In a jail in Chanchalguda in Hyderabad, Jagan Mohan Reddy, as of last evening, is prisoner no 6093. A court has ordered that he will stay here till June 11, one day before by-elections are held for 18 assembly and one Lok Sabha seat. Mr Reddy has applied for bail today, but both his party and his political opponents are busy calculating the impact that his arrest will have on their performance in the elections on June 12.
If he is refused bail, Mr Reddy will not be able to campaign for his party, the YSR Congress, named after his father, who died as chief minister of the state in 2009. The case against Mr Reddy, being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), says that YSR misused his office to pressure companies to invest in Mr Reddy’s expansive businesses. Mr Reddy has been accused of cheating, conspiracy and breach of trust by a public servant.
Mr Reddy’s mother, Vijayamma, has said she will lead the party’s campaign, starting Wednesday. But the party cadres are worried – Mr Reddy has proved himself to be a tour-de-force as a campaigner, able to harness the massive popularity his father enjoyed in areas like Guntur. The YSR Congress has no real face other than Mr Reddy.His mother will appeal to voters to support him – the party has positioned his arrest as the ruling Congress’ way of preventing his victory in the election. Mr Reddy exited the Congress in 2010, 14 months after his father’s death and after repeated appeals to be given a larger role in the party were ignored by its leaders.
In the last assembly by-elections held in March, Mr Reddy’s party, led by him, contested seven seats, and won five of them.
So his confinement may help both his former party, the Congress, and the Telugu Desam Party or TDP, headed by Chandrababu Naidu. The latter acknowledged today that he expects to gain from Mr Reddy’s arrest. “The people will teach Jagan a lesson,” he said. The corruption case against Mr Reddy was passed on a petition filed by a Congressman and supported by TDP members. “The Jagan/YSR scam was bigger than the 2G or Commonwealth Games scams,” Mr Naidu said, referencing two swindles that allegedly operated as public-private partnerships between politicians and entrepreneurs, and have created political storms in recent months.
For Mr Reddy’s party, the elections next month present the opportunity to prove that he is a true third force in Andhra Pradesh politics. While the Congress has the most to lose, Mr Naidu must protect the TDP’s turf as the main opposition party in the state. In 2004 and then 2009, it was YSR who brought the Congress to power, earning him much goodwill and public recognition from his party. The fact that YSR and his son are now accused of corruption adds upto contretemps for the party. Moreover, several ministers in the current government are being investigated, upon the Supreme Court’s orders, for allegedly colluding with YSR. The Congress has not dismissed them. One minister, who was arrested last week in connection with the case, resigned on the same day.
As chief minister, Kiran Kumar Reddy has been the second Congress candidate to head the state government since YSR died. He was preceded by K Rosaiah, who proved incapable of managing the Congress’ stubborn internal dissent, as well as Mr Reddy’s ability to needle that rebellion to his advantage. Kiran Kumar Reddy has not managed to serve as the glue that the Congress needs to keep its act together ahead of the general elections in 2014. The by-elections will be as much a test of his leadership as of the party’s popularity.