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Dynasty politics: YSR family continues to dominate Andhra Pradesh

The politics of Andhra Pradesh revolves around the families of two former chief ministers, who left behind strong political legacies. If there is another leader after Telugu Desam Party (TDP) founder Nandamuri Tarakarama Rao who left a profound impact on Andhra Pradesh politics, it is Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

If legendary actor-turned-politician NTR altered the politics of combined Andhra Pradesh by floating TDP on the plank of Telugu self-respect in early 1980s, YSR emerged as one of the most popular leaders with his revolutionary welfare schemes for farmers and poor.

Such is the domination of these two families on the politics of residuary Andhra Pradesh that their members head four major parties, including the ruling and the main opposition. While NTR’s family has been dominating Andhra politics for four decades, the family of YSR remains central to the state politics even 15 years after his death.

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Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly known as YSR, died in a helicopter crash on September 2, 2009, a few months after he led Congress party to power for a second consecutive term in combined Andhra Pradesh.

Popular for his pro-poor politics, YSR’s sudden death sent shock waves across. His son and Kadapa MP Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was keen to succeed his father as the chief minister, defied Congress leadership to undertake ‘Odarpu yatra’ to console families of those who died of shock following YSR’s death.

In November 2010, Jagan Mohan Reddy along with his mother Vijayamma quit Congress, resigned as MP and MLA respectively and floated a new party — Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP).

Jagan emerged as inheritor of YSR’s political legacy as he won Kadapa Lok Sabha seat in 2011 by-election with a majority of over 5.45 lakh votes. His mother too retained Pulivendula Assembly seat with a huge majority.

In May 2012, Jagan was arrested by the CBI in a disproportionate assets case and sent to jail a few weeks before by-elections. Though Jagan was in jail, his mother and sister Y.S. Sharmila carried the party campaign and YSRCP emerged as a key force by capturing Nellore Lok Sabha seat and 15 out of 18 Assembly seats in the bypolls.

Bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 and the public anger in the residuary state wiped out Congress, and YSRCP emerged as the alternative. Though the TDP-BJP alliance came to power in 2014, Jagan’s party became a formidable force and he sustained the party banking on his father’s rich political legacy.

The big moment arrived for Jagan in 2019 as YSRCP stormed to power with a landslide majority. However, cracks appeared in the family with Jagan sidelining his sister Sharmila, who had actively campaigned for the party in 2014 and 2019 polls.

In 2021, Sharmila embarked on a new political journey by floating YSR Telangana Party to cash in on YSR legacy in Telangana. Despite her statewide padyatra and best efforts, the party failed to establish itself. Though she was ready to merge her party with the Congress ahead of the 2023 Assembly polls, the Telangana Congress leadership was not keen and advised her to lead the party in Andhra Pradesh. Stating that defeating KCR is her priority, Sharmila decided to stay away from Telangana polls to avoid a split of anti-BRS votes.

After the Congress party’s victory, Sharmila had no option but to return to Andhra Pradesh politics by joining Congress. The Gandhi family, which cleared her misunderstanding and told her that they will continue to have huge respect for YSR, succeeded in convincing her to take up the responsibility of reviving Congress in Andhra Pradesh.

Sharmila is now claiming herself to be the real successor of YSR’s political legacy. “YSR has been with Congress for his entire life. His dream was to make Rahul Gandhi the Prime Minister. I will work to fulfil his dream,” she said while targeting her brother for mortgaging the state’s interests by becoming a tool in the hands of the BJP government at the Centre.

Sharmila is likely to enter the fray from the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat, where her cousin Y.S. Avinash Reddy is seeking re-election for a third consecutive term as the YSRCP candidate.

Kadapa Lok Sabha seat has been YSR family’s pocket borough for nearly four decades. YSR was elected from here in 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998 and when he entered Assembly in 1999, YSR’s younger brother Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy was elected from Kadapa as a Congress candidate. In 2004, Vivekananda Reddy retained the seat.

After completing first term in power, YSR brought his young son into politics. The young businessman was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kadapa in 2009. However, within a few months the situation underwent a dramatic change with YSR’s tragic death.

Pulivendula, one of the Assembly segments under Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency, has been YSR family’s stronghold for 46 years. YSR was first elected to the Assembly from here in 1978 and he won every election from here till he moved to the Lok Sabha in 1991. He returned to Pulivendula in 1999 to challenge the TDP government headed by Chandrababu Naidu. He finally succeeded in bringing Congress to power in 2004 after his famous ‘padayatra’ across the state.

YSR’s brothers Y.S. Purushotham Reddy and Vivekananda Reddy were elected from Pulivendula in 1991 and 1994 respectively. YSR’s wife Vijayamma was elected unopposed in 2010 by-election following his death. She later won the seat in a by-election as YSRCP candidate.

Like his father, Jagan Mohan Reddy also became chief minister while representing Pulivendula. It remains to be seen how the battle for YSR’s political legacy unfolds when Sharmila takes on Avinash Reddy in Kadapa.

As Avinash Reddy is named as an accused by the CBI in the murder of Vivekananda Reddy, Sharmila will also have the support of Vivekananda Reddy’s daughter Sunitha Reddy, who has been fighting for justice for five years and accusing Jagan of shielding the killers of her father.

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