YS Rajasekhara Reddy and I were flying over Eluru and our next stop was Gannavaram airport at Vijayawada. This was during the election campaign in April 2009.
“What would you say is your biggest strength that gives you the confidence that people will give you a second chance and not bring Chandrababu Naidu back to power?” I asked, half expecting him to launch into speech mode, talking about all the schemes that his government has launched since 2004.
“Our biggest strength is Chandrababu Naidu,” YSR replied, pausing deliberately to savour my puzzled reaction. “His lack of credibility is our biggest plus. Whatever he says will not be believed by the people. That makes our job easy,” he chuckled, a typical YSR one, enjoying the joke at the expense of his most bitter political foe. It was a political brownie point that YSR loved to repeat.
A decade later, his two children Jaganmohan Reddy and Sharmila along with political strategist Prashant Kishor dipped into this YSR gem to target Naidu. The idea was to ridicule the Telugu Desam chief as U-turn Babu (a reference to his U-turns on the contentious issue of Special Category Status), tell Naidu no one trusts him, mock him by bidding goodbye to him, to indicate he is losing power soon.
This thought crystallised in the form of catchy slogans that were made to go viral through efficient use of social media. The first one `Ninnu Nammam Babu‘ (we will not believe you Babu) was an offshoot of YSR-speak and riled the Andhra chief minister.
The second one that was released closer to the elections was intended to create an impression that the clock was ticking for Naidu and that his time was up. `Bye Bye Babu’ was splashed all over Andhra Pradesh, with Sharmila in particular repeating it at every public meeting.
To drive home the point of Naidu’s promises lacking credibility, his inability to fulfil his 2014 promise of providing a job to a member of every family came in handy. It was contrasted with Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh who got three ministries in the Andhra government to look after, despite not being elected as an MLA and choosing to be an MLC. The dripping sarcasm with which Sharmila pointed this out, found an instant connect with the people, especially unemployed youth and their families.
The messaging was that if Andhra had to get jobs and other financial goodies, its voters needed to vote Jagan a chance. The theme song of `Ravali Jagan, Kavali Jagan‘ (Jagan should come, we want Jagan) that clocked 22 million views on You Tube helped carry that messaging into every smartphone.
By the time, the TDP got into reactive mode with the slogan `Babu Malli Meere Raavali‘ (Babu, you should come back), the battle for the mindspace of the voter had been half won. 23 May remained a mere formality.