In an unprecedented landslide victory, the ruling YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh swept the elections to the urban local bodies, literally burying the main opposition, the Telugu Desam, in 75 municipalities and 11 municipal corporations. Interestingly, the BJP and Janasena alliance could not make any gains. Despite the BJP focusing and highlighting several incidents of vandalism of Hindu temples and its efforts to get an entry into the urban local bodies, it failed miserably. The resounding victory of the YSRCP in Visakhapatnam aka Vizag where it won 58 out of 98 wards has clearly shown that it is a verdict against the Centre’s attempts to disinvest or privatise the Visakha Steel Plant.
The Visakha Steel Plant (VSP) issue is embedded in the psyche of the Telugu people, especially those from Andhra Pradesh. People agitated and sacrificed their lives to get the plant established in Vizag. No such agitation, where common people forged a movement demanding the setting up of a PSU, has ever taken place in the history of independent India.
For those wondering why the privatisation of a PSU is leading to large-scale protests from all sections of the people, not merely the employees and workers of the PSU, a recap will bring them up to speed. In 1966, when the then PM Indira Gandhi decided against setting up of a steel plant in Vizag, it was considered as an insult to the Telugus. Led by freedom fighters T Amrutha Rao and Tenneti Viswanadham, students, workers and the public launched an agitation that shook the entire state. Amrutha Rao went on indefinite fast for 21 days.
The otherwise non-violent protest turned violent when 12 unarmed persons were killed in police firing, which included minor children. Sixty-six MLAs and seven MPs resigned in support of the demand, which led to Indira Gandhi finally announcing the establishment of a steel plant at Visakhapatnam in 1970. Thus, the VSP became a live symbol of the people’s achievement.
Despite AP CM Jaganmohan Reddy writing a series of letters to PM Modi opposing the VSP disinvestment and expressing his government’s readiness to take over the plant, the Centre has not responded positively. The people in AP are upset with the Centre for not keeping its promise for a special category status for AP. The privatisation of the VSP has increased their anger multifold. The results can be seen in the urban body polls. The main opposition party, the TDP, has been decimated. The experience and statecraft of Chandrababu Naidu seems to have lost their relevance. Meanwhile, all-party trade unions had called for a 'Visakha Garjana' programme on March 20, to intensify their agitation for protecting the VSP.
Telangana graduates put TRS to the test
The TRS won two graduate MLC seats in a nail-biting final. TRS nominees Surabhi Vani, the daughter of former PM PV Narasimha Rao, and Palla Rajeshwar Reddy won the seats. Vani won in the second preferential votes counting, while Rajeshwar Reddy won in the third such round.
The BJP’s Ramachandra Rao gave a tough fight to Vani, while Independent candidate and journalist Teenmaar Mallanna took the fight to the last counting of the votes but the TRS’s Rajeshwar Reddy managed to scrape through. Teenmaar Mallanna aka Naveen was popular for his TV news analysis programme called 'Teenmaar' and is a critic of the TRS government and its CM KCR.
The graduate MLC results clearly showed that a combined opposition could defeat the ruling TRS in the state. If one adds the votes that the non-BJP opposition candidates got, these are far more than those polled by the ruling party candidates. The two MLC graduate constituencies constitute almost half of the Telangana state. Though the TRS party leaders are celebrating their success, they know that it was not an easy win and there is opposition to the TRS government among the educated classes.
The TRS government, led by CM K Chandrashekhar Rao, has rolled out a plethora of development and welfare programmes and by and large the governance is good, but the way some of its MLAs, ministers are functioning has evoked the wrath of people. Some of the elected TRS representatives have been treating their constituencies as their fiefdoms and are indulging in large-scale corruption, which has not gone down well with the graduate electorate.
In one of the assembly constituencies, people put up posters against the local MLA stating, “Congratulations, Sir, for buying a Rs 3 crore car but please ensure that there are better roads on which your costly car can travel”. This incident alone speaks about the public mood at the grassroot level. It is high time CM KCR took some immediate remedial steps, or else the writing on the wall is clear and loud: “We find an alternative in BJP and other Independent candidates.”
The writer is a senior journalist based in Hyderabad.