Till recently, YSRCP seemed to be completely dominating the political narrative in Andhra Pradesh but with the shocking losses it suffered in MLC elections and the cross-voting by four of its MLAs, the party suddenly seems vulnerable. PV Midhun Reddy, the YSRCP’s floor leader in the Lok Sabha and a close confidant of chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy candidly spoke to Anindita Chowdhury about the defeats, the lessons learnt and why it will not impact the party’s prospects in the 2024 elections even if N Chandrababu Naidu and Pawan Kalyan join hands. Excerpts:
Q: The chief minister has said that 98 per cent of the poll promises have been fulfilled but when it comes to getting the provisions of the AP Reorganisation Act implemented how have you fared? He visited Delhi recently again, was it fruitful?
A: This has something to do with the previous government. Chandrababu Naidu had a pact with the BJP and he opted for a special package instead of the special category status that was in the Act. Then with Polavoram, it is a national project meaning the Centre will build it and then hand it over to us. That didn’t happen. There were a lot of problems with the project like land acquisition, compensation and rehabilitation. Over time we have clarified all their doubts and now it is going at a slow pace but we are progressing. The recent visit of the chief minister was about the revenue deficit grant which we should have got after the bifurcation but didn’t get at all in past years. Now we are going to get about Rs 10,000 crore. The chief minister visited for the second time in a month to get it cleared before 31 March. Then there is the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act. Chandrababu Naidu, when he was having good relations with BJP, borrowed Rs 17,000 crore, Now they are recovering it from us saying it is not about Chandrababu or Jagan Mohan, it is about Andhra Pradesh. The chief minister met the Union home minister and finance minister and earlier he had met the Prime Minister. A series of meetings were required to sort these things out.
Q: Coming to the recent MLC elections, you lost both the graduate constituencies in Rayalaseema and even Uttar Andhra. Did you let the youths down and did that cost you the graduate constituency in the MLC elections?
A: We actually got more first-preference votes. But there are BJP, CPI, and CPI-M whose second preference and even first preference votes went to TDP. See the CPI and CPI-M have unions, yet their candidates’ votes were less this time than what they got in the last elections. Our government is bringing in reforms like facial recognition-based attendance, pensions, etc. so some people are not happy. Generally, every party has a vote bank and in our case, some 87 per cent of the population receives some benefits from the government. The rest 13 per cent above BPL are the salaried class who do not get benefits. They are mostly the voters in graduate constituencies. We did create two lakh jobs through the village secretariat. But we have time to do the correction before the elections. Again, in Uttar Andhra, our candidate selection could have been better.
Q: So these losses will not impact Assembly elections?
A: KCR also lost the MLC election before winning a second term. YSR had lost Kadapa MLC. Everybody said we won’t win the teachers’ constituency but we did.
Q: Did cornering Chandrababu Naidu in Kuppam prove to be counterproductive?
A: Cornering is not the right word. It was a fair election. Basically, the public voted for us because of the welfare measures. Naidu rarely visited his constituency only one or two times. The people there rebelled against Naidu. It was normal, nothing special but it was Naidu so it was hyped.
Q: But what happened to the MLC election under the MLA quota?
A: We had the information that Anam Ramanarayan Reddy and Kotamreddy Sridhar Reddy will cross vote and also about Mekapati Chandrasekhar Reddy and Vundavalli Sridevi. We told the chief minister that they need not vote. He did not agree and chose to trust them. These two (Chandrasekhar Reddy and Sridevi) came to meet the chief minister, their kids took photographs with him. We told him to assure them of tickets and he said he can’t lie for an MLC election. They have performed really badly in their constituencies. They wanted assurance for tickets. He told them that he cannot assure them that he will make it up in some other way but they wanted the tickets.
Q: But now there is talk that the chief minister has lost control over his MLAs?
A: Out of 151 MLAs there are only four and he is actually having total control and trust of the MLAs. These four have lost his trust. Anam’s daughter is already in the TDP. How can it happen that my son is in some other party and I am in another party? There is no point in keeping him here. And Kotamreddy Sridhar knows he has made a mistake. He has been around a long time but he made a mistake and lost the trust of the chief minister.
Q: Do you think Pawan Kalyan will join hands with CBN? And if they do, what will happen to the Kapu vote?
A: They have already joined hands. The Kapus are a divided lot. In the last election YSRCP won because we fielded more Kapus we got more MLAs from Kapus. According to the survey, our voting percentage will increase. Pawan Kalyan, whatever percentage of votes he gets while going alone, will get less if he goes with TDP. Suppose he has 15 per cent vote he may get only 10 per cent because the rest don’t like Naidu and the vote transfer may not happen. There might be some impact in some seats like East Godavari but not widely. In fact, this election will be between those who are for Jagan and those against him.
Q: Ten years after Reorganisation, AP is again going to polls without a permanent capital. Will this impact the polls?
A: Just because Naidu had bought 50 acres of land he wanted the capital to be there (Amaravati). He wanted a city like Hyderabad which took some hundreds of years to grow. We need to make a decision holistically we cannot create unrest in any of the regions. I will not say there won’t be any impact but the advantage will overshadow the disadvantage. The positivity of our decision will outweigh other considerations.
Q: In the past, we saw Telugus dominating national politics during Congress rule or Naidu and even YSR. Why did you cede that space?
A: The day Congress bifurcated the state we lost our strength. From 42 MPs we were reduced to 25. What can you do with just 22 MPs? Our chief minister on his first visit to Delhi had voiced this saying ‘I wish we had a coalition government’. Then there would have been some bargaining points. This government has a brute majority.
Q: Isn’t KCR doing it with 17 MPs?
A: What option does he have? Why didn’t he do it in the first term? He is doing it only because they lost Hyderabad (civic polls). There is nothing wrong with opposing. But could he get funds from the Centre? We took a conscious decision to offer issue-based support. We opposed triple talaq and on some other issues and whenever there is an opportunity we raise the demand for special category status.