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Chandrababu, Pawan Kalyan mount formidable challenge to Jagan’s free run of AP

Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh are scheduled along with Lok Sabha polls in 2024 but 2023 is set to witness political rivals gearing up for the big battle and evolving their strategies.

Opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by veteran leader N. Chandrababu Naidu is likely to intensify its attack on ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). With Jana Sena Party (JSP) leader and actor Pawan Kalyan also gearing up to hit the road for a state-wide campaign and also forge a Grand Opposition Alliance, the state appears to be heading for an interesting battle.

The TDP, which till recently looked to be reeling under the massive drubbing it received at the hands of YSRCP in 2019, now appears to have recovered.

The huge public response to campaigns undertaken by the main Opposition party against Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led government indicates that Naidu will go more aggressive ahead of 2024 polls, which he has already described as his last election.

With Naidu’s public meetings and roadshows evoking good public response, TDP leaders believe that the party has bounced back after the crushing defeat in 2019.

The massive public turnout at Naidu’s meetings as part of TDP’s ‘Badude Badudu’ and ‘Idhem Kharma Mana Rashtraniki’ has already heated up the state’s politics and lifted the party cadre’s sagging morale.

‘Badude Badudu’ is against rising taxes, power prices and RTC bus fares while ‘Idhem Kharma Mana Rashtraniki’ is aimed at targeting YSRCP over what TDP calls bad governance, law and order problem, repression by ruling party leaders, financial crisis, unemployment, lack of development and reversal of decisions taken by the previous state government.

The turnout at Naidu’s meetings has already said to have rattled the ruling party. Looking to keep up the momentum, Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh is set to embark on a 4,000-km-long padyatra from January 27. This walkathon will be crucial for the TDP and its leaders expect that it will charge the party cadre ahead of the big battle.

Lokesh, who is also the TDP General Secretary, will be covering the entire state from Kuppam to Ichchapuram in 400 days. The padyatra is expected to continue till February 2024 a couple of months before the polls.

According to TDP, the campaign titled ‘Yuva Galam’ or youth’s voice will mobilise the youth to participate in the agenda-setting process, as well as to raise their voices to express their opinions and demand change.

THe TDP General Secretary said: “One person commits suicide every four days because of the unemployment. With over 1.5 crore people unemployed, our state has one of the highest unemployment in the country.”

“With skyrocketing fuel prices, we are leading the country’s charts in paying the highest prices for petrol and diesel. During the last 3.5 years, every eight hours a woman in the state is victimised due to atrocities against her.”

Lokesh is looking to cover 100 out of 175 Assembly constituencies in the state.

The TDP is hoping that Lokesh with his padyatra will help the party achieve what his father Chandrababu Naidu achieved earlier. Naidu had undertaken 2,340-km padyatra in 2012 and this is said to have helped strengthen the party and ultimately led to its victory in 2014 elections.

Lokesh is looking to not only join the club of select politicians who undertook padyatras but also set the record of longest walkathon. It was Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who started the trend of padyatra in undivided Andhra Pradesh by covering 1,470 km by foot in 2003. He led the Congress to power in 2004.

Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who floated YSRCP in 2011 after resigning from Congress, followed in the footsteps of his late father by undertaking a 3,648-km-long padyatra in 2017-18 which propelled YSRCP to power in 2019.

It was a Jagan wave as YSRCP won 151 seats in the 175-member Assembly and also won 22 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats. Since then the party strengthened its position by winning all the local body and municipal elections.

The YSRCP is so upbeat by the series of victories that it has already set for itself the ambitious goal of winning all 175 Assembly seats.

Jagan Mohan Reddy will be seeking another big mandate on the basis of welfare schemes implemented by him. At every public meeting, he tells people to judge his government by its performance. He claims to have fulfilled 95 per cent of the poll promises.

The YSRCP government has been highlighting that it credited a whopping Rs 1.75 lakh crore directly to the bank accounts of beneficiaries of various welfare schemes. It also ushered in reforms in the education and health sectors.

The ruling party has also launched a mass contact programme ‘Gadapa Gadapaku Mana Prabhutvam’. Under this programme, MLAs along with other local public representatives visit people at their doorsteps to explain welfare schemes.

The year 2023 is also likely to see JSP leader Pawan Kalyan becoming more active. A bitter critic of Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy, he is set to hit the road for a state-wide campaign.

He recently unveiled a specially designed vehicle for the campaign. “Varahi is ready for election battle,” tweeted the Tollywood actor.

Power star, as the actor is popularly known, had planned to launch the state-wide tour after Dussehra but the same was postponed and he is now likely to embark on a visit early next year.

Pawan Kalyan, who is an ally of the BJP, also is working to cobble up a grand alliance against YSRCP. He is keen to ensure a grand alliance to avoid a split of anti-incumbency votes.

The actor, who had campaigned for TDP-BJP alliance in 2014, wants TDP-BJP-JSP alliance.

Political analysts say the opposition alliance could pose a challenge for YSRCP. “YSRCP must be hoping the Opposition parties, especially TDP and Jana Sena do not forge an electoral alliance,” said analyst Palvai Raghavendra Reddy.

“If those two parties come together, political arithmetic will stand against Jagan Mohan Reddy, in the run-up to the state Assembly elections in mid-2024. His biggest hope will be BJP, and would expect the saffron party will not allow Jana Sena to go with TDP. YSRCP would hope Pawan Kalyan fights elections in alliance with the BJP, so that the Opposition is divided between two camps.”

Reddy concluded by saying: “Jagan’s over-reliance on welfare schemes instead of development may also dissuade middle-class sections, who’d wish for more employment opportunities in the state. Welfare schemes only raise the expectations of the recipients and funding those expectations would be a major challenge confronting the Andhra Pradesh government over the next 15 months. Unless the Modi regime extends financial support to Andhra Pradesh, sustaining certain schemes announced by Jagan might be a challenge.”

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