Here is a Partial Story of the Erstwhile Republic of Jagan Mohan Reddy

Commentary on half a decade of the sordid misrule of Jagan Mohan Reddy, the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and the dire lessons it holds for democracy.
Here is a Partial Story of the Erstwhile Republic of Jagan Mohan Reddy
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Prologue

EVER WONDER HOW IT FEELS to take home delivery of the decapitated body of your loved one all because he supported the “wrong“ political party? 

How about witnessing the gruesome scene of a teenager who was doused in petrol and torched alive by a member of the ruling party? 

Or being ordered by another member of the ruling party to “send” your wife to him for a night? 

Or witnessing cabinet ministers shouting “sister-f****r, mo*********r on the floor of the Assembly? 

How about being the Chairman of the State Public Service Commission and finding that your office has been permanently locked up by a favourite of the Chief Minister?  

Or living in a state which mortgages the Secretariat and entire mountains and still finds that it is unable to pay salaries to its employees? 

As a citizen of such a state, you also have the privilege of watching the convoy of your Chief Minister speeding along highways both sides of which are blanketed with miles of cloth because he wants “privacy.” 

And then, you further need to pay a “garbage tax.” If thou doth protest too much, the garbage of your entire locality will be dumped before your house. 

And if you happen to be a Hindu in such a state, you will be treated to regular news of “unknown miscreants” desecrating your Devatas and urinating on Murtis and inside temples. These exclude the flagrant defiling of Tirumala, Srisailam, and the explosion of statewide Christian missionary hooliganism.   

Multiply all these by several factors and you get the near-complete picture of the erstwhile Republic of Jagan Mohan Reddy (2019-2024 CE). The five years of his chief ministership has enough material for making multiple seasons of a webseries that can easily run into a decade. 

Not Voting but Revolt

I SPENT THE LAST SIX DAYS consuming a mindboggling volume of revelations pouring in from the Telugu media. And the flood seems unstoppable even as I write this. It is as if a nation-sized dam was waiting to be razed. What I wrote in the Prologue is not even a fraction of these revelations. 

 And it has left me horrified and sick.  

The monumental unravelling in the 2024 elections was Andhra Pradesh where elections for the Lok Sabha and Assembly were held simultaneously. What transpired there was not voting but revolt. The kind we've not seen since independence. With a paltry 11 assembly seats, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) has all but been extinguished. To borrow an idiom that eminently suits his context, it was an electoral chopper crash that claimed 140 victims. 

Both the media and citizenry in the state unanimously use one word to describe Jagan Mohan Reddy’s half decade of misrule: Arajakam, anarchy. A second term that vies with it is niyantrutva or dictatorship. Going by the aforementioned revelations, it appears that Jagan had transformed the whole administrative apparatus into an extension counter of his party. The most favoured response to genuine questioning was repression: by both the police and his party workers.   

Other things aside, the sheer scale of corruption allegations against Jagan Reddy alone ranges anywhere from ₹ 2.50 lakh to ₹ 7 lakh crores. 

But all this is merely the continuation of an unsavoury saga that started three generations ago in the scorched badlands of Rayalaseema, the heart of what is coloquially known as “Reddy politics.” A whopping eight Chief Ministers from this region have hailed from the Reddy community. Since independence, it had endured as the nerve centre of political power in undivided Andhra Pradesh. It still does to a great extent.     

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Factionist Origins

IN AN EXCELLENT PAPER — published in 2004 in the Economic and Political Weekly — the deceased Communist ideologue, K. Balagopal traces the ascent of the late Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy. It provides a detailed backgrounder for and helps set the socio-historical context that explains the aforementioned dictatorial “government” run by Jagan Mohan Reddy. It is worth quoting from that paper at some length: 

“[RAJASHEKHAR REDDY’S] father Raja Reddy was… an ordinary farmer and a small time civil contractor. He got converted to Christianity in the days when even upper castes thought there may be material benefit in doing so, and was ostracised by the Reddys of his native village, Balapanur. He shifted to Pulivendula…[and] quickly made a name for himself as a rough and violent man…Raja Reddy established his credentials as a man to fear by an incident that people still talk of, nearly 50 years later… Oosanna…[a man from the Erukala Scheduled Tribe] tried to steal the ornaments worn by a woman of the Reddy caste in the bazaar… Later in the day, Raja Reddy caught hold of Oosanna, dragged him to a public place, poured kerosene on him and burnt him alive.’

Eventually Raja Reddy acquired a lucrative lease for mining barytes, a mineral that was in huge demand in the petroleum refining industry. From then on, he branched out into politics but found it difficult to break in. That feat was accomplished by his son, Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy (YSR) through a “combination of chance and brutality.” Balagopal provides an overall assessment of YSR’s brand of politics: 

The man is anything but a vendor of humane visages. His rise in politics has been accompanied by more bloodshed than that of any other politician in this state. Not bloodshed for some avowed ‘higher cause’, but bloodshed for the narrowest possible cause: the rise of one individual to political power…Power, and power alone has been his guiding light, at each stage of his career…brute force served YSR’s purpose in the initial stages… But once he set his sights on Hyderabad, he knew that other methods would have to be tried out, and he has been game for that. 

Those old enough will recall the blood-soaked politics that routinely drenched the arid Rayalaseema land throughout the mid-1980s roughly up to 2004. So much so that it spawned an entirely new sub genre in Telugu cinema known as “faction films.” 

In 2003, YSR embarked on a 60-day Padayatra stretching over 1500 kms. It was his intrepid bid at chief ministership but it was also a calculated gambit to wash off the stain of his violent past. The fact that he succeeded with aplomb is now history. And once in power, he held on to it with the same twofold strategy. The first witnessed a series of targetted eliminations of his rivals both in politics and elsewhere. Those who were too powerful to eliminate were harassed. Topping the list was media baron and business magnate Ramoji Rao, who passed away on June 8 this year. The second was a PR-sculpted image of a “humane,” “pro-poor,” “pro-farmer” chief minister. The latter gave him handsome dividends including a second consecutive stint as chief minister. 

The Son also Rises

Y.S. JAGAN MOHAN REDDY has followed his late father’s footsteps without straying an inch. YSR’s fateful helicopter crash in 2009 paved the way for the son’s rise. He began with an audacious demand to the Congress high command to inherit his father’s chair. When that was rejected, he quit the party and embarked on his first Padayatra titled Odarpu-Yatra (Consolation Pilgrimage). The name itself is loaded with a shrewd political suggestion and a practical ploy to capitalise on the electorate’s goodwill towards the late YSR. The outcome was spectacular for Jagan and disastrous for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. 

The 2014 assembly elections held after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh saw Jagan’s YSR Congress Party pocket an impressive 67 seats out of 175. This performance came just three years after he had formed his party. Much before the 2019 elections dawned, his main rival, the Telugu Desam Party, was drowning under a spate of unpopularity owing both to self-scripted blunders and a ravenous Jagan. 

In 2017, he launched the ambitious Praja Sankalpa Yatra (pilgrimage expressing the vow of the people) and toured 125 assembly segments over 430 days. 

It singlehandedly vanquished the TDP, giving him a historic mandate of 151 seats. 

Saved in this Round

WHAT FOLLOWED WAS nothing short of a reign of terror. It started with the demolition of the Praja Vedika (People’s Dais) convention hall, barely days after Jagan Mohan Reddy was sworn in. In hindsight, it was also the maiden instance of his boundless vengeance against Chandrababu Naidu. For the next five years, the retribution extended to every policy item, order and appointments done by the TDP regime. A climax of sorts was the arrest and imprisonment of Naidu on September 9, 2023. 

If one were to use a familiar historical and literary idiom, it appears that Jagan Mohan Reddy was clearly inspired by his father’s violent tactics to capture power and to sustain it through a combination of strongarm methods and canny image management. He sought to replicate it. The two Yatras ultimately helped him in capturing power. However, he lacked YSR’s astuteness and long experience in a party like the Congress to navigate the treacherous ravines of power. Above all, Jagan had zero administrative experience. As the ongoing disclosures show, he relied exclusively on naked welfarism — which has bankrupted the state and mired it in deep debt — to recapture power. In fact, Jagan has admitted it in so many words in his speech conceding electoral defeat. Here is a rough paraphrase: I have given such enormous doles to all our sisters and downtrodden, yet they have rejected me for some reason.  

But a substantial meat of the YSRCP misrule lies in the administrative machinery he unleashed. In a shocking revelation, it appears that Jagan spent a majority of his tenure at his sprawling mansion in Tadepalli, visiting the chief minister’s office on a handful of occasions. For five years, a closed coterie that included senior IAS and IPS officers, veteran loyalists and selfish fawners had convinced Jagan that he was invincible and that he would rule Andhra uninterruptedly for three decades because of his awesome “pro-poor” welfare schemes. Cautionary voices were ruthlessly suppressed.

Overall, it appears that the Jagan Mohan Reddy Government adopted the crudest form of medieval governance — terror as governance in a democracy. What had been restricted by YSR largely to Rayalaseema was inflicted throughout Andhra Pradesh by his son. 

The saga of Jagan Mohan Reddy holds invaluable lessons on multiple fronts. As Balagopal shows in his paper, Jagan’s grandfather, Raja Reddy had been excommunicated from his own community in his native village for converting into Christianity. Two generations later, there is a dedicated voting bloc known as Reddy Christians. This is apart from converts from other Hindu communities. This is the dreadful extent of de-Hinduisation that has occurred in less than three generations. Tirumala itself has become vulnerable like never before. It makes for a distressing lesson of history. The surname “Reddy” is a corruption of the Sanskrit word, “Rashtrakuta,” the dynasty that built the magnificent Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora. 

In the end, the electoral victory and subsequent regime of Jagan Mohan Reddy is a powerful case study. It represents the most lethal apex of the most fundamental element of a democracy, which is also its most precarious — the triumph of sheer numbers. 

But to their everlasting credit, Andhra Pradesh voters have saved themselves in this round. 

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