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Why the Kadapa bypoll is critical for the Congress

April 25, 2011 19:40 IST

If Jaganmohan Reddy wins the Kadapa by-election, he may be able to destabilise the Congress state government in Andhra Pradesh. This may also have implications for the UPA government at the Centre, says T V R Shenoy.

Will the 'Ceiling Fan' blow away the hidden 'Hand'?

That is what Congressmen in Andhra Pradesh  fear -- and what Jaganmohan Reddy hopes!

Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother, Vijayalaxmi, were both Congress members until they left to found the YSR Congress. That, of course, meant that both the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat held by Reddy and the Pulivendula assembly seat held by his mother had to be vacated. The Election Commission decided that the by-elections would be held on May 8.

The YSR Congress came into existence on March 12, 2011, much too late to go through the process of getting its own symbol. So some bright soul had a brainwave: putting up multiple candidates with the same name, to confuse voters used to symbols.

The result is that no fewer than ten Jaganmohan Reddys have filed nominations to the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat alongside the 'real' one, namely the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's son. For good measure, four ladies named Vijayalaxmi have entered the fray for the Pulivendula assembly by-election along with the widow of the former chief minister.

It was a brilliant ploy -- probably unethical but thoroughly legal -- but whoever was behind it reckoned without the Election Commission.

On April 21, the YSR Congress gleefully announced that the Election Commission had (temporarily) given both YSR Congress candidates the same symbol, the ceiling fan. (No special favours were given; the Election Commission is doing much the same for a whole bunch of small groups in the ongoing set of assembly polls.)

Round one goes to Jaganmohan Reddy but the fact that his opponents could go to such lengths betrays a certain nervousness. In fact, the closer you look the clearer it becomes that Kadapa and Pulivendula might be the most important elections being fought by the Congress just now. The results might decide the fate of the party not just in Andhra Pradesh but in India at large.

Why is Andhra Pradesh so important to the Congress?

The first reason is that Andhra Pradesh was responsible for electing the single largest chunk of Congress MPs in the general elections of 2009. The Congress won 206 seats in those polls, of which 33 were from Andhra Pradesh. (21 Congress MPs were elected from seats in Uttar Pradesh, followed by 20 from Rajasthan.)

Take a look now at the 12 largest states in India, those that elect 20 MPs or more to the Lok Sabha. These are Uttar Pradesh (80), Maharashtra (48), Andhra Pradesh (42), West Bengal (42), Bihar (40), Tamil Nadu (39), Madhya Pradesh (29), Karnataka (28), Gujarat (26), Rajasthan (25), Odisha (21), and Kerala (20). (The figures in brackets indicate the number of Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.)

India consists of 28 states, 6 Union Territories, and the national capital territory of Delhi but it is the 12 mentioned above that carry the greatest clout. Together, they elect no fewer than 440 of 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

Now, think about this: in how many of those states can the Congress boast a government of its own?

Prithviraj Chavan may be chief minister in Mumbai but the Congress rules Maharashtra only because of its coalition with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party. Ashok Gehlot is chief minister in Jaipur but in Rajasthan too the Congress is dependent on allies. (Just how dependent was underlined earlier this month when one of Gehlot's ministers, Golma Devi, staged a dharna against the government!)

I expect a Congress chief minister in Thiruvananthapuram this time next month but he too shall rely on non-Congress allies. And even if the United Progressive Alliance wins West Bengal -- it probably will -- it is unlikely that anybody but Mamata Banerjee will be chief minister.

When you come right down to it, Andhra Pradesh is the only state of the 12 big guns where the Congress can form a government all by itself.

So, what happens if the YSR Congress wins both by-elections? That might bring down a Congress government, one that is already struggling to cope with the Telangana agitation. Most of the current set of Congress MLAs in Andhra Pradesh were hand-picked by the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy; it is anybody's guess how long they will stick by the parent party if Jaganmohan Reddy succeeds in his open flouting of the Congress 'High Command'. And if Congress MLAs in Andhra Pradesh rebel might MPs follow suit.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Trinamool Congress have regularly put the Congress leadership on a barrel with their demands, yet neither party actually has anything close to the number of Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh. (The Trinamool Congress has 19 and the DMK has 18.) Jaganmohan Reddy inciting others from Andhra Pradesh to wave the banner of rebellion is the stuff of nightmare for the Congress.

I understand that no fewer than 15 Congress ministers have been sent to canvass support for the party in Kadapa. (The Pulivendula assembly seat falls within the parliamentary constituency.) That is a greater effort, proportionately, than anything the Congress is doing elsewhere but can you blame the party?

My personal feeling is that the Congress-led United Democratic Front should win in Kerala even if it isn't by the spectacular margin of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. I think the seesaw that is Tamil Nadu politics is now bending in J Jayalalithaa's favour. Mamata Banerjee should sweep the Left Front out of power in West Bengal. But I must confess that the contests that intrigue me most are those of Kadapa and Pulivendula.

Come the heat of May, will the voters switch on the 'Ceiling Fan'?

T V R Shenoy