Bengaluru: For Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who completed a year in office Saturday, his tenure so far has been a trial by fire, for him as well as the people of the state.
It took Jagan almost a decade to step into his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s shoes. But since the day he assumed office in the state on 30 May, 2019, a feat achieved after covering 3,648 km as part of a political padayatra, his period has been marked by several controversies, political vendetta, radical decisions and a slew of populist schemes.
Jagan claims that he has been able to fulfill nearly 90 per cent of his promises and will definitely keep 100 per cent of them. He also claims his governance has been totally focused on the ‘Navaratnalu’, or nine welfare schemes, he promised to implement.
These nine schemes are the YSR Rythu Bharosa (welfare scheme for farmers), fee reimbursement, Aarogyasri (medical care), Jalayagnam (water management programme), ban on alcohol, Amma Vodi (direct financial assistance worth Rs 15,000 annually to poor), YSR Aasara (loan scheme for women), the Cheyutha scheme (for women from minority communities) and housing for the poor.
“In this one year of governance though our novel schemes we have tried to reach out to every single individual in the state,” state cabinet minister A. Suresh told The Print. “Most of our schemes have resulted in money transfer. We have focused completely on three things — transparency, accountability and being corruption free.”
But barring these welfare schemes, the Jagan Mohan Reddy administration seems to have tried largely to scuttle every major decision made by his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu.
From demolishing Naidu’s dream of a futuristic capital in Amaravati and replacing it with a plan to establish a tri-capital, rolling back tenders by the Naidu government in the multi-crore Polavaram power project, introducing English medium in government schools, abolishing the legislative council to bringing in an ordinance to remove the state election commissioner — a number of decisions have courted major controversies. Some of them have even received a rap from the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
“During his famous padayatra (last year) and later in his election manifesto, Jagan said he would deliver on two major issues — special category status for Andhra Pradesh and welfare schemes,” said Professor E. Venkatesh of the Department of Political Science at the University of Hyderabad. “Apart from making the special category status an issue in the beginning of his rule, today it is a forgotten topic. His welfare schemes may be reaching people to a certain extent. But the question is can he sustain them for four years?”
Another political commentator Palwai Raghavendra agrees that Jagan’s social welfare schemes have met expectations as the cash transfer schemes have reached people.
“Jagan’s challenge is that he is constantly compared to his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and his Telangana counterpart K. Chandrashekhar Rao, both of whom have a great legacy of welfare schemes,” Raghavendra said. “But his administration has suffered setbacks in that many decisions have been shot down by the judiciary as they were seen as being undemocratic.”
Naidu versus Jagan
Analysts say that Jagan has largely been obsessed with erasing Naidu’s imprint and that was seen when he went on a rampage to raze Praja Vedika, a brand new convention centre worth Rs 9 crore that Naidu had built.
Flagship projects of the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government such as the Amaravati city project and the multipurpose Polavaram project on the Godavari river were slowly and steadily brought to a grinding halt.
From scrapping the Naidu government’s farmer-directed Annadata Sukhibhava scheme and replacing it with his Rs 13,000 crore ‘Rythu Bharosa’, to reversing tenders, Jagan, TDP leaders claim, is on a mission to destroy his predecessor’s legacy.
“Jagan has been undoing every thing that his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy did for the benefit of Telugu people. He has failed to take the opportunity to fulfil his promises and betrayed the people who elected him with great hope,” former AP minister and TDP minister Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao told ThePrint. “He is proceeding in the negative direction. He only wants to undo everything that his predecessor Naidu has done.”
TDP leaders say the government has gone to the extent of shrinking Naidu’s security cover, allowing him to be frisked at the Vijayawada airport in 2019. Naidu had been provided Z-security in 2003 after he survived a Maoist attack.
Defending his party and government, Suresh said there was no question of “undoing good schemes”.
“We have only improvised schemes like Rythu Bharosa and made it a novel scheme one that is unmatched. Was Arogyasri, the health scheme, Naidu’s idea? Was the pension plan his idea too?” Suresh asked. “We have been working to provide the best. Naidu announced loan waivers and went back on his word.”
High court raps
Among the setbacks for Jagan has been the Andhra Pradesh High Court pulling up his government on a number of occasions for what it deemed were anti-people decisions taken without proper consultation.
Members of Jagan’s party have irked the courts in such a way that for the first time in judicial history, the high court ruled against a serving government for running a smear campaign against it on social media.
The court initiated contempt of court proceedings against 49 social media users who for a “smear campaign against judges” who delivered orders against certain decisions made by the state government. The users included Bapatla YSRCP MP Nandigam Suresh, former MLA Amanchi Krishna Mohan and several other noted YSR Congress Party leaders, for attributing caste motives and corruption allegations against the judges.
Never before has a court initiated proceedings against people based on social media remarks. But the tipping point came, the HC observed, when judges who ruled against certain proposals of the Jagan government were termed as Naidu’s men.
The court also took serious cognisance of the government’s decision to oust State Election Commissioner N. Ramesh Kumar through an ordinance.
The ordinance had reduced the SEC’s term from five years to three. The move to remove Kumar, a former IAS officer, came after he put on hold elections to municipalities, zilla parishads, mandal parishads and gram panchayats in March in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
The government also earned the ire of the high court for painting panchayat offices with the colours of the YSR Congress party. In its order, the HC asked the state government why the decision was made despite its earlier orders and sought to know why a contempt case should not be filed against it.
The court also struck down the government’s decision to introduce English as the medium of instruction in government schools.
Cabinet minister Suresh defended the chief minister’s decisions, saying many of them were taken as part of reforms.
“Bringing in English medium to the people was an idea to give all a level-playing field. It was struck down,” he said. “The point the court made was we did not take the opinion of parents. That’s just a technical point. See the spirit of the decision.”
Speaking on the SEC being removed, Suresh called it part of electoral reforms.
“We have noted that there was no transparency in bureaucracy and so we wanted the judiciary to conduct fair elections. That was the reason behind the ordinance,” he added.
Capital city of Amaravati
Soon after taking over as the chief minister in May 2019, Reddy slowly and steadily brought his predecessor Naidu’s dream of a world-class capital city of Amaravati to a grinding halt. He junked the Naidu government’s proposal to establish a futuristic capital in Amaravati and replaced it with a plan to establish a tri-capital mechanism. Reddy justified the move citing monetary concerns.
The state government adopted a resolution in January this year to realise Jagan’s promise of three capitals for Andhra Pradesh — Amravati, Visakhapatnam and Kurnool. This decision too came under fire of the HC, which did not allow the shifting of the state vigilance and enforcement department to Kurnool.
“The Sivaramakrishnan Committee, formed by the government of India following the AP Reorganisation Act, suggested that a capital should be decentralised and all the institutions of government be situated within a radius of 1,000 acres. Naidu acquired close to 34,000 acres of land,” Professor Venkatesh said. “The building of the mega capital idea was defeated in the 2019 elections and Jagan also dismantled that idea. He wants three capitals, but that too is under a lot of constraint.”
Justifying his move, Jagan had said in February, “If I invest even 10 per cent of that in Vizag, it can compete with Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai in 10 years, if not five.”
Reverse tendering at Polavaram
In September last year, the government began reverse-tendering works related to the Polavaram national irrigation project, citing alleged corruption during the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government. The Jagan administration later claimed it had saved Rs 780 crore of public money through reverse-tendering.
“A sum of Rs 830 crore was saved in the Polavaram project and Rs 400 crore in the AP-TIDCO housing scheme for the weaker sections as the government cancelled the previous tenders and called for reverse tenders,” Jagan has claimed.
Attack on media
Jagan’s government has not spared media houses as well.
In October 2019, his cabinet approved a proposal to restrain media outlets. This sparked a major controversy as it empowered every department of the administration to sue media organisations for spreading “fake news” through print, electronic or social media.
The decision tweaked a rule brought in by Jagan’s father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the late chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh, in 2007. In the government order issued 12 years ago, the power of filing cases was vested with the special commissioner in the Information and Public Relations (I&PR) department).
Jagan’s decision was condemned by several media bodies, including the Editors Guild. In a statement, the guild expressed “deep concern over this decision stating that it will seriously undermine the functioning of the media”.
A month before this decision, two Telugu media houses, ABN Andhra Jyoti and TV5, went off air in many places after they were put under an “unwritten ban” — which included a bar on covering government press meets — for allegedly carrying anti-government reports. The channels subsequently approached the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which revoked the ban.
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