What is behind Kiran Kumar Reddy's protests?

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 07, 2014 03:52 hrs

On Wednesday, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy became the second Chief Minister, after Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi, to stage a public protest in the national capital.

If people found Kejriwal's protest unconventional, this one was a step ahead. Reddy was protesting a decision by his own party to split Andhra Pradesh to create Telangana. He has emerged as a rallying force for Congress politicians from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema (collectively called Seemandhra).

The Congress Working Committee decided on July 30 last year to divide the state.

There is growing resentment in Seemandhra, especially among entrepreneurs, against the decision. Hyderabad, where most of them have their business base, will become a part of the would-be Telangana. Political leaders have drawn thousands on to the streets against the decision. And, it is Kiran (as the chief minister is popularly known) who has been riding this wave, by openly challenging the party's central leadership while continuing to stay in the office.

Ironically, it is widely perceived that but for the blessings of the party high command, Kiran, then 50, could not have become the state's chief minister in November 2010. His father, Amarnath Reddy, a staunch party loyalist, was a veteran minister.

A former Ranji Trophy (inter-state cricket) player, Kiran had been the legislative assembly Speaker when the Congress leadership had made K Rosaiah, a veteran and senior minister, the CM after Y S Rajasekhara Reddy died in a helicopter crash in September 2009.

As Rosaiah faltered, amid challenges arising from the Telangana statehood movement on one side and a defiant Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy (Jagan), YSR's son, on the other, Kiran silently started making his rounds to Delhi to present himself as the right choice for the post, say insiders.

The central leaders also seemed in search of a candidate to contain Jagan's growing popularity. It was felt Kiran, who hails from Chittoor district in Rayalaseema, would be able to checkmate Jagan, whose family belongs to the same region. Also, both belong to the same dominant Reddy caste.

However, Kiran failed to stop successive victories of the YSR Congress, floated by Jagan, in a series of by-elections to the Assembly.

When subsequent developments pointed to the threat of a complete rout for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, the issue of Telangana came handy for the central leaders to restrict Jagan's influence to Seemandhra, while keeping its hopes of survival alive in Telangana. Also, Kiran's ratings in Seemandhra started growing after Jagan's image as a fighter and challenger took a beating when he was released on bail - there was strong suspicion that he had struck a deal with the Congress for it.

To be sure, Jagan was released a month before the CWC decision on Telangana. The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is probing his case, filed a memo hours before the grant of bail to inform the trial court that there was no further investigation pending against him.

On the other hand, surveys done by the Congress revealed the Centre's decision to go ahead with the creation of Telangana would wipe out the party in the general elections in the Seemandhra region.

A major chunk of the traditional Congress vote bank would shift to Jagan's party and make the elections a one-sided contest. Against this backdrop, Kiran's defiance seems to be working well for the Congress in Seemandhra, a reason sufficient for party leaders to keep silent, though he has openly criticised them and staged a dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

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