Can Padayatra and I-PAC Edge Propel Jagan to CM’s Seat in Andhra?
It’s been a viciously contested election campaign in Andhra Pradesh. Chandrababu Naidu’s re-election chances face a stiff challenge from YSRC chief Jagan Mohan Reddy, aided by Prashant Kishor’s political consultancy I-PAC. Thrown into the mix is Kollywood superstar Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena, whose dream scenario will be to play kingmaker.
Though opinion polls and surveys give Jagan the edge over Chandrababu, even YSRC leaders are worried about the TDP’s formidable booth-level strength. As the state goes to vote to simultaneously elect a new 175-member Assembly as well as its 25 Lok Sabha representatives, here’s a look at the battles that will determine the outcome of the war.
The I-PAC Edge
Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Commmittee, better known by its acronym I-PAC, has lost only one election campaign out of the four it has worked on.
For the 2014 general elections, it worked for the BJP, which stormed to power with a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. In 2015, I-PAC worked for Nitish Kumar’s JDU in Bihar, and helped the mahagathbandhan steamroll the BJP. In 2017, it worked on the Congress’ Punjab and UP campaigns, and due to internal differences, was reportedly asked to step back on Uttar Pradesh and focus on Captain Amarinder Singh’s efforts in Punjab. They did, and Captain took oath as CM soon after. UP has been their only loss so far.
I-PAC has been working on Jagan’s campaign for the past two years, with one team located at the YSRC headquarters in Hyderabad’s Banjara Hills and another bunch of people working from the I-PAC office nearby. They also have one Assembly Constituency Coordinator in each of Andhra’s 175 seats, aiding the YSRC candidates on the ground and providing daily feedback to the central team in Hyderabad.
So, what is the edge that I-PAC brings to the table?
Speaking to The Quint, Rishi Raj Singh, co-founder of I-PAC explains, “What we do is structure the party’s resources and people in a way that gives them the maximum output.”
The I-PAC team has developed and worked on several of Jagan’s campaign initiatives this election. For example:
- It helped the party reach out to around 60,000 influencers in society (like teachers and social workers, not social media influencers) through the Jagan Anna Pilupu (Jagan Anna Is Calling You) initiative
- Ideated and executed the Ravali Jagan Kavali Jagan anthem which now has more than 20 million views
- Structured campaigns like Ninnu Nammam Babu (We Don’t Trust You, Babu)
The Ninnu Nammam Babu campaign for instance, was “aimed at highlighting the biggest failures of Chandrababu Naidu’s government.” All 175 YSRCP AC-Coordinators visited 20 villages each and conducted village-level meetings focusing on Chandrababu Naidu’s failures. It is in the conceptualisation, planning and execution of such campaign initiatives that I-PAC has been instrumental.
Jagan’s 341-Day Padayatra: Election Gamechanger?
In the footsteps of his father, former Andhra CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Jagan undertook a padayatra across the state from 6 November 2017 to 9 January 2019, covering a distance of 3,648 km by foot. It spanned 134 out of the 175 Assembly constituencies.
Prof E Venkatesu, who teaches Political Science at the University of Hyderabad and is the Lokniti-CSDS coordinator for its surveys in Andhra Pradesh, says the padayatra could prove to be a crucial factor in swinging the election. Venkatesu explains, “The padayatra has mobilised people and increased Jagan’s grassroots connect. It helped him raise the issues of farming communities and speak about agrarian distress more effectively. It was a way of establishing the perception that Jagan is closer to the people than Chandrababu.”
We asked Chandrababu’s son Nara Lokesh if Jagan’s padayatra had shown TDP to be out of touch with the people, in comparison. “Where is Jagan connected to the people? He has just gone around kissing people. What is his commitment to the people? We, as a political party and as a government, have always been with the people. We've understood their problems, we have solved them.”
TDP’s Tack: Target ‘Criminal’ Jagan, Allege YSRC-TRS-BJP Link
Throughout the campaign, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu and other leaders of his party have targeted YSRC chief Jagan Mohan Reddy by referring to him as a ‘criminal’.
Speaking to The Quint on the campaign trail in Mangalagiri, Chandrababu’s son Nara Lokesh said dismissively, “Jagan is a man who has spent 16 months in jail, and has 31 cases against him.” While campaigning, Chandrababu Naidu himself has gone so far as to say, “Jagan will encourage the youth to commit crimes and take them to jail if elected to power.”
The other aspect of TDP’s campaign that has remained consistent is the repeated allegations against Jagan Mohan Reddy of being subservient to the TRS and the BJP. Naidu recently said, “KCR is giving money to Jagan to fight elections as the Telangana CM has set his eyes on projects and reservoirs in AP.”
In another rally, Naidu arguably touched the lowest point of the campaign trail by calling Jagan and KCR “Modi’s pet dogs.”
The aggression on display, a far cry from the bonhomie that YS Rajasekhara Reddy and Chandrababu shared, has been widely seen as a sign that the TDP considers it is on shaky ground. Most pre-poll surveys have also given Jagan’s YSRC a lead over Chandrababu’s TDP.
Booth Management and Cadre Mobilisation: TDP’s Forte
Off camera, even YSRC leaders admit that the TDP’s booth management is leagues ahead of their party. That is precisely why improving cadre mobilisation was a primary focus of the I-PAC team.
“Strengthening the booth structure of the YSRC, getting as many as 11 people in every booth was one of our key priorities and we are glad we could achieve that,” says Rishi Raj Singh.
Pawan Kalyan and the Likely Split of the Kapu Vote
Prof E Venkatesu sums up the Kapu dilemma, often considered a swing factor in Andhra elections, “In 2014, Tollywood superstar Pawan Kalyan, who hails from the Kapu community, was a star campaigner for the TDP. This helped consolidate the Kapu votes for the BJP-TDP alliance and as many as two of out of every three Kapu voters chose the alliance over the YSRC. But with Pawan Kalyan’s new political outfit Jana Sena contesting the 2019 elections, the TDP is likely to lose a share of the votes it polled in 2014. Kapu votes, as a result, are likely to be split between the Jana Sena, TDP and YSRC.”
In 2016, a prolonged agitation by Kapu leaders had forced the TDP government to pass a Cabinet resolution to include the Kapus under Other Backward Classes. In 2017, the TDP passed a quota bill providing 5% reservations to the Kapus. However, the proposal seeking constitutional amendment was rejected by the Centre on the grounds of violating SC guidelines on reservations.
In a last-ditch attempt to retain the Kapu vote bank, the TDP government tabled another Bill in February, guaranteeing a sub-quota of 5% reservations to the community under the 10% quota for the Economically Backward Classes (EBC). Though this has been passed by the Andhra Assembly, the legality of it is still under scrutiny.
Special Status and Welfare Schemes: The Other Key Poll Factors
Here are two other important factors that could swing the Andhra Pradesh election one way or the other.
- Special Status Category: Andhra’s demands for Special Status Category (SCS) post bifurcation remain unfulfilled. SCS would apportion the state greater funds from the Centre. Chandrababu’s U-turn on this issue – he went from demanding SCS to agreeing to accept a special package instead, only to return to his original demand once he realised that voters were miffed about the compromise – could cost him in this election. What is a salvaging factor though is that in March 2018, a full year before the elections, Naidu pulled the TDP out of the NDA over the demand for SCS, which could cut him some slack among voters.
- Welfare schemes: Chandrababu was criticised for spending most of his tenure chasing the dream of building a magnificent capital in Amaravati, but progress there has been slow. Then, in 2018, he shifted his focus to the reinvigorated demand for Special Category Status and made that his primary political plank. Late into his tenure though, there were attempts to boost welfare schemes and increase their benefits. The YSRC alleges that these came on the back of campaign promises made by Jagan. Chandrababu’s welfare schemes for women were much talked about on the campaign trail and the TDP is hoping that the goodwill from stepping up the populist measures, even though it came late in the tenure, will help the party swing the election.
Whether it’s the splitting of the Kapu vote or the row over Special Category Status, corruption allegations in Amaravati or claims that the TDP is out of touch with the grassroots, the issues are stacked against Chandrababu. Will the veteran politician be able to ride on the back of his welfare schemes and his vision of building a dream capital in order to retain his chief ministership, or will the state have a new CM in Jagan Mohan Reddy by the end of May?
Post 11 April, while the rest of the nation will still vote in six more phases, all eyes in Andhra will already be on 23 May, Counting Day.