When KT Rama Rao met YS Jaganmohan Reddy at his Lotus Pond residence in Hyderabad in mid-January to discuss the possibility of the YSR Congress joining the Federal Front, alarm bells went up in the YSRC strategy team. The KTR-Jagan meeting had taken place following a phone conversation between Jagan and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.
“It was a blunder to meet KTR,” a senior member of the YSRC strategy team was to tell me later.
This was because they could immediately predict Chandrababu Naidu’s next move. The Telugu Desam chief almost immediately took a leaf out of KCR’s book.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti president in the run-up to the assembly elections in Telangana in December had gone to town, claiming that a vote for the Congress-TDP alliance would mean Telangana will be ruled from Amaravati. KCR had played on the anti-Naidu sentiment still prevalent in many parts of Telangana because the TDP supremo was seen as opposed to bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh and his Andhra government had subsequently had several run-ins with its Telangana counterpart over matters related to irrigation. The fact that Naidu was actively campaigning against the TRS worked in KCR’s favour. He made the election one between him and Naidu.
The ploy worked. The TRS won 88 of the 119 seats in the Telangana assembly and the TDP won in just two seats.
“A vote for YSR Congress is like casting your vote for TRS and Andhra will be ruled by Telangana,” was Naidu’s new narrative with the TDP alleging that KCR had donated Rs 1000 crore to the YSRC kitty towards election expenditure.
Which is why YSRC strategists ensured a follow-up meeting with KCR, which was to follow the KTR photo-op, never happened.
The TDP camp saw in the YSRC-TRS tango an opportunity to play on the hurt in Andhra that the division of the state had been unfair to them. The TDP plan was to paint Jagan as a betrayer to Andhra interests.
The YSRC hit back by talking of TDP’s past, pointing out that it had allied with the TRS in 2009, crossed swords with it over division of Andhra Pradesh, sought an alliance with in the run-up to the Telangana assembly elections and when it did not materialise, ran an anti-KCR campaign along with the Congress. It questioned how is it one set of rules for Naidu and another for Jagan.
But to guard against further damage, the YSRC team ensured that Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi who is close friends with Jagan did not come to Andhra Pradesh to campaign for the YSR Congress. Owaisi and Jagan go back a long way, both are alumni of the Hyderabad Public School and the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy was rather fond of the MIM chief.
The reasons were two-fold. Owaisi is now an ally of the TRS and therefore his presence in Andhra would be construed as KCR-sponsored, giving fresh ammunition to Naidu.
“We believe 30-40 per cent Muslims will not vote for Jagan because of the perception that there is an understanding between the BJP and the YSR Congress. But the flip side is that many BJP supporters will vote for YSRC, just to spite Chandrababu Naidu who they believe backstabbed Narendra Modi. If Owaisi campaigns for Jagan, the YSRC is likely to lose that BJP vote, even if it is a small percentage,” explained a member of the YSRC war room.
But things again took a negative turn in the last week of March when Jagan asked what was wrong in taking TRS support to fight for the cause of Andhra Pradesh, fuelling the debate again. The YSRC strategists would have been happier with a more nuanced response.
“What is wrong in taking the support of the TRS to fight for Special Category status (SCS) for Andhra Pradesh?” asked Jagan. “We have 25 MPs and Telangana has 17. If the TRS strengthens our hands, we can fight the Centre effectively for our rights. It is unbecoming of a CM and a party president to talk like this. Naidu is stooping to make baseless allegations against me. He is unable to ask for votes on the basis of development he has done in the state.”
This week saw the YSRC pay back the TDP in the same coin. With a view to drive a wedge between Naidu and the Congress (the two are part of the anti-Modi brigade at the national level though they do not have an alliance in Andhra Pradesh), Jagan made a tactical move, saying he has forgiven the Congress and its leadership.
For close to a decade now, the YSR family has believed it was treated shabbily by the Congress top leadership after Rajasekhara Reddy’s death in the chopper crash in September 2009 and the cases that were slapped on Jagan thereafter were an act of vengeance against him for having reportedly demanded the CM’s post after YSR.
Jagan’s olive branch hints at the possibility of a rapproachement with the Congress, more so since Rahul Gandhi is on record saying his party will accord SCS if it comes to power at the Centre. Jagan has maintained he will support any party – the Congress or the BJP – that agrees to give SCS to Andhra. In the context of Andhra politics, the YSRC thinking is that this move to send feelers to Rahul Gandhi through media interactions will end up leaving Naidu out in the cold.