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Don't let this son rise

Don't let this son rise

Author: Aditya Sinha
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: September 5, 2009
URL: http://expressbuzz.com/edition/print.aspx?artid=eboC6hzS8I8=

At the outset an apology to readers, but it has been very nauseating to see Congress legislators and workers demand that the late chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y S R Reddy, be succeeded by his wheeler-dealer son Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. It was nauseating to see them make the demand for Jagan's accession even before his father's body was brought from the chopper crash site to Hyderabad. It was more nauseating than the continuous eulogies of YSR for having been a mass leader, which he was, without any mention of his darker side. It was more disrespectful to the departed leader than any mention of his ruthlessness or his financial acuity. No wonder Congress president Sonia Gandhi was looking teary-eyed.

One person who would certainly be rooting for Jagan to be the next chief minister would be one B Ramalinga Raju, the former chairman of Satyam Computers who is now an occupant of Hyderabad's Chanchalguda jail. Raju has been accused of fraud, forgery, cheating and insider trading. His scandal broke when he admitted that Rs 7,000 crore had disappeared from the company and subsequently surrendered to the police. Investigators found that the money had disappeared not because the accounts had been inflated, but because it had been siphoned off. Opposition leader N Chandrababu Naidu, on the floor of the Andhra Assembly, charged Raju with giving the money to 14 of Jagan's companies for laundering.

That's not all. Jagan's dad had given Raju 50 acres of land in Vishakhapatnam at throwaway prices, ostensibly so that a world-class IT company like Satyam could set up a SEZ. Jagan and Raju's shenanigans caused a controversy and tagged the late chief minister with the reputation of making money through SEZs (but which chief minister does not suffer this disrepute?). And of course, Jagan's companies were doing business with the Raju-founded Maytas (Satyam spelled backwards), which was awarded the Rs 12,000 crore Hyderabad Metro project much to the dismay of Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan (that deal is off).

This is not to say that Jagan is Raju's lackey. After all, Jagan is a businessman in his own right. He started the Sakshi media empire which is now said to be worth Rs 3,500 crore, and his Sandur power company recently invested in another Telugu TV channel. He's so keen a businessman that he had been based in Bangalore for most of his adult life, showing no interest in politics till about three years ago, and having little knowledge of his father's native Rayalaseema, much less of the sprawling Andhra Pradesh. His entry to the Lok Sabha this year is his maiden venture in the world of parliamentary democracy.

Yet, you may argue, there are other wheeler-dealer sons and daughters who are neck-deep in politics. You need only peek around to find one company by the name of Kalaignar & Sons Pvt Ltd. Here, no one even bothers with the façade of business; and the state, affluent like Andhra, appears to have enough to go around. The only consolation is that once the patriarch departs from the scene, the sons will be at each other's throats, much like the Ambani brothers. As is bound to happen in the Ambanis' case, fratricide will destroy the empire that the patriarch assiduously built.

Those opposed to Jagan's becoming the chief minister may point to the hard work his father put in to reach the pinnacle of state politics. As the eulogies state, YSR was a mass leader, his padayatra through the state while in opposition endeared him to the people, he promised free power and irrigation projects to his people (capitalising on their disillusionment with Naidu), and he ensured that corruption did not touch NREGA and the agrarian poor (money was pilfered elsewhere). How can Jagan be as massive a mass leader until he takes a long walk through the dusty and dry (and "naxal-infested") countryside? He cannot become an ideal chief minister, as the prime minister described YSR, until he gets an idea of life outside of the big city.

Jagan would also have to prove whether he can measure up to YSR the visionary, as Sonia described him. YSR was certainly visionary in that he could see just how much money the Congress would need to contest the Lok Sabha elections this year, and not just in Andhra alone, but across the entire nation. The affluence of Andhra allowed him to be a visionary; the only states to come close to AP in wealth are Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra (another reason why the Congress wants to revive itself in these states). Sonia knows that trying to get campaign funds from the gentlemen who dominate each of these other two states would be like drawing water from stone. The question for her would then be whether Jagan can match his father's vision.

YSR was also visionary because he managed to give Sonia a valuable 33 MPs in this Parliament not so much because he was a mass leader but because he got Chiranjeevi to divide the anti-incumbency vote. This was a Congress strategy employed in places like Tamil Nadu (with Vijaykanth) and in Maharashtra (with Raj Thackeray). You somehow get the feeling that it will take Jagan several years to have an instinct for such canny strategy (and his father probably intended him to have a decade's worth of apprenticeship).

Additionally, in Sonia's eyes YSR certainly looked more visionary than the other Congress chief ministers. Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, for instance, resembles an aging Tintin. Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra is so Vanilla that even Delhi's Sheila Dixit looks more macho. And Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi looks a bit like Michael Jackson between surgeries. (Incidentally, Michael Jackson's burial was also on Friday). It is doubtful if Jagan can, like his father, stand head and shoulders above these other Congress chief ministers.

Lastly, Jagan does not have the ruthlessness of YSR. You are invited to peruse a June 12, 2004, article by K Balagopal in Economic and Political Weekly, titled "Andhra Pradesh: Beyond Media Images". It contains a couple of ghastly incidents including that of Ahmedullah, a polling officer who was dragged out of a voting booth in Raychoti town and murdered, during 1989 polling for the Cuddapah Lok Sabha constituency.

YSR has obviously not trained his son the way his own father, the reputedly fierce Raja Reddy, trained him. Without ruthlessness or mass leadership, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. The Congress's problem in Andhra Pradesh is that the other candidates are mind-bogglingly uninspiring. Therefore the nauseous spectacle of Congressmen begging for Jagan even before his father has had a decent burial. And you have to figure that at some point, Chandrababu Naidu will try to split the Congress. Things don't bode well for the house that YSR built.

- The Author Aditya Sinha is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The New Indian Express' and is based in Chennai

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