Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thoughts on Andhra Politics

As elections approach many Indian states including Andhra Pradesh are gearing up for tough battles between parties. Andhra is interesting for many reasons - the first and foremost being that Congress is at its strongest in this state when compared to any other state in India. Second, and not any less important is that Chiranjeevi, a very popular movie star is in the election foray this time around.

Many of the comments below may not be factual. All the usual legal mumbo jumbo and disclaimers apply. This is my blog and I choose to express my own opinion on it :)

Andhra had been Congress' bastion for many years up until 1983 when NTR launched his Telugu Desam party and forever changed the dynamics of the state's political landscape. Caste politics ruled the roost for many years with TDP being dominated by the kammas and the Congress by the reddys - the dominant castes in Andhra. The roots of the dominance of these two parties lies in their hold over land and trade in the state.

Kammas are very strong in the coastal andhra region whereas reddys are primarily entrenched in the rayalaseema region. After winning the 1984 elections, NTR lost them in 1989 due to the failure of his populist schemes. The following 5 years were of great instability and the Congress party was not able to find a good leader who can take the helm. In 1994, not surprisingly NTR swept to power only to see Chandra Babu Naidu pull a coup and wrest the power from his hands.

After being marooned in his house and seeing all his family members abandon him NTR passed away eventually, leaving a legacy of charisma, vision, and caste politics. The period from 1994-99 was reasonably good for the state and not surprisingly, Mr. Naidu was reelected to power for a second term. Mr. Naidu was able to place Andhra at the leading edge of growth in India and soon AP became part of an elite set of progressive states that included Gujarat, Maharashtra, TN and Karnataka.

However, Mr. Naidu's shortsighted approach that was biased against rural development largely led to his loss in the 2004 elections. YSR came to power on the promises of rural development and has been able to deliver at least partly on the promises that he had made before the election.

In Late 2008, Chiranjeevi announced the formation of a new political party - Praja Rajyam. backed by his fans and well-wishers he set up a non-caste platform and started focusing on the development of masses as a message. Films and politics have always been intertwined in Andhra. NTR's legacy has left an indelible mark with the presence of so many junior and senior artists in the state's assembly. It continues with Chiranjeevi's entry and the subsequent entry of Rajasekhar, Jeevitha, Roja and a lot of other actors and actresses.

I cannot understand why we need so many movie stars as representatives. The local news channels and newspapers have done a terrible job of keeping the people informed about the policy implications of the agenda of various parties. Chiranjeevi has started on a fresh platform and can make a difference if sets up the right campaign that focuses on the challenges that are faced by the state. However, his message has not been clear with so many melodramatic people involved in his campaign. His brother Pavan Kalyan seems to run a campaign almost independently of his brother's -at least in execution. Maybe his magnetism will pull a lot of fans - but in reality fans are not voters!

In a way, I like a third front to Congress and TDP in Andhra because it decimates the caste divide, a legacy of these two parties. The Left has never been a strong presence in Andhra, except in districts where Naxals have sympathizers, and BJP is weak at its best with almost no appeal in coastal areas. Maybe it is driven by the religious make-up of the state. Many of the state's residents do not have strong religious affiliations and the smartha tradition, a weaker version of brahmanism, has been widely prevalent in the state. Moreover, being close to Tamil Nadu the state also seems to have rubbed off a lot of dravidian influence as well and over centuries has been a platform for other religions such as Buddhism and Islam.

At the end of it, it seems these are exciting and nervous times for the state. As I have said before elsewhere in my blog, Chiranjeevi has a good opportunity by I see him scuttling it by not being coherent in his message. He has a clear opportunity to make a difference by adopting a free-market agenda driven by rational economic thought and refrain from adopting populist schemes. He has to build up a scalable political machine that is disciplined and does not resort to melodrama like TDP does. He will be useful to the state as a powerful third front that is secular and pro-markets even if not in power.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's refreshing to see your unbiased critique on AP politics. However, I have a bone to pick with you. Let me disclose first that I am a Congress voter.
Is it in the interest of our people that there be caste polarisation? Should we have a Third Front based entirely on caste? Why can't we have a Third Front on the basis of economic status?
I have long held the belief that there should be only three parties in India: BJP in the right, Congress in the Centre and the Communist parties on the left. This gives us an idelological basis upon which we can decided whom to vote for. The profusion of regional parties are only family interests with no fidelity to even their own caste group. I have seen such parties betray even their own caste interests when there is gain to be had for the dominant family. That's not politics. That's just feudalism in another disguise.
All the same, enjoyed reading your post.