Kadapa marks the end of Congress in Andhra – and more (Comment)

Forget the glory of Assam and the shame of Tamil Nadu. Ignore West Bengal; it belongs to Mamata. Kerala was plain lucky. Forget also Puducherry, where it was voted out. The worst news for the Congress, India’s ruling party, has come from Kadapa, the Lok Sabha constituency in one of the most volatile parts of Andhra Pradesh.

Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s record-shattering win – and the humiliating Congress rout — marks the beginning of the end of India’s oldest party in what was its most secure southern bastion.

That Jagan, as he is known, will win, on the strength of the legacy of his late father and former chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), was never in doubt. Despite deploying 20 Andhra ministers in the campaign, even Congress had read the writing on the wall. The real battle it waged in Kadapa was notionally against Jagan but essentially to ensure that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) did not bag the second spot.

The Congress wanted to prove that even if Jagan won what is after all a family seat, by coming second it would still be regarded as a force to reckon with. The Congress did come second but a poor second. Its candidate D.L. Ravindra Reddy, a state minister, lost his deposit – like the TDP and 39 other candidates. (During campaigning, the Congress man was, because of his initials, dubbed by his critics as ‘Deposit Loss’ Ravindra Reddy.)

When Jagan won from Kadapa in 2009, with the blessings of both the Congress and his chief minister father, his victory margin was 1.63 lakh. Minus his father and despite a hostile Congress, this has risen to a dizzying 5.45 lakh!

Railing against Congress president Sonia Gandhi day after day, at meeting after meeting, for the ‘injustice’ supposedly meted out to him and Kadapa, YSR’s son (who the Congress leadership prevented from becoming the chief minister after his father died) secured almost 7 lakh votes – an envious 65 percent of the total votes polled.

The Congress has been stunned. Already, tongues are wagging that the Congress needs to replace Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who has been aggressively anti-Jagan. Everyone in the Andhra Congress realizes that it won’t be long before some, if not most, of its legislators start realizing that their political future lies with Jagan, and not an YSR-orphaned party.

If and when that happens, the increasingly visible cracks in the Congress will only widen. And it will have to irreversibly lose a state which fetched it an invaluable 33 Lok Sabha seats (of the total 42) in 2009, and thus helped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take power again.

Both the Congress and TDP tried to undercut Jagan’s victory margin by talking about his links with a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister in Karnataka, assuming this would strip him of Kadapa’s mammoth Muslim voter population. But Muslims voted for him in the sprawling constituency, a development that has shocked Congress managers.

Jagan’s YSR Congress Party will now start spreading its wings, roping in both traditional Congress supporters and those unhappy with TDP and its weakened leader N. Chandrababu Naidu. Jagan will now decide whether to go slow or hasten the eventual collapse of the Congress. He has been careful this far not to take up the divisive Telangana issue.

Already, the Congress has stopped winning in Karnataka. It has virtually no influence in Tamil Nadu. Even Kerala is now proving tough. It has been written off in Bihar. It is no more a dominant force in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa. It remains weak in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. It has to share Maharashtra with the NCP. And if Andhra too slips away, how will Congress return to power nationally?

(15.05.2011 – M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at narayan.swamy@ians.in)

IANS