Sunday, September 13, 2009

YSR & the problem with empires

By every Indian standard, N.T.Rama Rao and M.G. Ramachandran were mass heroes of a kind that Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy could never be. The succession battles following their passing were ugly, but relieved by a semblance of ethics. Chandrababu Naidu mounted what looked like a family feud primarily to save his father-in-law’s reputation from the clutches of Lakshmi-Parvathi who suddenly surfaced to claim the late patriarch’s mantle. MGR had a legal wife to claim his mantle, but everyone knew that the politically innocent Janaki was propped up only to block Jayalalitha, the political heir. The gritty heir prevailed in that war.

In the case of YSR, the succession battle has been ugly with no saving grace – a brazen campaign that was tasteless in its haste, and orchestrated in its intensity. Sure, it was done in the name of a genuinely popular leader. Nevertheless, it raises issues that go beyond Andhra. For example, has the dynasty concept become so deeprooted that its proponents don’t care about/perceptions? Also, is the Congress boxing India into a dynastic trap? Barring stray cases in the JD (S) and the BJP, only the DMK matches the Congress in politics by inheritance. But the DMK is a one-state party whereas the Congress influences the whole country.

So why were Andhra Congressmen so desperate for YSR’s son to follow him? One reason could be YSR’s own operational genius. He had built – and now left behind – an industrial and financial empire in which there were many stake holders. Their interests demanded that the empire be secured by passing the reins to someone who was already privy to its inner workings. Hence the vehemence of the lobbying even before the body was in the grave. Hence, too, the importance of YSR’s son.

Jaganmohan Reddy is “inexperienced” only in terms of formal electoral politics. In business and its political management, his experience is vast. No doubt under his father’s tutelage, he acquired and nurtured mines, steel plants, cement factories, power companies, TV channels, newspapers, real estate. This and his latterday induction as MP were clearly meant to make him the custodian of the empire that YSR built.

YSR never allowed a No.2 to grow under him. Even in his Cabinet, there really was no No. 2. All key decisions of all ministries were handled directly by him. K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao was the only confidante whose counsel he valued – for 30 years. It speaks volumes that Rao quietly spent more than an hour in conversation with Sonia Gandhi when the campaign for Jaganmohan Reddy was in full swing in Andhra. All doors in Delhi were open to him.

That’s because YSR was the only regional Congress Chief who was not beholden to the High Command. It was indeed the other way round. After all, he ensured the Congress’s enviable position in Parliament by contributing 33 MPs from Andhra; he was also the biggest fund provider for the party. When other Congress chief ministers waited for the High Command to impose decisions on them, YSR took his own decisions.

Clearly this King of Cadappa was the cleverest politician on the Congress horizon. He secured his financial position through a business empire, his political position by strengthening the party in Delhi and by building strong personal relations with the Gandhi family, and his place in the hearts and minds of the people of Andhra by effectively implementing various welfare/development programmes. Such strong foundations may well come to his son’s aid. But that won’t automatically turn YSJ into YSR. The problem with empires is that they do not always pass from father to son. Even when they do, they do not always stay that way. Ask the King of Nepal.