…yet how did YSR manage to win?
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com
The loot of Andhra Pradesh, Part-1 and Part-2 discussed in detail how much corruption seeped into the system under the Congress CM, YSR and his family. Despite all the outrage and open loot, YSR won back the elections in 2009. It is but natural to be asking and thinking how this happened if all that has been discussed is true. In my opinion, there are four main factors (in no particular order) that helped YSR win back the election in 2009.
1. The massive psychological and perceptional campaign
In 2009, TDP alliance won 34.54% share of the vote as opposed to the 36.53% of the Congress.There is just about a 2% difference in the vote share between these parties and therefore all the small and big perceptional and psychological points YSR scored over Naidu mattered a great deal. In my opinion, YSR very adeptly played the psychological game to the hilt. He turned the constant coverage of his corruption as a boon. He was successful in stressing that this is all a propaganda; that the media is all negative; that Naidu did more corruption; and finally opened a newspaper for himself. While stressing on this "negativity", YSR also roped in multiple other factors to play with the sentiments of people. Some examples:
  • Rains during his tenure
It didn't rain for the last three years of Chandrababu Naidu's tenure. From the second year of YSR's tenure till his 5th year, it rained bountifully every year without fail. He converted this natural occurence into his credit. He and the Congress party lost no opportunity to shout at the top of their voice – Rains are falling only because YSR is the CM. It never rained when Naidu was CM, it always rained when YSR was CM. Believe it or not, this created a huge sentimental impact of many people (including the non-agricultural folks!). After the first phase of elections in AP, some media started speculating that Naidu is going to come back to power. Since the elections were in May, it was very hot. At about that time, the Met department predicted a delayed monsoon. YSR immediately caught on to that fact and used it in his second phase of campaign – the mere speculation of Naidu's returning back to power is causing a delay in monsoon!
  • The trust and credibility factor
Another overdosed campaign was that YSR was the most credible and trustworthy person and leader ever to be born! He never took action against any wrong doer if he/she was close to him. The scale of the wrong doing never mattered to him – if he liked the person, he would not touch them at all. Despite it's huge negative impact on the polity, a big positive spin was given to saying that YSR never betrays those who trust him! Naidu is cunning, but YSR is friendly. YSR has a best friend, Naidu doesn't have a best friend also. Naidu doesn't believe in anyone. YSR forgives even those who betray him! This perception was very strong in some well educated and neutral voters too.
  • State government employees
Many state government employees were not happy with Naidu's style of functioning. He was strict, demanded performance and results from them, and was ruthless in admonishing them in public. He made many surprise visits to offices and didn't think twice before suspending employees. It is said that they too played a vital role in his defeat in 2004. YSR in contrast gave them a free hand. Employees were more content under YSR and hence he could get their support easily.
  • Always has a smile (rather heartily laughing face)
Yet another psychological point – YSR always has a smiling face. Naidu never smiles! Every small thing counts when you won just by 2%!
  • Counter to the Corruption
YSR's only point when pointed out to the corruption under his rule – Naidu was much more corrupt. Any argument on corruption always ended up with rhetoric of Naidu's corruption.
  • Taking on the well-established media
Two major newspapers, eenadu and andhra jyothy, were going bonkers on his government. He took them head-on, criticized them day-in and day-out, and finally opened his own newspaper and TV channel! So now we had people discussing the "war" between the media, and not the corruption charges anymore.
  • Welfare programs
His welfare programs achieved two things. One obviously is that they actually benefited sizeable number of people. The second one is that the perception of him being a poor man's messiah got imprinted into the minds of neutral voters. For example, a software engineer who benefited from Naidu's IT policy and is now placed in a good job now started to think – "ohh yeah, Naidu never did anything for the poor. YSR is doing so much, even though he is corrupt." Naidu lost quite a chunk of those votes too – simply because of this perception of the well-settled class of people thinking YSR is better than Naidu.
2. The welfare (free for all) programs
I will not be discussing the drawbacks/corruption/irregularities in these schemes here. Merely mention what they are and how they intend to benefit.
  • Free power
The backdrop of the 2004 elections was that the TDP rule failed to take care of the farmer's needs. YSR's main plank was that he will alleviate the farmer out of his misery. He will alleviate the poor people out of their misery. And midst this backdrop he won the election in 2004. The first file he signed was on "free power to the farmers". And since absolute free power is near impossible, slowly that has been diluted to exclude rich farmers etc. The remaning free power was given for seven hours a day, intermittently. Even if it was not given for seven hours, what actually did matter was that it was free. To the farmer for whom every ten rupees counts, this was something he never forgot.
  • Health insurance and Ambulance service
This was another huge hit amongst the poor, rural and lower middle class segment of Andhra Pradesh. Essentially, if you are white ration card holder, you are entitled to health care in most private hospital for ailments that are out of your reach. So for example, you need to be operated upon for a major operation which will cost you about 2 lakhs. Under ordinary circumstances you cannot afford it, but with this scheme you can get the operation done and the government will reimburse all the costs! So to all those people who couldn't get ailments cured at government hospitals, this became a boon. Suddenly, you see people who otherwise could not have afforded this health care, now happy and content. People I know have been so happy with the government for this scheme.
YSR also popularised the Emergency Ambulance service. Even in rural areas, you had ambulances reaching you within 15 minutes (with a picture of Rajiv Gandhi on it).
  • Fee reimbursement
YSR announces that the government will reimburse the full education fees (under-graduate, graduate, PG courses) of all BC students (eligbility criteria was very low too)! Colleges were hit because of late payments from the government, but students and their families were thrilled that their education costs are now free – and that's what mattered here!
  • Rs.2/Kg rice
This was the pet scheme of NTR in both his first tenure and his subsequent tenure in 1994. YSR, out of the blue again, announced that he will give rice at Rs.2/kg at ration shops!
  • Pavala vaddi (loan @ 25p) for Self Help Groups
He introduced loan at just 3% for Self Help Groups in the state. This encouraged small scale businesses to flourish well. And get their votes too.
  • Absorbing the Rs.50/- increase on LPG cylinder
When the central government hiked the LPG rate by Rs.50/- in 2007, YSR decided that the state government will absorb the cost
  • The perception about Jalayagnam
This was another huge perception campaign launched. It was made to look like Jalayagnam project was already complete and the state is now free of any irrigational problems. Only 12 out of the planned 48 have been completed so far. But YSR made sure inagurations of projects happened at a regular pace. So in case even if people forgot, they would suddenly be reminded of this project and think YSR is like the water god of AP!
Bad economics, one would argue? True no doubt. It is difficult for any free for all scheme to sustain in the long term. So imagine the troubles to maintain so many free-for-all schemes. The Finance minister himself would say that these schemes are a burden. Unless you have a steady revenue generating model, you cannot sustain these freebies. And where did revenue come from – real estate and higher taxes! But then there is only so much real estate one can sell. You and I can sit in the coziness of our offices/home and have the luxury of talking about "long-term" impact blah blah. Try telling a daily wage labourer or to that massive population that depends on nature to earn well, that the concessions he/she is getting will be disastrous for the economy in the "long-term". He will care a scoot. What mattered to them is that their present is good, with a promise of a similar future from a man whom they believed to be "credible".
3. Split in the opposition vote.
Elections are also about the complex electoral math. Just to avoid a split in the opposition vote, the entire opposition in the state entered into an alliance. TDP, TRS, CPI and CPI(M) all formed a "Maha kutami". But then Chiranjeevi played the spoilsport. Remember the statistics – TDP alliance gets 34.54%. Congress gets 36.53%. Chiranjeevi got 17% and Jayaprakash Narayan's Lok Satta got 1%. So you have a full block of 18% that would have gone either way (most of it into the opposition's vote). And this electoral math guided YSR and the Congress party to a slender majority (156/294) in the Assembly elections of 2009.
4. The money from the loot
And ofcourse the massive money power unleashed helped capture the votes of the vulnerable sections. It would be naive to assume that money played no role at all in those elections. It did, and it contributed to the victory too. Plus it is with this loot money that a newspaper and a channel were set-up. This loot money was used for counter attacking the opposition, and this loot money was used to distributing (either directly or indirectly) during the elections to vulnerable sections.
Also, those who say Naidu did nothing for the state are just fooling themselves. Even if we believe that the development of IT is his *only* achievement – take a look around at the number of steady jobs created not just in urban but even for people from other areas, the number of secondary sectors that flourished (like security, cab, catering – each in turn providing employment), and the real estate bump through which these politicians made so much money! To discount such a phenomenal contribution to the growth of the economy is naive. His success in fostering the Self-help groups (they succeeded only in AP), his stress on various initiatives like rain-water harvesting (neeru-meeru), people's participation in welfare programs through "Janmabhoomi" (you know, all his speeches used to end with Jai Hind Jai Janmabhoomi – liked that a lot :) ), clean environment etc – did impact a sizeable population too. Contrary to popular perception, TDP alone won 1crore 34 lakh votes in 2004 to Congress's 1crore 37lakh. Just 3 lakh votes between these two parties. The major loss for TDP was from it's alliance with the BJP (between TDP+ and Cong+, there was ~20 lakh vote difference!).
Anyways, A combination of the above four factors helped him win, despite the massive loot. His corruption did help the opposition, but like mentioned above the slender lead of 2% of votes (about 10 lakh votes) made all the difference. Nevertheless, the dire financial straits that the state is in, is testimony to his lack of vision. Leave all economics aside – think just about this – you have ensured that many people are dependent on you for their expenses, without really increasing their income levels and now you say – you know what, sorry I can't cover these expenses. live with it. The misery you cause because of that false hope is unbearable and that is what some people have already begun to experience. That's the sad reality too.