In the Indian government, it is said, there are only three people who really matter — the prime minister, the chief minister and the district collector. Yeduguri Sandinti Jaganmohan Reddy, or Jagan as he is popularly called, learnt this early in life. After all, he saw his father, YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), struggle for two-and-a-half decades before he became the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 2004.
But Jagan, who is fixated on stepping into his father’s shoes since YSR’s death in a helicopter crash on September 2, 2009, is not willing to wait that long. Those who know him say that if there is one thing Jagan does not have, it is his father’s patience. He might have been chief minister too, had the Congress high command not thrown a spanner in his plans and instead appointed then Andhra finance minister K Rosaiah to the post. Jagan did, after all, have the backing of 151 of the 156 Congress legislators in the state who had, even before the charred remains of his father were buried, signed a petition urging party leaders to make him chief minister. Over two-and-a-half years have gone by since. And now his arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation on May 27 in a disproportionate assets case has added another hurdle in the journey he has chartered since. Now lodged in Hyderabad’s Chanchalguda jail, Jagan might well stay there till the eve of the crucial by-polls in the state which political observers say his party, the breakaway YSR Congress, is set to sweep.
Grounded he may be at the moment, but in the little time since his father’s death, the 39-year-old billionaire businessman has emerged as one of the most powerful politicians in Andhra Pradesh. Born on December 21, 1972, Jagan, a Protestant, is YSR’s only son. (He has a sister, Sharmila, who is married to an evangelist). Fond of the luxurious life, he reportedly has a 75-room house in Bangalore spread over 32 acres with 10 elevators, and badminton and squash courts. He has also built a palatial house in the posh Jubilee Hills area of Hyderabad.
Jagan’s first step into business was in 1999-2000 when he set up a mini power company, Sandur, in Karnataka. He was only 27. The businesses expanded rapidly after his father became the chief minister in 2004 and Jagan emerged as a high-profile industrialist with interests in power, infrastructure, mining, cement and media. According to an affidavit to the Election Commission in April last year, Jagan’s assets were worth Rs 365.68 crore. In 2003-04, his declared earnings were only Rs 9.19 lakh. Jagan’s wealth stems mainly from four ventures — Sandur Power Company, Bharati Cement Corporation, Jagati Publications which publishes the Telugu daily Sakshi and Indira Television which broadcasts the channel Sakshi. He is reported to have received over Rs 3,000 crore when he sold Bharati Cement to French cement maker, Vicat SA, in April 2010. === An insider who has been associated with both father and son says Jagan is more determined when it comes to achieving his goals and is prepared take any risk. YSR was more mature and adjusting, he adds. For instance, while YSR never dared to defy the Congress high command in his political career of over three decades, Jagan rebelled against the party in no time on being denied the chief ministership.
He and his mother, YS Vijaya, resigned from the primary membership of the Congress in 2010 and Jagan floated his own political outfit, the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu (YSR) Congress Party, in March 2011. Yuvajana means “youth”, Sramika “workers” and Rythu “farmers” — together they form his father’s initials. He also resigned as Congress MP, and in 2011, went back to contest from the Kadapa Lok Sabha seat in the faction-ridden Rayalaseema region. What shook the Congress wasn’t his victory, but its scale — Jagan won by over 5 lakh votes, the biggest margin in Indian history. His mother, too, resigned as Congress MLA and contested and won the Pulivendula assembly seat. YS Vivekananda Reddy, the Congress candidate who had contested against his mother, and MV Mysoora Reddy, the Telugu Desam Party candidate who had contested against Jagan, are now sailing with YSR Congress. Incidentally, Jagan's constituency, Kadapa, gets its name from the Telugu word gadapa meaning “threshold” — it’s almost symbolic given where Jagan sees himself standing: at the threshold of a much larger political role in the state. === YSR Congress is a one-man show with Jagan as the sole leader of the party. But, he does consult his close confidants before taking any decision and regularly interacts with party workers over the phone or in person, says Bhuma Nagi Reddy, YSR Congress’s governing council member and a former MP. Nagi Reddy, who is also Jagan’s relative, is in this circle of “close confidants.” Among the others are YV Subba Reddy (also a relative), Konda Surekha (a minister in the YSR government, she’s now contesting the by-election from the Parkal assembly segment), and Ramakrishna Reddy (the editorial director of Sakshi).
Those who work with Jagan say he is choosy about admitting people into his party. Normally, he will not accept any conditions from those who want to join telling them, “If you have belief in me, join my party and work for the party. Show your mettle, and recognition and opportunities will automatically come to you.”
Nagi Reddy adds that like his father, Jagan is “helpful, sympathetic and takes care of the people loyal to him”. But YSR, he adds, had much more experience, having climbed the political ladder from the grassroots. Jagan, for whom the political world revolves around his father, is steadily learning the bottom-up approach too. Like his father, who had embarked on an over 1,500 km padayatra (march on foot) as part of his mass contact programme, Jagan too has launched his own, unending road show called Odarpu Yatra (consolation tour), ostensibly to console the families of those who reportedly committed suicide or died of a heart attack following his father’s death. But unlike his father, who travelled on foot, Jagan travels in a motorcade.
Just like his father, whose popularity grew during the padayatra, Jagan also emerged as a popular leader in the state after undertaking the Odarpu Yatra. To the masses, his speech delivery and waving are reminiscent of his father. He is known to stop his cavalcade repeatedly to speak to people. When night falls, the light in his car is turned on so that people can see it’s Jagan sitting inside and stop him. It’s the mass contact which worked for his father. Jagan hopes it will work for him too. He believes that as long as he has public support, no government can stop him. Quoting Jagan, Nagi Reddy says his challenge to the government is: “I will be in the midst of the people, in districts and villages.” In the last 30 months, Jagan travelled 17,000 km, covering 4,600 villages in 260 days.
The arrest has, however, halted the Jagan juggernaut for now. The Andhra High Court has directed CBI to probe Jagan’s assets. CBI, which registered an FIR against Jagan and 73 accused on August 17, 2011 in the disproportionate assets case, had filed three chargesheets so far. The main charge is that investments have been made in Jagan’s companies on a quid-pro-quo basis for securing benefits from the government when YSR was the chief minister. Close on the heels of CBI, the Enforcement Directorate has also started probing Jagan’s businesses.
Jagan and his mother have termed the developments as political vendetta. Jagan’s oft-repeated argument has been that it was his father who was instrumental in bringing the Congress back to power, both in the state and at the Centre. With 33 MPs, the state is the main contributor to Congress’s current strength in the Lok Sabha. Back in Andhra, the Reddys are crucial. One-third of the Congress MPs and MLAs in the state are Reddys — a powerful, landed community. And one of them has taken on the Congress full throttle.
Once, when questioned by a journalist about his claim to the CM’s seat, Jagan had shot back, “Is it a sin to be ambitious? If you were in my position, would you not aspire to take on the mantle to carry forward the good work of your father?” Only, for Jagan, the road to this destination might have just got longer.