Kommineni Srinivasa Rao
It has been 15 years since the late Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy made history with his Padayatra, Praja Prasthanam. Often we tend to wonder whether it has been fifteen years already! Back then, one was not sure of the future of the Congress party. In 1999, presumably because of Kargil or the Atal Behari Vajpayee effect, Andhra Pradesh saw the return of Chandrababu Naidu as the chief minister. Congress party cadres were completely demoralised at that time.
It was at such a critical time that Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy got ready to lead the charge against the TDP and to breathe life into the Congress. Many of his own party leaders and MLAs were keen to see him continue in the assembly as an opposition leader. As it turned out, Dr. YSR took it as a challenge and worked spiritedly as an opposition leader, reached out to the masses and strengthened Congress party at the grassroots level.
Dr. YSR, in the process, ensured that the Congress emerged as a political alternative to Telugu Desam. Back then, M. Satyanarayana Rao was the APCC chief. He was succeeded by D. Srinivas. Normally, the PCC chief has the last word on anything, but in the case of Dr. YSR, he shouldered the responsibility of the entire party. He consulted his close friend and associate, KVP Ramachandra Rao and a few other senior leaders on the way forward. It was at this time that the idea of the Padayatra was born. The thought itself created a major sensation at that time.
People were vexed with Chandrababu Naidu and the ruling Telugu Desam party. People were angry with Chandrababu for neglecting the agriculture sector. Moreover, drought conditions were at their worst. It was under such conditions that Dr. YSR created a sensation by announcing that power would be supplied free to farmers.
Dr. YSR undertook his padayatra, launching it from Sabitha Indira Reddy's constituency, Chevella. It was on account of the success of this padayatra that 'Chevella chellemma' also became popular as a sentiment in the hearts and minds of people. This is the reason why Dr. YSR would undertake many of his programmes from there. He began listing out the promises which would be fulfilled by the Congress on its return to power.
Dr. YSR carried on his padayatra succesfully first in all parts of Telangana. The appearance of the leader going about villages, dressed in the manner of a farmer endeared him to the masses. They could identify themselves with him. He fell ill at Rajahmundry and had to rest for some time. A determined leader, he was intent on completing his padayatra and carried it right up to Ichhapuram in Srikakulam. The result of his Padayatra is there for history to judge. Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy emerged as the undisputed leader of the Congress party and single-handedly brought it to power, writing a new chapter in the history of the nation.
In 2009 Dr. YSR was singularly responsible for ensuring that 33 members were elected on congress tickets to the Lok Sabha. However, some sections of the Congress were under the illusion that this was on account of the charisma of Sonia Gandhi and they created a rift between Sonia Gandhi and Dr. YSR's family. This explains many of the irrational decisions taken by Sonia Gandhi after Dr. YSR's unfortunate demise, leading to the downfall of the congress in 2014.
Subsequently, the congress connived with the TDP to foist cases on YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and sent him to prison. However, YS Jagan remained steadfast in the pursuit of his objective as the true inheritor of his father's legacy. He ensured that his sister, Sharmila and his mother, YS Vijayamma, kept the memory of his father, as also the mission of the party alive.
YS Jagan should have become the chief minister of AP in the 2014 elections, but the Modi factor, Pawan Kalyan factor and the countless false promises made by Chandrababu Naidu worked against him. Chandrababu also undertook a padayatra, but having enjoyed power for nine years and having been defeated twice, this time around he did not hesitate to promise the moon to people. He spoke in favour of bifurcation of the state in Telangana and steered clear of this topic in Andhra.
Chandrababu Naidu also promised to waive loans amounting to 90,000 crores and DWCRA loans amounting to 15,000 crores, give unemployment allowance of Rs.2,000 and gave a host of other such assurances. While he managed to come to power, Chandrababu lost all credibility as chief minister. To cite one example: I was present at a public meeting in Nizamabad, addressed by Chandrababu Naidu on his padayatra. After the meeting got over, I asked a farmer for his reaction. His response was simple. If everything was fine, where was the need for a padayatra, he said.
YS Jagan has now been on a padayatra since November 6, 2017, walking in the footsteps of his father. The fact that he has never made promises which he cannot fulfill has lent enormous credibility to him as someone who remains true to his word. His commitment and sincerity are his biggest strengths. It would not be an exaggeration to say that more people have been joining YS Jagan's padayatra than were seen at his father's walkathon.
The difference between Chandrababu's walkathon and YS Jagan's padayatra could not have been more stark. People came to Chandrababu's padayatra out of curiosity and the audience therefore, was largely a passive audience. In the case of YS Jagan's padayatra, the audience is an active one, reacting spontaneously at his public meetings. On his part, the YSRCP chief has been holding large interactive meetings, involving the audience and engaging with them. One gets the feeling that if Dr. YS Rajasekhara Reddy brought the congress to power single-handedly, Praja Sankalpa Yatra, the mass contact initiative, undertaken by YS Jagan will ensure that YSRCP comes to power this time.