Today, as the first phase of voting for the 2019 general elections begins, the state of Andhra Pradesh will also vote to elect the members of its state assembly. The past few months in the state saw high-voltage campaigning, by both the sitting chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, of the Telugu Desam Party, and his main challenger, the billionaire businessman Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagan heads the YSR Congress Party, named after his father, the former chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Jagan appears to have gained an edge in a close contest, owing in particular to his padayatra—between November 2017 and January 2019, Jagan undertook a state-wide campaign on foot, walking over 3,600 kilometres across 134 of Andhra Pradesh’s 175 constituencies, speaking directly to rural voters, especially distressed farmers. Though the TDP has rubbished Jagan’s attempts to reach Andhra’s rural voters, many political observers see the padayatra as having tipped the scales in Jagan’s favour.
Jagan has also remained vociferous in his commitment to securing special-category status for Andhra Pradesh, a strong demand among many of the state’s powerful voting blocks, and one that his rival, Naidu, is seen as having failed to fulfill. The YSRCP chief recently said that in the Lok Sabha elections, he is “hoping” for a hung parliament. “Only then will the national parties learn not to mock democracy,” Jagan added. His party has previously lent support to the Bharatiya Janata Party in parliament, and enjoys an amiable relationship with the ruling party. But in these general elections, the party chief has declared that the YSRCP will support any party that can guarantee special category status for Andhra Pradesh—even the Congress, from which he broke away after a bitter months-long stand-off, following his father’s death. Jagan’s open declaration to support any party that is able to wrest control at the centre and use it to benefit Andhra will likely safeguard the billionaire politician as well. In his 2019 election affidavit, Jagan declared that 31 cases against him are pending, including investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate, with charges that include criminal conspiracy, forgery, money laundering and corruption, among others. Support to—and from—a party ruling at the centre could insulate Jagan from having to answer for the crimes he is accused of.
The political chapter of Jagan’s life—the one that brought him into the spotlight, onto the road, into conflict with the Congress, and under the scanner of the CBI—began in September 2009, after his father died in a helicopter crash. In the following extract from “The Takeover,” a profile of Jagan published in The Caravan’s May 2011 issue, Praveen Donthi reported the dramatic sequence of events that followed YSR’s death. The conflict began with Jagan’s request to Sonia Gandhi for approval for the Odarpu Yatra, which he described as a condolence tour for the people who had committed suicide on hearing of his father’s passing. It ended in his split from the Congress, the formation of the YSRCP, and the launch of Jagan’s bid to secure both his father’s legacy and the chief minister’s chair.
The latest chapter in the life of Jagan Mohan Reddy began on 2 September 2009, the day his father died in a helicopter crash over the Nallamala forests in western Andhra Pradesh.