In conducting politics public perception is as important as reality, although there may not necessarily be a difference between the two. Without delving into the reality of the current situation one can with some confidence describe the public perception created by the arrest of Mr. Jagan Mohan Reddy. From the very start of this controversy it seemed that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi was doing everything possible to convert a chief minister’s son otherwise of little consequence into a martyr, a hero and a national leader. Recall the background.
After Andhra Chief Minister Rajshekhar Reddy died in a plane crash, the Congress culture of dynastic succession surfaced naturally. Things became easier because the late CM’s son, Jagan Mohan Reddy, was already an MP. The Andhra Congress overwhelmingly wanted him to succeed his father. Inexplicably Mrs. Sonia Gandhi resisted that move. Did the prospect of a leader younger than her son, Rahul, heading the state with the largest number of Congress MPs prove too daunting? Subsequently Mrs. Gandhi’s ill conceived decision to hastily announce a separate Telangana state without adequate preparation in order to curtail Jagan’s power only worsened things. She destabilized the most powerful Congress state and widened the gulf between the Andhra Congress loyal to the memory of Jagan’s late father and the small rump loyal to the central leadership.
With time the gulf between the two sides became unbridgeable. As early as September 9, 2009 it was pointed out in these columns: “If Mrs. Gandhi attempts to scotch the Andhra revolt the Congress may have to pay very dearly for that.” Subsequently Jagan resigned from Parliament and the Congress Party. He launched his own party. The Congress succeeded in retaining the government in the state by distributing ministerial posts and threatening expulsion to other MLAs who showed sympathy for Jagan. It betrayed its panic by conducting parleys with known Congress opponents like the actor Charanjeevi. This was the worst signal Congress could have sent to its traditional supporters in the state.
As the months passed Jagan’s strength predictably grew and the government appeared increasingly weak. MLAs wanting to defect from the Congress to Jagan’s party, YSR Congress, were kept on leash only through threats. Now has come a testing time in which several by-elections are to be held. The government had already slapped criminal cases through the CBI for disproportionate assets held by Jagan. So what did the government do? It arrested Jagan on the eve of the polls to curtail his ability to campaign. Earlier when Jagan sought anticipatory bail the Judge wondered why, since he was only to be questioned by CBI! One day before his scheduled appearance in the CBI Special court he was arrested. This naturally led people to draw the obvious conclusion. The government ordered an alert throughout the state. It rounded up Jagan’s loyalists to pre-empt street protests. In short it did everything possible to tell the world what a powerful iconic figure Jagan is in the state. Does such a manufactured martyr need any campaigning? Consider how the Andhra public would perceive this action in the overall political context.
Jagan Reddy has been arrested on poll eve because of alleged disproportionate assets. These assets were acquired by him when his late father was the CM. Rajshekhar Reddy was known to be the biggest political as well as financial benefactor of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. There was never any action undertaken against him. There are cases of disproportionate assets against opposition leaders Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Miss Mayawati and Mr. Laloo Yadav. All three live in comfort outside jail and support the UPA government. Over a dozen leading Congress leaders are neck deep in corruption cases and are reputed to have billions stashed in secret accounts. There are no cases registered against any of them. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi herself has refused to prosecute credible foreign journals and authors for defamation after they categorically accused her family of receiving money from foreign intelligence agencies and holding illegal foreign bank accounts. Whatever the reality conjured by Congress leaders, this is how the public will perceive the context in which Jagan Reddy has been arrested.
So, can the Andhra public hope for a bigger martyr and hero? Today while even opposition parties are struck dumb despite the brazen corruption and victimization practiced by the UPA government, while even rebellious UPA allies like Miss Mamata Banerjee are unable to go beyond cosmetic opposition to the Union government, Jagan Reddy alone will be perceived across the nation as a politician fighting the Congress led by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is doing everything possible to create a national leader. Either she has a suicidal political streak, or there is a mole subverting her party. Even a mole loyal to Jagan Reddy infiltrated in 10 Janpath could not have been more effective in formulating a Congress strategy to build him up.