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An unusual battle is being fought in Andhra Pradesh these days with the leader of opposition and former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu (along with his son Lokesh) being locked up at their home by the police of Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy.
An unusual battle is being fought in Andhra Pradesh these days with the leader of opposition and former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu (along with his son Lokesh) being locked up at their home by the police of Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy on September 11. This was because they were planning to go out on a protest rally to Atmakur, some 275 km away. The rally dubbed ‘Chalo Atmakur’ was to protest against the killings of supporters of Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) allegedly by supporters of Jagan’s YSR Congress. The police justify this house arrest of Naidu saying that they apprehended trouble and violence if the former chief minister was allowed to proceed to Atmakur.
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Watchers across the country are aghast at the developments, but within Andhra Pradesh analysts find nothing askance given the intensity of rivalry between the Naidu and the Jaganmohan Reddy families. The rivalry which is on caste lines in feudal Andhra Pradesh is old and stems from power equations in villages. The Reddys (literally meaning village headmen) were the first community to modernise in this part of the world. When the Congress party was formed, the Reddys en masse joined the party to become politically empowered. Their rivals in the village – the Kammas joined the Communist Party of India. When the Communists could not make much headway they formed the TDP under the aegis of leading cine star NT Rama Rao (NTR). Thus the Reddy-led Congress and the Kamma-led TDP became the major political forces in the state with folks from other castes coalescing around one of the two formations. Since the rivalry emanated from the level of the village it took an intense form with a violent manifestation in the form of bomb attacks and killings. Also Congress governments alternated with Telugu Desam governments allowing both the Reddys and Kammas alternatively rule the state. Interestingly both the Reddy raj and the Kamma raj would begin with the new government upturning the decisions of the previous government.
Thus Jaganmohan Reddy who came to power with a huge majority (he won 151 of the 176 seats in the assembly and 23 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the elections a few months ago) began his tenure by making it clear that he does not want Amaravati to be the capital of Andhra Pradesh. A new city right on the banks of the river Godavari, Amaravati came up (after 2016) because with the bifurcation of the original Andhra Pradesh the capital Hyderabad went to the newly formed Telangana. Naidu who became chief minister after the 2014 elections had to set up a new capital chose Amaravati which was a green field site. It was admittedly not a great choice because it was prime farm land where three crops were harvested in a year besides being low lying close to a river. Naidu could not answer charges that most of the land was owned by absentee landlords who were from his Kamma caste. By paying heavy compensation to these landlords (many of whom have migrated to the US) he is helping them to disinvest, goes the allegation. There are also allegations that Naidu’s kin and close associates have cornered land in Amaravati before the announcement that it would be the capital. Thus they gained from land speculation. Whatever the truth of the allegations Jagan has made it clear that Amaravati is not his preferred destination. All this has made land prices plummet in the place – which means reduction of the value of assets of the Naidu kin.
Jagan also made Naidu clear out of the riverside residence he occupied as chief minister saying that it was illegal. The Jagan government also demolished a Praja Vedika convention hall next to the residence of Naidu -- where major conferences were held -- declaring it as unauthorised. In further action, Jagan also ordered that power purchase agreements entered into by the Naidu government be examined by a cabinet sub-committee because they were not in order and had led to a loss to the exchequer of over Rs 2600 crore.
Naidu tries to strike back
Analysts say that Naidu had gone into a shell after his major electoral defeat (that he did not expect) in the last elections. But a few months later he has realised that withdrawing into a shell will only make Jagan more audacious and be goaded into making sharper attacks to decimate the TDP. Moreover realising that TDP cadres are losing confidence after many senior party members including Rajya Sabha MPs and former ministers left the party to join BJP, Naidu has decided to strike back. This is with the idea of regaining popularity and also to energise his party cadres.
Jagan who is closely watching Naidu was able to read the latter’s mind clearly. He realised that it was in his best interest to decimate Naidu. Thus he quickly moved in to house arrest the former chief minister. How things will shape up from here is not yet fully clear. But it could be a bloody battle between the YSR Congress and TDP, with the BJP watching to figure out how they can take advantage. There is nothing on paper but BJP is seen as being aligned with YSR Congress. TDP was aligned with BJP for two decades but broke off before the last elections. Now BJP, which is marginally present in Andhra Pradesh, wants to build up the party in the state. But that’s another story.
Kingshuk Nag is a senior journalist and author.
First Published: Sept 12, 2019 4:22 PM IST