Hyderabad: TRS senior leader and energy minister Guntakandla Jagadish Reddy is playing a crucial role in helping his party candidate, Nomula Bhagat, in the Nagarjunasagar byelection, just as he proved to be a crucial factor in ensuring S. Saidireddy won the bypoll in Huzurnagar in 2019.
In an interview to Deccan Chronicle, Jagadish Reddy reveals that the BJP bubble that is a strong force in Telangana and an alternative to the TRS has burst, that the Congress is the real rival in rural parts of the state, and that the myth of a strong anti-incumbency wave playing a factor has been belied and laid to rest in the two graduate MLC elections.
How do you perceive the mood of the electorate in Nagarjunsagar to be? What guiding factors will they most likely be considering while voting on April 17?
Voters in Nagarjunsagar seem to have decided to use this opportunity to elect a new young leader and express their confidence in the leadership of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao and the programmes of the TRS government. It will be a pro-incumbency vote.
What possible reasons are there for such a pro-incumbency?
The biggest reason is the transformation of Telangana under Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao's rule, brought about by providing water. For example, in Nagarjunsagar constituency is a village, Rajavaram, where people did not have fresh water for crops for over 50 years, before Telangana state was formed.
At the very start of our first term, KCR changed our approach towards project tail-end areas. We ensured the last village got water connectivity first. Today, the village has seen its farmers sow and reap crops.
In fact, it is the case across Nalgonda, an essentially rural district, where villages and farmers have found their lives transformed because of water. The essentially dry land zone has become green.
Another reason is bringing development and local governance. Take the famous Nandikonda, an internationally recognised tourist centre, where people hardly saw any development. We made it a municipality. They never had drinking water supply, maybe once a week. We have changed that with near daily supply. Add to that several schemes, many of them for farmers, and others, that have ensured there is a great positivity about the TRS.
The BJP has been building a narrative that they are becoming stronger and are the only alternative to the TRS. Do you see it as a concatenation — leading from Dubbak to GHMC to the 2023 Assembly polls?
There is almost no BJP in rural Telangana, and Nagarjunasagar will prove it beyond any doubt. Though we hardly see the Congress as a rival, they are the only opposition to us in most of the state.
How is the mood in Nagarjunasagar?
We have built huge goodwill with successful schemes like 24-hour power supply, Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Bima, Kalyana Laxmi and Shaadi Mubarak, pension for senior citizens. Our campaign for a month now has focussed on reminding the people of the benefits we have already given them. We are using data and reaching out to every single beneficiary of our welfare schemes. So the mood is set for a big TRS win and a thumbs up for our government.
Who do you see the contest as being predominantly between?
The BJP is not even in the contest. In fact, had it been between just the TRS and the Congress, it would have been a no-contest. The little fight is because it is now Jana Reddy versus the TRS. He is saying ‘I am a veteran and this is my last election’ etc.
In Dubbak, BJP candidate M. Raghunandan Rao benefited because of sympathy that he had lost previously. Will Jana Reddy have such a factor working in his favour?
No comparison really. Unlike in Dubbak, where the BJP candidate was young and had lost three consecutive times, and a certain sympathy factor kicked in, in Nagarjunasagar, the battle is between a veteran Congressman and a youth. Jana Reddy has represented seven times and has done little for the people. They choose to defeat him in 2018 to bring the curtains down on his career. Why would they want to revive him now?
Irrespective of who wins, there is a general perception that elections in Telangana since 2018 have become huge money affairs, where cash and liquor are crucial. Secondly, given the Covid pandemic surge, are we following guidelines?
It is a common allegation and people say all parties are responsible. We in TRS do not buy votes but seek them in the name of our programmes. Yes, while our cadre is going around, we may support them with drinking water or paying for their petrol costs for travel, nothing more. Has not the Congress gotten huge crowds? Is Uttam Kumar Reddy not getting crowds for his shows?
They keep complaining because they know they will lose. Why don’t they give specific complaints to the authorities? The police is checking relentlessly for violations and so are the Election Commission observers. Cars of ministers and MLAs are being checked and we are cooperating.
But the Congress has no right to talk about violations. Go see the scene outside Jana Reddy’s house right now (late evening on Friday), there are over 50 cars. Both parties have registered complaints and police have conducted raids. In fact, they found 400 cases of liquor in the Congress office and none in the TRS office.
Looking ahead of this bypoll, how do you see the political scenario in 2023?
I feel in rural parts the Congress will be the principal rival for the TRS. Yes, in some urban pockets the BJP has created a following, maybe around 15 seats out of 119.
The TRS will be the favourite because we have delivered on most points of our manifesto, with a better record than most parties in India. Read our 2014 manifesto, we have worked on each and every point.
In fact, we have done several things which we never mentioned in the manifesto, which is a record no party can match.
Is there absolutely nothing about the TRS for the people to feel disappointed or angry about?
Yes, there is a bit of a disappointment on two aspects — constructing 2BHK houses and distributing land. But we have explained to the people that because of our good work, land prices went up and it will be untenable to distribute land. Houses also, we have explained that because we want to build these only on government land we are facing issues. People have understood.
What about youth and jobs?
It was our mistake that we let the Opposition mislead the people, especially the youth, about it. After we took our achievements to the people, explained how we filled 1.3 lakh government jobs and our industrial policy created over 15 lakh jobs, people are happy. This showed in the graduate MLC elections.
Even government employees are happy knowing we gave the best salary hike possible in the circumstances. Private school teachers and staff were a bit unhappy but the Chief Minister announced very good succour for them too.