The route to the Chief Minister’s chair in Andhra Pradesh appears to lie through the dust and sand of village roads, by way of a foot march. Former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy did it in 2004, Chandrababu Naidu, a decade later, in 2014.
Now YSR’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy is out to make a record, covering 3,650 km in over a year – the longest footmarch undertaken by any political leader in the country. Assembly elections are due in the state in about four months.
The jury is out on whether it would catapult him to the Chief Minister’s chair. But Mr Reddy believes he is now in a better position than in 2014, when his YSR Congress party was up against a grand alliance of Telugu Desam, the BJP and regional party Jana Sena.
The YSR Congress lost, but its voteshare was hardly 2 per cent less than the winner. And now, Mr Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party has parted ways with the BJP and the Jana Sena.
When Mr Reddy started the Praja Sankalpa Yatra in November 2017, he was rattled by the defection of 21 of his lawmakers, how had shifted to the TDP. Mr Naidu had given ministerial berths to four of them.
Mr Reddy has come to an understanding with Mr Naidu’s arch-rival- Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekara Rao. He has told people that he and Mr Rao would get together to bring special category status for Andhra Pradesh and for that, they are ready to support anyone.
“We don’t trust any of the national parties or Naidu … they all cheated Andhra Pradesh. Whoever signs on dotted line for special category status, we will support. That is why we need to get 25 MP seats here and 17 from Telangana will support us, and we can emerge as a formidable force.”
Several cars bringing up the rear in the foot march carry stickers on their rear window that say, “Ninnu nammam Babu” meaning “We won’t trust you Chandrababu”.
That was a line used multiple times by Mr Reddy in his public meetings after each day’s walk. Relating stories about failed promises, like loan waivers or unemployment dole or job for all or fee reimbursement, he would conclude, “Now people are saying “Ninnu nammam Babu”.
In 2014, voters often said they had voted for Mr Naidu instead of Mr Reddy, since he had experience and would deliver on any aspirations of a newly carved state. Mr Reddy tries to drive home a claim that he has not delivered.
Today, at the end of 340 days of March Mr Reddy unveiled a pylon and held a massive public meeting. The challenge, however, would be to keep up the momentum till elections in April.
Mr Reddy also mocked Mr Naidu’s attempt to play a role in national politics, saying he tours all over the country but doesn’t address people’s problems in the state. “Naidu goes to have coffee with Kumaraswamy but won’t find time for Anantpur farmers. Naidu goes to Chennai and has idli-sambar with Stalin. Goes to Mamata and has chicken, but doesn’t solve people’s problems,” he said.
Mr Reddy’s next stop is Tirumala, where he will trek uphill for a darshan of lord Balaji as thanksgiving for a successful padyatra.