Will welfare mantra do the trick for YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh this time?

The people’s verdict on Jagan Reddy’s rule will serve as a case study for politicians on where to lay their emphasis — welfare or development.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Apr 27, 2024 | 11:00 AMUpdatedApr 27, 2024 | 11:00 AM

Andhra welfare schemes

The YSRCP is betting big on the welfare schemes to help it navigate through the choppy electoral waters in Andhra Pradesh. But, is its confidence rational or misplaced?

The people’s verdict on Jagan Mohan Reddy’s five-year rule, with a heavy accent on welfare schemes, would serve as a case study for politicians on where to lay their emphasis on going forward — welfare or development.

For a politician, winning an election is all that matters, regardless of whether the methods employed are fair or foul. They know that in war and politics, the enemy does not play by the rules.

Also Read: Andhra CM Jagan lists out welfare schemes; seeks people’s mandate again

Welfare schemes in the state

The YSRCP has the sole bragging rights on the implementation of the welfare schemes. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has taken the welfare agenda to the extreme levels from where his father and late YS Rajasekhar Reddy left off in 2009 with his saturation policy.

The YSRCP says that in the state, each household is a beneficiary of at least ₹10,000 per annum, a feat no government in the past had done. The party hoped that the people would remember the party at the time of casting their votes.

On Wednesday, 24 April, at a Memantha Sidhdam meeting, Jagan Mohan Reddy said: “In my 58 months of rule, I have transferred ₹3.75 lakh crores into the bank accounts of the people through DBT and non-DBT methods.”

He said that he was out there among the people fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

The TDP, the principal constituent of NDA, after slamming the YSRCP for spending too much of the state’s resources on welfare at the cost of development, is also now banking on its “super six” manifesto which is again nothing but welfare schemes.

Throughout a major part of the last five years when the YSRCP has been in power, TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu had spared no effort in nailing how the state had gone bankrupt under Jagan Moha Reddy’s dispensation and how disconcerting the rising mountain of debts had become.

Promises made by TDP

The TDP also referred to how even the state secretariat was mortgaged to raise loans. But now Chandrababu Naidu and his son Lokesh too are chanting the welfare mantra and have come out with their promises.

They are:

  • Youth Employment: The TDP to create 20 lakh jobs for youth, along with providing a monthly unemployment allowance of ₹3,000,
  • Education support: Parents of school-going children would receive ₹15,000 annually through the Thalliki Vandanam,
  • Farmers’ support: Farmers would benefit from an annual grant of ₹20,000 under the Annadata scheme,
  • LPG Subsidy: Deepam scheme to provide three free cylinders annually to every household,
  • Purified Drinking Water: Pure drinking water access to every household with tap connections,
  • Women’s empowerment: Aadabidda Nidhi — women aged 18 to 59 would receive a monthly grant of ₹1,500. Additionally, women would have the opportunity to travel free on APSRTC buses.

They are more or less akin to the six guarantees of the Congress government in Telangana.

For the party which was relegated to the fringes by the BRS for 10 years with party supremo K Chandrashekar Rao resorting to salami slicing and reducing the size of the Congress strength to just five in the last Assembly, the six guarantees proved to be a game-changer.

Now, Revanth Reddy is haunted by his six guarantees ahead of Lok Sabha elections as he has to find resources to implement them and a host of other populist promises in the Congress manifesto like waiving crop loans up to ₹2 lakh.

The BRS is not leaving him alone, always breathing down on his neck. He does not have time to think of taking up development projects. Not that he would be left with any coppers in the exchequer for any project after the haemorrhage that the welfare schemes would cause.

This proves that in electoral politics, the political parties always have shorter timelines for achieving better electoral results.

Also Read: Andhra Pradesh has future only if NDA comes to power: Chandrababu Naidu

On-ground reality

Infrastructure development to increase employment opportunities, the major task for any government, has lately been taking a backseat because the gestation period is too long.

They know that they cannot afford to get bogged down in making fishing nets for fishermen to fish on their own, and if they do, their rivals approach the same fishermen with ready-to-eat fish and win their hearts.

In the past, though there was stress on welfare, there was also a focus on development that would improve the state’s economy, necessary for raising the people’s living standards.

Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister NT Rama Rao (NTR Sr) was the first to chant the welfare mantra when he set up his TDP in 1982 and steam-rolled to power in 1983.

Though the self-respect of the people was a potential political weapon that he chose to hammer the then Congress down, what proved to be the game changer was his ₹2 a kg rice scheme.

The Congress cried foul, calling it a populist scheme. But the TDP stuck with it and in fact, added more popular schemes to its political arsenal like allowing a share in parents’ property to women, abolition of the Patel-Patwari system, bringing in prohibition and so on.NTR thus led the way to welfare-oriented politics.

YSR’s welfare schemes defeated Naidu

Chandrababu Naidu, who came to power after pulling the rug from under the feet of NTR in 1995 continued the schemes. But the major thrust for the welfare scheme came once again during the late YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s (YSR) tenure which began in 2004.

He took the welfare scheme agenda of the party to new heights. He defeated Chandrababu Naidu in 2004 basically with his promise of providing free power supply to the agriculture pump sets. Ironically, free power supply to the farm sector is needed more in Telangana than in Andhra and that helped him overthrow Naidu’s regime.

Though his trusted colleague K Rosaiah, who later became finance minister and then chief minister after Rajasekhar Reddy’s demise in a helicopter crash in 2009, advised him against the free power supply scheme, he did not listen.

Rosaiah is a leader who was raised on the economic principle that one should cut one’s coat according to cloth.

Though Rajasekhar Reddy used to consider Rosaiah’s suggestions, for this one advice, he put it aside and provided free power supply to the agriculture pump sets.

“I told Rajasekhar that free power supply would drain the exchequer, but he did not listen,” the late Rosaiah had told this correspondent when he was a minister in YSR’s Cabinet.

Debate over welfare schemes

Now that the elections are fast approaching for Andhra Pradesh, the debate is over whether the welfare schemes, which are in a supersaturation mode, would help Jagan Mohan Reddy return to power. If the past is any indication, welfare schemes need necessarily not help a party to come to power.

For instance, YSR who rode to power in 2004 with a tally of 185 seats in a house of 294 in undivided Andhra Pradesh on the strength of promises of welfare schemes, had lost a lot of ground in 2009 though he won the election.

This happened even though he had implemented all his promises and many more. Even then he got only 156 seats, prompting him to say that the people had given him just pass marks and that he needed to do a lot more for the people to get a better grade in the next elections but in the same year, he died in a helicopter crash.

Naidu’s policy against the schemes

After the division of the state in 2014, people plumped for Chandrababu Naidu who is not very well known for implementing welfare schemes.

In fact, he used to be against the policy of giving anything free and Congress used to deride him for saying so in a book that he wrote — Manasulo Maata.

He had gone against the policy of welfare, by jacking up the power tariff which led to widespread protests and in 2000 it led to police opening fire at demonstrators at Basheer Bagh, leading to the death of three youths.

Following that, Naidu came out with his policy of reforms and called them reforms with a human face. Put bluntly, it is like a velvet-fisted punch on the face of the people.

Despite the known history of Chandrababu Naidu that his policies had an anti-welfare flavour, the people elected him in 2014 to lead the nascent Andhra Pradesh because of his vast experience as chief minister.

Though the people adored YSR and Congress for the welfare schemes, they did not vote for his scion Jagan Mohan Reddy and went with Chandrababu Naidu.

Chandrababu Naidu, after winning the election in 2014, concentrated more on the construction of Amaravati with the help of the Singapore government and for most of his five-year term he delved into Amravati only and nothing else.

He neglected to come out with new welfare schemes and gave a push to the existing ones. He was obsessed with Amaravti all the time, riding a shotgun with Narendra Modi.

At that time, there was a widespread feeling that had the state remained undivided, Jagan Mohan Reddy would have come to power.

Also Read: Can’t describe what Jagan Mohan Reddy did to AP: Chandrababu Naidu

The road ahead

In 2019, the elections arrived once again and Chandrababu Naidu faced defeat the likes of which he had never imagined in his wildest dreams. After losing the elections, Chandrababu Naidu reportedly confided with his colleagues: “Did we torment the people so much that we got just 23 seats in the 175-member house?”

Jagan Mohan Reddy won 151 seats in the divided Andhra Pradesh which is enough for one to be in power even in the undivided state which had a strength of 294.

Now the wheel is turning full circle. Jagan Mohan Reddy is going to the people, showcasing his welfare programmes. Inscrutable as always, the Andhra Pradesh voters do not even let out a teaser of what he thinks.

Will welfare win or development plank of Chandrababu Naidu cut ice with the people — that is the million-dollar question.

Prof DAR Subrahmanyam, a political analyst and founder chairman of Navya Andhra Intellectuals’ Forum, based out of Guntur, says Jagan Mohan Reddy may not come to power this time.

This is because the anti-incumbency factor weighs more than the positive ambience created by welfare schemes. “Jagan Mohan Reddy may not get more than 60 to 70 seats. The TDP and his allies may get about 95 to 105 seats,” he says.

The welfare schemes might get votes for Jagan Mohan Reddy, but he should watch out for the increasing resentment in urban, and semi-urban areas where the educated youth are witnessing his gameplan.

“I agree there are several other factors that decide the outcome of an election, but I feel that TDP may come to power in the election this time despite the dead weight of BJP which Naidu is carrying on his shoulders. The magic of the welfare scheme may not work as much as Jagan wants them. If Jagan’s 2019 voting percentage of 50 goes down by about 10 percent, Naidu is back in the saddle,” he says.