A noisy fan kept him company as YS Jaganmohan Reddy took his afternoon break between 1 and 2:30 pm inside a makeshift tent on the grounds of the panchayat office in Dowleswaram in East Godavari district. This was 9 February 2011 and he had just finished walking past the Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage, named after the British irrigation engineer, his father, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy so admired.
Jagan was in the region on a three-day padyatra from Ravulapalem to Polavaram to demand implementation of the project. A project that will cost anywhere between Rs 12000 and 18000 crore and was mired in controversies, because of political objections from Telangana region leaders and environmental concerns from Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
“People with half-baked knowledge have put hurdles in its execution,” grumbled a miffed Jagan. “They don’t understand that this project will benefit people of all three regions.”
This was the second time, Jagan was walking in YSR’s footsteps, literally. In 2003, when YSR walked 1400 km from Ranga Reddy to Srikakulam district, Jagan walked 70 km from Pulivendula to Kadapa to express solidarity.
That day in 2011 was not an easy time to be. Three months ago, Jagan and his mother Vijayamma after a unpleasant meeting with Sonia Gandhi had quit the Congress party. It was a tough decision given YSR’s decades-long association with the party, starting with Indira Gandhi followed by a close personal relationship with Rajiv Gandhi and then Sonia Gandhi.
A snooty Congress had seen the demand from within the Andhra Congress to make Jagan CM after YSR’s demise in 2009 as an act of insolence and decided in true Congress style to appoint CMs from Delhi. K Rosaiah and then Kiran Kumar Reddy were its choices. In March 2011, a month after this meeting in Dowleswaram, Jagan launched the YSR Congress party.
But on that day, Jagan gave the impression of groping in the dark. Unsure of the journey ahead, without a reliable and trustworthy mentor to guide him on what was the right thing to do. And then the arduous task of taking on the government, ruling both in Hyderabad and in New Delhi. He was to pay the price, mired in several corruption cases and sent to jail for 16 months between 2012 and 2013.
But whether it is now or on that day, if there was one thing Jagan knew he wanted to do was, to stay amidst the people. That has been pretty much his signature style, rubbing shoulders, hugging people, clicking selfies, doing the characteristic YSR namaste and a xerox copy of his father’s way of gesticulating with the left hand. Jagan’s attempt has always been to reinforce his connect to his dad.
Shaik Abbas Ali, a retired Telecom department employee was among those who felt that Jagan had been wronged. Ali said he had voted for the Congress all his life but now wanted to vote for YSR’s legacy.
“The Congress is run under the directions of Madam Gandhi. His father struggled a lot to bring Congress to power twice. But when he died, his wife could not get an appointment with Sonia Gandhi for a month. Jagan will win. People will vote just for his father’s face. YSR gave rice for 2 rupees per kg, Arogyasree medical scheme. He helped every section of people. He gave everything. That’s why I will vote,” he said.
That has precisely worked for Jagan and his YSRCP in this election victory as well. His party strategists acknowledge the presence of a strong YSR votebank in every village, every town of Andhra Pradesh. If there is one leader apart from NT Rama Rao, who lives on in the hearts of people long after he is gone, it is YSR. All Jagan had to do was to reinforce that he is Jagan s/o YSR for the goodwill to transfer to him. The fact that he walked 3600 km, like dad, only emphasised that it is a case of like father, like son.
During that chat, Jagan pointed out the contrast in the way YSR’s family and Chiranjeevi had been treated by Sonia Gandhi and said it had not gone unnoticed by people. One of his supporters told me B Usha Rani, the giantkiller who defeated Chiranjeevi in the 2009 assembly elections from Palacole had till that day, not been able to meet the then Congress president. The point Jagan was making was that interpersonal relations matter to him, just as they mattered a lot to his father.
When would he announce his party, I asked Jagan.
“We are doing the technical work of filing the applications and waiting for the mandatory 30-day period to get over. We have filed for both YSR Party and Rajanna Rajyam. I expect they will give me the name very close to the byelections in Kadapa. That may mean we may not be able to have a big party launch.” he said.
YSR’s brother, Y S Vivekananda Reddy who was found killed in mysterious circumstances earlier this year, was that year chosen by the Congress to take on YSR’s wife Vijayamma in Pulivendula assembly constituency while Vivekananda’s son-in-law Rajasekhara Reddy was to be Jagan’s opponent in Kadapa Lok Sabha seat. How did he see the Jagan vs Rajasekhara and mother vs uncle battles, I asked.
“Whoever wins or loses, I will definitely feel sad as a close relative will lose. The Congress will try its best to see me lose as it would be an embarrassment for it and its president if I come back to the Lok Sabha, after having taken them on like this.”
I noticed Jagan was wearing Nike sneakers. When you look back at his political journey with its trials and tribulations, `Just do it’ has pretty much been his slogan as well.