Andhra Pradesh

Mission Mangalagiri

On the drawing board in the war room of the YSR Congress, a plan has been drawn up to target specific leaders of the Telugu Desam this election. The mission is a closely guarded secret, known only to a select few. But learnt that two constituencies on the YSRC radar are Mangalagiri and Tadipatri.

Mangalagiri is where Chandrababu Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh is fighting his first election while Tadpatri in Anantapur district has seen the hegemony of the JC Reddy family in Andhra politics. From 1985 to 2014, JC Diwakar Reddy won from Tadpatri without a break for the Congress party and passed on the baton to his brother JC Prabhakar Reddy in 2014, who too emerged victorious but on a TDP ticket. Prabhakar Reddy now wants to ensure a son-rise in Tadpatri with his son JC Asmith Reddy as the candidate. YSRC strategists want to bust the myth of Tadpatri being a JC bastion. 

Jaganmohan Reddy’s sister Sharmila on the campaign trail

Work on Mangalagiri has already begun. It started with Jaganmohan Reddy’s sister Sharmila starting her election campaign from Mangalagiri on Friday. Her narrative has been to poke fun at a promise that Naidu made in 2014.

“In 2014, Chandrababu’s slogan was if Babu comes to power, everyone will get jobs. The only person who has got a job is Lokesh and that too not one, not two but three ministries,” says Sharmila. Her barb is directed at Lokesh who chose not to contest an election, became an MLC and handles three important portfolios of Information Technology, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development in the Naidu cabinet. 

Naidu zeroed in on Mangalagiri for Lokesh, even though the TDP has not won the seat since 1985. But it was a seat the TDP saw as winnable because in 2014, Alla Ramakrishna Reddy of the YSR Congress had scraped through by just 12 votes over his TDP rival Ganji Chiranjeevi. The assumption was that since Mangalagiri is part of the Amaravati capital region, the electorate would have a vested interest to ensure status quo as far as the party in power is concerned. The TDP is also banking on Lokesh’s ability to connect with the young voters, to speak to the educated youth in their lingo. 

The TDP was also being brave. Reddy has been a thorn in the flesh for Naidu, filing a case in the cash-for-vote scam. In 2015, then TDP MLA Revanth Reddy was caught on camera allegedly bribing an independent MLA to vote for the TDP candidate in the MLC elections in Telangana. An audio conversation subsequently surfaced in which a voice, allegedly that of Naidu, is heard saying that all promises made by his men will be honoured. Ramakrishna Reddy has also been an opponent of the land pooling done by the government for the new capital region, that promises benefits to farmers giving up their land once Amaravati is fully developed. Lokesh wanted to prove a point politically by taking on Reddy. 

But the flip side is that in this constituency with 32000 votes of the weaver community (out of the total 2.68 lakh voters), many Padmashalis did not like the idea of an outsider from a forward community paratrooping into Mangalagiri. Chiranjeevi, the TDP candidate in 2014, hailed from the weaver community. 

Nara Lokesh reaching out to the weaver community

The Padmashali Seva Sangham petitioned Naidu to field a candidate from the weaver community in Mangalagiri, known for its textiles. TDP leader and former MLA Kamala Kandru switched allegiance to the YSRC, accusing Naidu of doing nothing for the Padmashali community.

It is a charge P Anuradha, TDP leader and former Mayor of Vijayawada, denies. Anuradha who is also a Padmashali, is a key member of the TDP campaign team in Mangalagiri. 

“Kamala’s exit will have zero impact on the community votes as she does not have a good name among the weavers. Two, SCs, Kapus, Yadavas are also in significant number in Mangalagiri. Three, if YSRC was so concerned about the weavers, they should have fielded a Padmashali candidate, why did they field Reddy. Four, we have given tickets to weavers in two constituencies in Anantapur district,” says Anuradha. 

Soon after Sharmila, the YSR Congress brought in veteran actor Mohan Babu to campaign in Mangalagiri. Mohan Babu, who was once a TDP MP, is known for his histrionics and quirky way of dialogue delivery and he accused the Naidu government of massive corruption. 

But all this bombardment does not mean the YSRC is confident that Lokesh will meet his Waterloo at Mangalagiri. 

“We will at least make sure he faces the heat,” says a strategist. 

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