Andhra Pradesh: The elections to local bodies have now become the latest battleground for the belligerent political fight between the ruling YSR Congress led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy and the opposition TDP led by N Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh. Amidst the demand for the initiation of the electoral process, afresh owing to allegations of large scale incidents of intimidation of opposition aspirants and violence in many places and even manufactured unanimous elections, the State Election Commission postponed the polls by six weeks citing the situation created by the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus.
Citing a Supreme Court judgment the State Election Commissioner, N Ramesh Kumar, said that the elections could be postponed for genuine supervening difficulties and exceptional circumstances such as natural disasters or man-made calamities or break down law and order till normalcy is restored. However, The Chief minister and a host of YSR Congress leaders made a virulent attack questioning the integrity of the State election Commissioner. Quite surprisingly, the CM himself referred to the caste of the State Election Commissioner and that of former opposition leader N Chandrababu Naidu being similar to attribute motives to the decision of the Commissioner.
Thus, a major political slug-fest broke out with the decision to defer the polls. In fact, the other bone of contention between the State Election Commissioner and the CM, is the Commissioner recommending the transfer of Superintendent of Police and the collector of two districts where large scale violence was reported during the phase of nominations. Even action was recommended on a few other lower-ranking officers. Chief Minister YS Jagan questioned the rationale and even the power of the Commission to do so.
Quite unfortunately, the Constitutional office like the State Election commission is drawn into the ongoing political controversy between the ruling YSR Congress and the opposition parties. The controversy reflects the political impatience of people in power. The then chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu vehemently criticized and attributed partisan political motives to Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral Officer during the last Assembly elections for EC transferring the then Chief Secretary and the Intelligence chief. The then opposition leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy welcomed the actions of EC. Now, there is a reversal of roles. YS Jaganmohan Reddy is critical of State election commission when it took action on even lower-ranking IAS and IPS officers, while Chandrababu Naidu is welcoming the decision though called it a belated one.
The Chief Minister and the ruling YSR congress have the right to differ with the decision to postpone and even can question the wisdom of the SEC. But, attributing caste to be the reason for such a decision is unbecoming of the Chief Ministerial and the ministerial offices they hold. In fact, the opposition TDP and the other parties have been crying foul ever since the schedule for elections was announced. The opposition was critical of the State Election commission for its alleged failure to act on their complaints of large scale intimidation of their aspirants by the ruling party leaders in connivance with the police.
Besides, the video footage on the ruling party sponsored violence and the surprisingly higher number of unanimous elections certainly raised questions over free and fair manner in which the entire electoral process was set in motion. Notwithstanding the allegations, the fact remains that the ruling YSR congress is in an obvious advantage as far as these local body polls are concerned. Firstly, in a bid to overwhelm its opponents, the hectic elections schedule was announced. The poll schedule was packed as both the Panchayati raj and the municipal polls are held almost simultaneously. The opposition obviously lacks the wherewithal to face the resourceful ruling YSR congress in such a situation.
Secondly, the YSR Congress has unveiled the operation Aakarsh to lure the TDP leaders and cadres into the party. Senior TDP leaders like Karanam Balaram, Kadiri Babu Rao close to the actor N Balakrishna, Ram Subba Reddy etc, switched over to YSR congress throwing the TDP into jitters. These defections shall certainly energize the YSR congress and deeply demoralize the TDP on the eve of crucial elections.
Third, the YSR congress won a massive mandate winning 151 seats in the elections held a few months ago. The correlation of political forces has not undergone any radical shift to the disadvantage of the ruling party. Besides, the ruling party always has an upper hand in the
elections to local bodies unless there is a strong unexpected anti-incumbency as a political undercurrent. No evidence of such an undercurrent is at least visible for now.
Fourth, the YS Jaganmohan Reddy in the last few months of rule implemented a series of cash transfer welfare schemes like the support for mothers of school-going children popularly called Amma vodi, Vahan Mitra benefitting cab drivers, and schemes benefitting students.
Besides, the government is now planning to distribute 25 lakh house sites on the eve of Ugadi, the Telugu new year day. In fact, the chief Minister is visibly angry over the EC decision to bring the scheme under the Moral Code of Conduct (MCC). All these welfare schemes have certainly consolidated the ruling party voting especially among the poor.
Fifth, while the ruling party vote has consolidated, the anti-government vote is divided with TDP-CPI combine and the BJP Jana Sena combine contesting separately. The Congress and the CPI(M) too are contesting separately though their presence is very limited. The division in opposition vote would certainly benefit the ruling YSR Congress.
The TDP is desperately hoping for the Amaravati sentiment. But, the political observers believe that this sentiment will not harm the ruling party much except the Vijayawada-Guntur belt, where to the ruling YSR Congress is moving heaven and earth to win the polls.
Earlier, the TDP tried to politically capitalize on the controversy over the quantum of reservations for BC's. The AP government issued a GO giving 34 percent quota for BC's in local body posts. However, The High Court struck it down on the ground that the total
reservations should not exceed 50 percent as per several judgments of the supreme court. The TDP in a bid to lure the BC voters alleged lack of political commitment on the part of YS Jagan regime to get the judicial sanction for higher BC quota. Soon the YSR congress countered opposition tirade as Chandrababu Naidu led government did precious little to hold elections to the local bodies by reserving 34 percent to BC's despite the fact that the tenure of these bodies completed in 2018 itself.
The alleged political highhandedness of the ruling YSR Congress would not in any way impact the mood of the common electorate who is generally unconcerned with the political rivalry between the YSR Congress and the TDP.
Already nervous over these factors that go against it, the TDP is further annoyed by the highhandedness and intimidation of its candidates by the YSR Congress in a number of places. The decision of the State Election commission has come in handy for the opposition, while the
ruling party is fuming as any further delay of the polls may adversely impact its poll prospects.