Andhra Pradesh

`If elections are held today, Jagan will be CM’

Actor, film critic and social activist Mahesh Kathi has been travelling across Andhra Pradesh, trying to get a sense of which way the wind is blowing two weeks ahead of elections. Kathi was banned from entering Hyderabad for six months last year after his controversial interpretation of the Ramayana upset Hindu right-wing sentiments. Kathi who was also a Bigg Boss contestant, has now identified 24 candidates of the YSR Congress – 17 contesting for Assembly and seven for the Lok Sabha – who he thinks  deserve to be lawmakers and plans to campaign for them, without using the party platform.

Mahesh Kathi spoke to T S Sudhir of about Jaganmohan Reddy as a challenger, the odds Chandrababu Naidu is against and the impact Pawan Kalyan could make this election. Andhra Pradesh goes to polls on 11 April. 

Q. You have spent a considerable amount of time on the ground in Andhra Pradesh. Who do you think would win if elections were to be held today? 

Mahesh Kathi : If elections were held today, I see Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress clearly ahead, getting 3-5 per cent vote more than the Telugu Desam. What is working in his favour is the anti-incumbency against Chandrababu Naidu and the promises that the TDP government failed to deliver. Naidu’s U-turns and W-turns on Special Category Status and the fact that beyond under construction structures, nothing tangible is visible in Amaravati also help Jagan.

Naidu was banking on two flagship achievements – Polavaram and Amaravati. While there is something to show on the irrigation project, there is little beyond the Buddha statue in Amaravati. The problem is the dreams he showed to the people, raised everyone’s hopes and so there is disappointment. 

Three, there is a lot of negativity against the district incharge ministers and MLAs. Janmabhoomi committees which are staffed with TDP cadre are seen as having made money because of which corruption is felt at the local level. 

Q. Do you then see a surge taking place for the YSRC in the next two weeks or has it plateaued? 

Mahesh Kathi : It has plateaued to a large extent. They just need to hold this edge for now and that will see them through. There was a surge in the closing stages of Jagan’s padyatra but the welfare sops Naidu announced recently has worked for TDP because it is fresh in everyone’s memory. 

Q. Chandrababu Naidu is focusing quite a bit on the KCR factor about how Jagan is in league with the Telangana chief minister. He talks about how a vote for Jagan will mean Andhra will be controlled by Hyderabad. How is the KCR factor playing out on the ground?

Mahesh Kathi : It is making no impact because the people are not bothered about it. Only Naidu is making KCR relevant in the election.

Q. But the reverse worked well in the Telangana assembly elections last year when KCR made Naidu a factor, telling people of Telangana that a vote for Congress-TDP will mean Telangana will be ruled from Amaravati. He exploited the fear factor to his advantage.

Mahesh Kathi : In that election campaign, Naidu was physically present in Telangana. He was campaigning for the alliance. But KCR is neither physically present in Andhra nor is he saying anything about these elections. Jagan too is not talking about KCR. 

Q. Another narrative that is playing out from the TDP camp is that Jagan in power will mean goons from Rayalaseema will take over. 

Mahesh Kathi : TDP used this narrative in 2014 and it worked then. It won’t work again now. Jagan has grown as a leader since then. With his padyatra particularly, he has struck a chord with people. Earlier he was perceived as arrogant, now he is seen as grounded and humble. Moreover, it is a bit ironic since Naidu also hails from Chittoor in the Rayalaseema region.

Q. This time, there is a third axis in Andhra politics in the form of Pawan Kalyan. If one analyses his campaign, he has largely focused on north coastal Andhra, extending up till West Godavari district.

Mahesh Kathi : Yes. He is limited to these five districts. That is also where his caste strength lies. Look at the choice of assembly segments he is contesting from. It is a giveaway as both are Kapu-dominated, which is his community. Gajuwaka has 60000 Kapus while Bhimavaram has 65000 Kapus. 

Look at his ticket distribution. In the 26 general seats in East and West Godavari districts, Jana Sena has given 16 seats to Kapu candidates. Kapus have been fielded in all four unreserved Lok Sabha seats in the two districts.

Also of the 175 assembly seats, Pawan is at best focusing only on about 45-50 constituencies. These are carefully chosen seats with significant Kapu voter presence.

Q. Do you see him emerging as the HD Kumaraswamy of Andhra Pradesh in the event of a hung verdict?

Mahesh Kathi : Given that he is focusing on only about 50 seats, he will have a winning chance in just about 15-20 seats. I don’t see him getting into double digits. 

Q. What happens in that case? Do you see Pawan staying on in politics full time, sitting in the opposition?

Mahesh Kathi : As per his affidavit, Pawan Kalyan has taken personal loans worth Rs 33.72 crores from three production houses and five individuals. I think these are an advance for films. If his political venture does not result in success as in power, he will go back to films.

Q. For many Kapus, there is also a sense of deja vu. A decade ago, there was a great deal of hope and enthusiasm when Pawan’s elder brother Chiranjeevi entered politics. But within a few years, he merged his Praja Rajyam party with the Congress, went back to films and now he is completely out of politics. Is the Chiranjeevi factor playing on the minds ahead of elections. 

Mahesh Kathi : Sure. Along with hope, Chiranjeevi also brought both political and financial setback for many Kapus during that period of time. Many neo-rich Kapus invested in Praja Rajyam, burning their fingers. The collective capital of many Kapus vanished which is why those above 35 years of age who have seen that period of time, are not so enthusiastic about Pawan. They are afraid he may do a Chiranjeevi. It is only the youth who are enthusiastic about Pawan.

Q. So where will this Kapu vote go if it does not go the Jana Sena way?

Mahesh Kathi : The TDP has given many seats to Kapus and also set up the Kapu Corporation. So Naidu has managed to pacify them to an extent. YSRC has gained many Kapu leaders in the last few days. So the vote will be split between the two parties. 

Mahesh Kathi recorded this analysis for our sister YouTube channel, Filter Kaapi

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