The party is over
From day one, there was something peculiar about the headquarters of Praja Rajyam Party in the posh Jubilee Hills area of Hyderabad. A few days before popular Telugu actor Chiranjeevi launched the party in August 2008, the party office was set up overnight with prefabricated material on a plot of land belonging to a friend of the star.
Today, dismantling the deserted office structure appears to be as easy as its sudden merger with the Congress.
The party is over at least for those who were hoping for a long political innings for Praja Rajyam, which had been launched with the ambitious goal of social justice.
Text: Mohammed Siddiqui
Image: The deserted PRP office at Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad
Congress game plan is clear
Chiranjeevi's decision to merge his party with the Congress, after an hour-long meeting with party president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday in New Delhi, has evoked myriad reactions from various quarters. While most Congress leaders seem to be have resigned themselves to the merger, supporters of the superstar seem to be confused and uncertain.
The Congress's gameplan behind luring Chiranjeevi is clear; the party wants to save its government from getting reduced to a minority because of rebel Jaganmohan Reddy's revolt.
But not many were able to fathom the reasons behind Chiranjeevi's decision to suddenly wind up his party, which he had launched with the high hope of becoming the next NTR (Telugu superstar who later became the state chief minister).
YSR had plans for Chiranjeevi, PRP
The announcement of the merger on February 6 was preceded by a prolonged behind-the-scenes exercise which was initiated by late Andhra Pradesh CM Y S Rajasekhar Reddy, weeks after his re-election in 2009.
Unhappy that his government had a wafer thin majority of just eight members in the 294-member state assembly, YSR was working on a plan to lure MLAs of other parties, including members of main opposition Telugu Desam Party.
He had two options in Chiranjeevi's case -- he could invite the entire party to merge with the Congress or divide the party to lure sufficient number of MLAs to avoid the anti defection law. PRP had 18 members in the state assembly.
But his sudden death in a helicopter crash in September 2009 derailed these plans.
Image: Chiranjeevi participates in a state-wide road show
Jagan on the backfoot
Now, the central leadership has revived YSR's plan to checkmate his ambitious son Jaganmohan. Worried that more than 20 MLAs and two Members of Parliament of the Congress are openly siding with the former Kadapa MP, technically reducing the state government to a minority, Congress managers swung into action and made an irresistible offer to Chiranjeevi.
With one stroke, the Congress seems to have taken the wind out of Jagan's sails. With 18 PRP MLAs in its kitty and the support of seven MLAs of Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen, the Congress seems to be on top of the numbers game.
The ground is now ready for an offensive by the Congress against Jagan's supporters. The party is getting ready to get at least half a dozen pro-Jagan MLAs disqualified from the House sometime next week. This has already started creating jitters among Jagan's supporters. The number of MLAs supporting him has climbed down from 20 to approximately a dozen. The Congress leadership is now gung ho that most of these MLAs will come back to its fold once they realise that they cannot bring down the state government.
Image: Jaganmohan Reddy
Chiranjeevi's long term plan
Though Chiranjeevi was toying with the idea of tying up with the Congress for some time, a sense of urgency was apparently created by the threat of Jaganmohan luring away his legislators. At least five of the PRP's 18 MLAs, including Shobha Nagi Reddy and Katasani Ram Reddy, had started hobnobbing with Jagan.
Secondly, Chiranjeevi had not joined politics to play a minor role with a small group of 18 MLAs and lead a small party, which had nowhere to go till 2014 assembly polls. The prospect of getting some of his leaders important positions in the government, a seat in Rajya Sabha and couple of seats in the legislative council were not the only reason behind Chiranjeevi packing up his party.
Like Congress, Chiranjeevi too has a long term plan -- of emerging as the most powerful Congress leader in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, if and when Telangana becomes a separate state. With his clear stand favouring an united Andhra Pradesh and against Telangana state, Chiranjeevi has already endeared himself to many in the coastal belt and Rayalaseema.
Congress and Chiranjeevi are getting ready for 2014 polls
After the death of YSR, the Congress had found itself rudderless in these two important regions. Party leaders believe that with his charisma and popularity, Chiranjeevi will be able to fill the leadership vacuum in Andhra and Rayalaseema.
While Chiranjeevi belongs to West Godavari district in coastal Andhra, politically he represents Tirupati of Rayalaseema in the assembly.
In terms of caste politics, Congress is hopeful that Chiranjeevi will be able to ensure the continuing support of his Kapu community for the party. It had become a crucial factor as many Kapus in Krishna-Godavari belt had started supporting Jagan.
Both Congress and Chiranjeevi seem to be getting ready for the state elections in 2014, when Telangana will be a separate state and they will have to focus on establishing their supremacy in the newly created Andhra-Rayalaseema state.
As far as Telangana is concerned, Congress is working on a different strategy to retain its hold there.
Image: Y Rajasekhara Reddy
What about the chemistry?
In 2009 elections, the Congress' popular vote share was 36.56 and PRP had polled 16.22 per cent votes. The TDP had got 28.12 per cent votes and its allies Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India-Marxist had got 2.6 per cent votes.
The combined vote share of Congress and PRP will be sufficient to see it through in a multi-cornered battle as Jagan's yet to be launched party will also be in the electoral fray.
But as the saying goes, politics is not just about mathematics but also about chemistry. Political experts have already started wondering about what kind of cataclysmic reaction the Congress-Chiranjeevi formulation will trigger among the masses and other parties.
Image: Chiranjeevi's office in Hyderabad