The victory by a huge margin in the Nandyal Assembly by-election and sweep of Kakinada Municipal Corporation in Andhra Pradesh this week has given a big relief to the ruling TDP. Opposition leader Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, which is struggling hard to a comeback under the guidance of poll strategist Prashant Kishor (PK), has suffered a jolt in the polls.
TDP won the Nandyal Assembly byelection as its candidate Bhuma Brahmananda Reddy got a handsome margin of around 27,466 votes against his YSR Congress rival and former minister Shilpa Mohan Reddy in the 23 August election. Votes were counted on 28 August. TDP secured around 56% of votes, while YSR Congress bagged around 40%.
Winning Nandyal is prestigious for TDP as its comes in the Rayalaseema region where Jagan wields considerable influence and his candidate Mohan Reddy is a local strongman. Nandyal, which once sent then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to the Lok Sabha in a byelection in 1991, is known for faction feuds, and money and muscle power openly play a big role in elections here.
TDP won the Nandyal Assembly seat the first time in 18 years, as all these years, this seat remained a stronghold of the ruling Congress when former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was there and later Bhuma Nagi Reddy, whose sudden demise in March caused the byelection. Nagi Reddy won this seat twice on Praja Rajyam Party (2009) and YSR Congress (2014) tickets. Later, he defected to TDP in 2016.
Nagi Reddy’s daughter Akhila Priya who too won on a YSR Congress ticket from adjacent Allagadda Assembly seat in 2014, defected to TDP along with her father and became a minister three months ago, after Nagi Reddy’s demise. The 28-year-old minister fielded her cousin Bhramananda Reddy, 31, against seasoned leader Mohan Reddy, 62, and won.
In the Kakinada Municipal Corporation, the ruling TDP which has a tie-up with BJP wrested 35 divisions, while YSR Congress won 10 divisions and the remaining three were won by TDP rebels. In this coastal city too, TDP won the civic body for the first time in 30 years. All these years, the city has been a stronghold of the Congress. This election is held after a gap of seven years.
These two electoral victories couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the TDP which is battling an onslaught by Jagan who has hit the streets for the past three years and is going to launch a six-month long padayatra (walkathon) for 3,000 km from 22 October. Jagan has taken these two elections seriously and campaigned for almost a month and addressed dozens of meetings.
TDP hasn’t won any decisive electoral victories over YSR Congress in recent years and the ruling party hasn’t yet come out of the nightmarish defeats it sustained in the hands of Jagan in a series of bypolls held in the combined AP between 2010 and 2013, after the death of former Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy. In most of the bypolls, TDP fared poorly and lost deposits too.
Now, these two wins have boosted the image of the TDP for more than one reason. Recent reports that the BJP was open to partner with Jagan in AP in the next elections have caused concern in TDP circles. A defeat in Nandyal or a poor show in Kakinada civic body would have compelled the BJP to go with the winning horse in AP.
Now that TDP won these elections, the BJP has not only made it clear that it has no plans to switch alliance partners and blamed YSR Congress for the personalised attacks against CM Chandrababu Naidu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweets on 28 August congratulating TDP, an NDA ally, for the Nandyal victory has cheered up the ruling party camp.
These electoral victories have also proved that TDP would not be affected by the professional strategising by Jagan’s adviser PK and his team. At one stage, the TDP leaders were unsure of their winning prospects as PK is known for better strategising. Jagan’s decision to visit each and every village of Nandyal for 18 days and his poll promises to the constituency were attributed to PK’s advice.
Similarly, TDP candidate Mohan Reddy’s younger brother Shilpa Chakrapani Reddy’s resignation from the AP Legislative Council, too, was attributed to PK’s strategising. If Mohan Reddy won the seat, Jagan would have mounted pressure on TDP to disqualify his 20 other MLAs who had defected and face the byelections. However, TDP’s win has diluted such demand. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is all the more pleased with the Kakinada Municipal Corporation victory. The civic body with around 2.3 lakh votes has given a comfortable majority to the ruling party and limited Jagan to close to one-fifth of the divisions. Though this is a municipal election, both Naidu and Jagan focused their energies to win here.
Naidu is pleased with the Kakinada win as the coastal city is a strong base of the Kapu community which is currently on a warpath demanding OBC status to their members. Kapu leader and former minister Mudragada Padmanabham has been agitating for OBC status for the last one year and has the backing of Jagan in this.
Jagan banked on the clout of Padmanabham for his party’s win in Kakinada. But, as people of the port city have voted for the ruling party, the Chief Minister has heaved a sigh of relief. Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu who hails from East Godavari district, for which Kakinada is the headquarters, told The Sunday Guardian that these two elections point to a TDP wave in AP ahead of the 2019 elections.
YSR Congress MLC and former Union minister Ummareddy Venkateswarlu, however, differed with the view and told this newspaper that his party was definitely disappointed over the results. “But it is too early to predict the same trend in the coming general elections,” he said. Venkateswarlu alleged that the TDP won the elections by using money power.