prestige battle. You also accepted that Naidu had hit you hard. From that day in August 2017 to now what has changed?
By-elections is always a different story. The ruling party always has a huge advantage over opposition.
But that didn’t happen in Uttar Pradesh
No, it's a foregone fact weather we accept it or not. The kind of police support that the ruling party has during a bypoll, for one state, for one seat, for one Assembly seat. Imagine the kind of influence the police will have, the influence money could have, the influence the people's mindset would have. (People may think) that even though they don't vote for the TDP, TDP will still continue to be in power even if they vote against it. All these factors play a huge role when it's the ruling party versus the Opposition party (in by-elections).
Do you accept that there was something amiss in your organisation, there was disconnect between the MLAs and the workers
That was just one seat. Chandrababu Naidu took our MLA gave him a ministry and they were fighting against us in that particular seat. No sorry, their relative was fighting in Nandyal after our MLA who switched to their side, passed away. So we fielded a new candidate.
So let’s talk about the mass exodus that we witnessed. The YSRCP won 67 seats in 2014 and went down as 20 MLAs shifted. We’re seeing a lot of homecomings again
"It’s a mockery of democracy. We won 67 seats and lost the opportunity to form govt by 21 seats. The margin between win and loss was 21. We were 67 they won 100. Had 20 MLAs come to us we would have been in government and they would have been in opposition. How can anyone mock democracy like this and still get away with it? Huge amount of money was exchanged. Each MLA was paid Rs 20-30 crores. It didn’t stop there. They were given assurance they wouldn't be disqualified. Four of the poached MLAs were made ministers. How can someone from your party without being disqualified or re-elected become ministers in another party?
Was it money power?
Not just money power, look at the abuse of Speaker’s office. Look at the abuse of ruling party’s power.
Interestingly in 2014, Naidu had an alliance with the BJP and Pawan Kalyan which meant they got extra votes. This time there’s no alliance. How does it help you?
There’s a tacit understanding between the two. When Pawan Kalyan filed his nomination there were a lot of TDP flags flying around. The way Naidu distributed tickets also showed very clearly that he wanted to damage our interests rather than be a neutral party. There is a tacit understanding between the two. It’s a vote against anti-incumbency. Everyone who was in favor of Pawan Kalyan, last election voted for TDP. Even though there is a tacit understanding between the two it will only split the votes that were in favor of TDP earlier.
You’ve also been accused of having a tacit understanding with KCR and the BJP.
Both of them are insignificant in my state. There's nothing they can do in my state for a tacit understanding to happen. There is a broad understanding that both these states will come together and work together. I'm thankful to KCR that he has come forward and pledged his support for special category. We have 25 MPs in my state. If by god's will we win majority of these seats and they win a huge majority of seats in Telangana, just imagine 17 and 25 MPs coming together as one bloc.
So is it a federal front?
Whatever you name it. It’s 42 MPs coming together and demanding special category status for AP. This promise was made in Parliament and is now being mocked.
Do you plan to go beyond Andhra if you win?
Absolutely not. I’m happy in my state and I want to serve my people to the best of my ability.
Your father sent the maximum contingent and formed the UPA and UPA II in many ways. Today as you stand against the Congress do you remember your grooming days?
I wasn’t a politician then. I didn’t know anyone in Congress. I became an MP for the first time in 2009 and after that within 100 days my father passed away. I was neither an MLA nor an MP when my father was chief minister. I never spoke to a Congress leader, nor was I in Hyderabad. So there's no political connection to any of these people.
Do you think you father’s legacy should have come naturally to you?
Everything said and done my father was a tall leader. Naturally he was a man who had a lot of credibility. When he promised something, he always delivered. It has been over nine years now that people have seen me as a politician and they see a lot of my father in me. In 2014, everyone kept asking me about Naidu's promise to waive off all agricultural loans – all of Rs 87,612 crore worth of loans – saying why don’t you make the same promise? I refused. I went on stage at every meeting and said that the state level bankers’ union said no state govt has the resources to waive off such a massive loan. I was candid enough to say that this thing that Naidu promised was false. He is cheating you. I may have lost an election because of that but today my credibility is much stronger than his.
On October 22, 2009 you met Sonia Gandhi and after that meeting you declared that you had full faith and trust in her and that you would abide by any decision she took. A week after that Rosaiah was made CM. Why do you think you candidature wasn’t acceptable to the high command? There was another meeting between your family and Sonia soon after. What happened in that meeting?
The first meeting was 6 months before… It was at the time that Rosaiah ji was to be made chief minister. I seconded his name and the second meeting you’re talking about was 6 months after all this. I had vowed at the site where my father's helicopter crashed, that I would visit every household whose member has given their lives for my father. It was 15-20 days after his death that I happened to be at the crash site on a hillock. There was a huge condolence meeting at the foothill of the hillock. I still see parts of the crashed chopper when I think about the incident. As we were walking down, we discussed how so many people died of shock over my father's death – some died of shock, some committed suicide – the number was huge. 700-800 people passed away. In that condolence meeting I said I would visit every house who gave up their life for my father because they were family to me. It was an emotional, spur of the moment decision. Somehow the Congress high command did not want me to do that.
I don’t know. Ask them. I met Ahmed Patel ji at least 6-7 times in 6 months and Sonia ji at least 3 times and every time I asked for permission they asked me to postpone it. So after 6 months of waiting…
You undertook that yatra…?
I pushed… I lost myself as a human being. This was a vow I took at my father's crash site and these people did not want me to do it. For six months I tried to convince them and then when they didn't concede, I pushed with my padyatra. The Congress stopped MPs and MLAs from attending my Odarpu yatra. The journey took that name. There were houses all over the state and a number of villages between the houses we visited. We were stopped in every village. There were statues of my father being erected in every village. I would start travelling at 3-4 am in the morning to get to a village and even at that hour we found people waiting.
Was the Congress leadership threatened by your popularity? The Odarpu yatra was a significant step in your political career.
It's destiny. I just chose to do what was right. People visiting me, expressing their solidarity it’s all part of the journey.
There were criminal cases against you. Your mother famously said that the harder you hit a ball on the ground, the higher it will bounce.
How difficult is it to file a case (against you) when you’re in opposition. I was an honorable man till my father was alive. I was honorable till I was in Congress. My father and I became less honorable after I left the Congress. TDP and Congress leaders are petitioners in that case. It's nothing but abuse of power. See the dates, see the petitioners, and see how the TDP supported the Congress during those 5 years. Chandrababu Naidu issued a whip to protect Kiran Kumar Reddy’s government even though he was the principal Opposition leader. That was the understanding with which they functioned – to hit somebody just because they are their political rivals. How fair is it? How difficult is it to file cases against someone fighting against the Centre and state?
Would you call it political vendetta?
Absolutely, it is political vendetta. As far as Naidu is concerned, you should ask him how he’s gotten away with having 17 criminal cases against him. And how is it that a chief minister caught on camera with black money, distributing money to buy MLAs could get away without resigning.
Can there be different rules of engagement with the next generation of Congress
I don’t have any vengeance or grievance against anybody. I believe in god and vengeance isn’t for me. I have forgiven them in my heart. As far as I’m concerned my state is my priority and special category status is my priority.
What do you think will happen on 23 May in Andhra and at the Centre?
Only God can decide that. I can’t be the judge of that. If god and the people so will, hopefully I will be Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh soon.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Apr 06, 2019 15:01:37 IST