A story that YSR Congress leaders often tell journalists is the humiliation that YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the party leader, faced at the hands of the Sonia Gandhi following the death of his father and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajashekara Reddy in 2009.

Jagan Reddy wanted the Congress to hand over the state leadership to him. Some time in 2010, he and his mother met then Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi. When Jagan Reddy made his proposal, the story goes, Sonia Gandhi told him that he could not be made the state leader just because his father was one. When Jagan Reddy pointed out that it was dynasty that decided the national leadership of the Congress, he was soon banished from the party.

On Thursday, Jagan Reddy’s phenomenal victory in the Assembly and Lok Sabha election is not just a defeat of the Telugu Desam Party, his main rival in the state, but also a resounding response to the leadership of the Congress, which denied him the chief minister’s chair in 2009.

If the election trends at 2 pm were to go by, Jagan Reddy is all set to become the next chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. The 47-year-old has brought down a seasoned rival in Chandrababu Naidu, and it has taken him less than a decade after launching his party in his father’s name.

The YSR Congress is leading in 151 of the 175 seats in Assembly, with a vote share of over 50%, at the time of writing. The party had won 70 seats in 2014 in the Assembly elections held right after the bifurcation of the state. In the Lok Sabha polls, the YSR Congress is leading in 24 of the 25 seats.

Party spokespersons said Jagan Reddy will be sworn in as the chief minister on May 30.

Graphic by Sanjana Venkatesan
Graphic by Sanjana Venkatesan

Effective campaign

Jagan Reddy’s landslide victory in Andhra Pradesh was fuelled by a shrewd campaign that took many a lesson from his father’s in 2003, when YS Rajasekhara Reddy went on a padayatra to paint his rival Chandrababu Naidu as a leader inimical to rural development. Naidu’s preference for the Information Technology sector became his Achilles heel.

In the 2004 Assembly elections, the Congress under YS Rajasekhara Reddy had won 185 of the 294 seats in the then undivided Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress had won as many as 34 out of the 42 seats in Lok Sabha. In 2019, Jagan Reddy has clearly done even better.

Starting in 2018, Jagan Reddy took a tour across the state on foot, with his party claiming that he covered over 3000 km. Yet again, Naidu was blamed for focusing too much on building a new capital in Amaravati when rural distress was staring him at his face. The YSR Congress also used television channels run by the Reddy family to showcase what it termed as “widespread grassroots corruption” in Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party government.

Naidu’s decision to quit the National Democratic Alliance in 2018 became a major propaganda tool for Jagan Reddy, who accused the chief minister of taking a U-turn on the Bharatiya Janata Party after enjoying over three years of power at the Centre. Naidu’s failure to get Andhra Pradesh the special category status came in handy to paint him as an inefficient leader despite his vast experience.

Also playing to the advantage of Jagan Reddy was the fact that he came from a populous community that formed his primary social base. As a Kamma, Naidu lacked the caste numbers and has often relied on backward classes for electoral victories.

Breaking into the coast

Following the 2014 elections, Jagan Reddy was deemed a leader of a particular region of Andhra Pradesh as his party’s electoral success came primarily in the Rayalaseema region of southern Andhra.

However, if the current trends of the 2019 elections hold, Jagan Reddy has clearly broken down this assumption, spreading his party’s presence across Andhra Pradesh and into the coastal districts, Telugu Desam Party’s core support areas.

The results also show that the Andhra political scene remains a two-party battleground, with the Jana Sena of actor Pawan Kalyan failing to make any significant impact. It is leading in just one Assembly seat, with Kalyan himself trailing in both Gajuwaka and Bheemavaram.

However, despite the landslide victory, Jagan Reddy is unlikely to have any clout at the Centre as the BJP is cruising towards another simple majority in the Lok Sabha. Having promised the voters during the elections that he will manage to get the special category status unlike his rival Naidu, the task is already cut out for Jagan Reddy.