Sonia Gandhi put her foot down to send across a strong message to party leaders and legislators in Andhra Pradesh not to dictate terms to the “high command” on the selection of a successor to the late Chief Minister YSR Reddy. Consequently, the graceless high voltage campaign to anoint his son YS Jagan Mohan Reddy to succeed his late father has been silenced, at least contained for the time being. The Congress president cracked the whip not because she was upset over the extremely nauseating spectacle of launching a signature campaign for Jagan’s accession to the high office even before his father’s body was brought to the state capital from the chopper crash site. It was also not because Jagan is reportedly a notorious wheeler-dealer and a novice in the art and craft of politics. But it certainly was to ensure that no one in the Congress should dare question the “high command”. Dr KVP Ramchandra Rao, a close friend and adviser of YSR, who propelled and orchestrated the tasteless campaign, was asked to tell the noisy legislators and MPs that the “high command” couldn’t be blackmailed. That is why a chastened Ramchandra Rao delivered an emotional speech to ministers, who had a few hours ago declined to take a fresh oath of office and had joined other legislators in disrupting a meeting held to condole the death of their leader. No one questions the “high command”, he told the legislators and added, “in the Congress, Sonia Gandhi’s word and decisions are final”. Jagan, who hugely relished the campaign, hurriedly wrote to legislators to refrain from making the demand supporting his candidature publicly and to abide by the decision of Sonia Gandhi.
Do these developments show that Congress is a disciplined party? The answer is a resounding no. These prove, if any proof is needed, that the internal democracy, about which Rahul Gandhi is making noises, is not the norm in the Congress. Andhra incidents show the top leadership is not comfortable with anyone from outside the dynasty getting too big and is determined to demonstrate who the boss is. The message is loud and clear: Dynastic succession is alright for Nehru-Gandhi family, but not for lesser men even though they may have been popular leaders in their own right. A senior editor of pro-Congress Hindustan Times, Pankaj Vohra, whose proximity to the ruling party is no secret, provided an insight into the phenomenon in one of his recent columns. If the party bows to the wishes of the emotional demand by a large number of legislators, he writes, there could be repercussions in other states. “Other state leaders may be tempted to assert themselves. The present model of the Congress high command being the final authority could be altered”, he observes and adds, “the rise of regional leaders in states will, of course, be beneficial to the over-all development. But it could alter the rules of the game”. Obviously, it is not acceptable to Sonia Gandhi. Jagan may or may not be made the next CM but she is the one who would take the final decision.
B Ramalinga Raju, the former chairman of Satyam Computers, who is languishing in jail in the Rs 7,000 crore Satyam scam, was a great beneficiary of the YSR government, which gave him 50 acres of land in Visakhapatnam at a throwaway price ostensibly to set up a SEZ. Jagan and Raju were acting in unison, which led to allegations that YSR had minted money in the allotment of land for SEZ. Raju, who has been accused of fraud, forgery, cheating and inside trading, had claimed that Rs 7,000 crore had disappeared from the company because the company had inflated its accounts. Investigators, however, discovered that the money had been siphoned off. N Chandrababu Naidu made the startling allegations on the floor of Andhra Assembly that Raju had given the money to Jagan’s companies for laundering. This is only the tip of the iceberg of financial irregularities of which the late Chief Minister and his son have been accused. Is it surprising that Raju is rooting for Jagan in the war of succession?
There is no question about YSR being a man of the masses. In his political career spanning over three decades, he served as the president of the APCC for four years and was elected to the state assembly five times and four times to the Lok Sabha. As leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly 1999-2004, he undertook a padyatra of 1500 km across the state in 2003, which enabled his party to win with a thumping majority in 2004. Again in 2009, he led the party from the front and won 33 Lok Sabha and 156 Assembly seats. As Chief Minister he launched several welfare and populist schemes. What endeared YSR to the top Congress leadership were his political strategies. He played a major role in getting the Telugu cine superstar Chiranjeevi to enter the political fray to divide the anti-Congress votes in 2009 elections.
Although Indian tradition is not to talk of the darker side of a person who is no more, one would be failing in one’s duty to objectively analyse the late YSR, by not mentioning negatives of his life and work. It is no secret that YSR had emerged as one of the biggest fund-raisers for the party through means that were not necessarily moral and legal. There were countless allegations of corruption against the late Chief Minister. He was accused of making money through government patronage of companies floated by his family. Responding to allegations that he was in illegal occupation of government and forest lands, he announced the return of 614 acres of land to the government. The demand for prosecuting him under AP Land Reforms (Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings) Act and AP Forests Act fell on deaf ears. His loyalty to the dynasty saw him through all this. During his tenure, the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam, the holiest of Hindu shrines, was always in the news for the wrong reasons-from mismanagement to lack of transparency and appointment of his step-brother as chairman of the TTD Board.
As a second generation convert to Christianity, his love for his religion is understandable but not his communal approach. He abused his office to promote evangelical activities of which there was an alarming increase during his tenure. He sanctioned Rs 80,000 per church for repairs from the public exchequer even as 85 per cent of the revenues from 40,000 temples under government control were spent on government projects, including welfare schemes for minorities. But for judicial intervention, he would have succeeded in reserving government jobs for Muslims to cater to the party’s minority vote bank. His worst act was to enter into a secret understanding with PWG on the eve of 2004 election for Naxal support to the Congress in the poll as quid pro quo for suspending anti-Naxal operations. This gave enough space to PWG to regroup and bring all Naxal groups under one umbrella organisation-Maoists-and establish links with Maoists in Nepal. His misadventure helped his party romp home but compromised national security and territorial integrity of India.