As Andhra Pradesh assembly resumes for its budget session for 2020-21, the TDP legislators are seen sporting black shirts with masks around their faces, cautiously maintaining the mandatory physical distancing in the times of COVID19. The opposition legislators were holding placards that carried Ambedkar, raising questions on political persecution and attack on democracy under the new government.
Albeit, this isn’t the first time the TDP leaders were seen sporting the black dresses, but surely this is the first time they did this as an opposition.
Over sixteen years’ run as a legislator, Jagan’s presence in the house has been far less than it is expected to be. His first five years as an MP were minimal and uneventful. His first term as an MLA after his father’s death was mired with the 2009 Telangana agitation, internals rifts in the congress and the infamous sixteen months prison time he did at Chanchalguda. In his stint as an opposition leader after bifurcation, he boycotted the house for over two years. YSRCP cited the controversial switch by its 23 MLAs to TDP as the reason for their boycott, the party in a normative sense never delivered on its role as an opposition. For the two years, TDP legislators played both ruling and opposition in the house, if only in spirit.
The tables have indeed turned after a year now. The new chief minister still grapples with the grammar of the house and decorum. As a leader of the house, the Jagan Mohan Reddy has shown at most aggression, flaunting the brute majority of his party has and laughing at the hurls of his party men towards opposition leader Chandrababu Naidu.
Speaking at the constituent assembly, on November 25, 1949, Dr BR Ambedkar said:
“There is danger of democracy giving place to dictatorship. It is quite possible for this newborn democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship in fact. If there is a landslide, the danger of the second possibility becoming actuality is much greater.”
The political affairs in Andhra Pradesh raise red flags in the same direction. The Chief Minister’s actions have shown a lack of deliberation over time, especially when each one of them hit a dead-end at judicial scrutiny. Is it that none of his advisors is good enough? Or the king has a deaf ear for his ministers? Deliberation and democracy are synonymous, and Jagan fails to find the right dictionary. His much-celebrated decisive approach has only resulted in the demolition of public property and wastage of public money, much worse when the legislative Council is shut for not nodding to the tunes of the ruling party.
Ahead of 2019 elections, Jagan moved into his Amaravati home to win the trust the voters in the TDP bastion. But he took no time in undoing efforts put into the capital in the making. In January 2020, the AP assembly passed the Bill for three capitals along with another bill to repeal the AP CRDA Act of 2014. Both the Bills were stalled by the Council and sent to the select committee for review. Now, the house once again passed both the bills without any discussion. The Council is forced to pass the Bills as the Council cannot stop Bills brought before it a second time.
The ruling party’s tactics are seen as ethically hollow and procedurally questionable for bypassing the much needed democratic discussion. In the past, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh has taken suo-moto cognisance of police violence against women protestors of Amaravati. The court has also stayed governments GO allocating CRDA lands for the poor. The government’s move was seen as “pitting people against people”. Even after 170 days of continuous protests, the Chief Minister has not felt it necessary to address their concerns capital farmers, least give any moral assurance.
The principal opposition, TDP, has accused YSRCP and its cadres of relentless attack and abuse over the last one year. TDP has claimed a total of 169 fake cases registered against its leaders and cadres and 59 of its members arrested due process of law, most of them belonging to Backward Castes. TDP also has raised objections against the arrest of Kinjarapu Atchannaidu, the ex-minister and the prominent BC leader. It is interesting to note that the only BC leader from the opposition was suspended before passing the BC Commission Bill in July 2019.
The recent arrest of the Srikakulam leader is seen as the continuation of political persecution by the Jagan Mohan Reddy led government. The ruling party has been criticised for its high handedness against SCs also. Ex-MP and senior Dalit leader Harsha Kumar put in remand for questioning the government’s inaction and failure in handling the boat accident at Devipatnam. The persecution saw a new low with the arrest of the young Dalit leader Maharana Rajesh for raising his voice against land grabbing by the ruling party.
Jagan Mohan Reddy has received an unprecedented mandate by winning 151 out of 175 constituencies. His social engineering in accommodating the new cabinet, though criticised as nominal, is well received. At the same time, it is also widely accepted that Jagan’s politics are rather centred on deliberately undoing his predecessor, than building on policy afresh.
The policy decisions of Jagan Mohan Reddy government have been unilateral, ill-consulted, unplanned or made in a rush, sparking outrage from the people of the State. On numerous occasions, the primary motive seemed only to vindicate TDP and its leaders. The new sand policy, attempted renegotiation of PPAs and the Polavaram retendering – were all based on the allegations of corruption and irregularities in the previous regime. After completing one year at the helm of affairs, the Jagan government has failed even to initiate inquiries on the grand claims, forget nearing to prove any of it. While the new sand policy has resulted in a continued sand shortage and livelihood loss in constriction and allied sectors, the PPA renegotiations led to the loss of investor trust which even became topic discussion at the world economic forum in Davos.
The on-going arrests of TDP leaders are but a demonstration of the brut majority of the ruling party. The numbers of TDP are minuscule in the house. The pinning down of a vocal leader like Atchamnaidu, ahead of assembly sessions, sends out a message of intimidation and silencing.
In the same speech on November 25, 1949, Ambedkar goes on to say that:
“the Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics”.
True to his words, the people of Andhra Pradesh have trusted Jagna Mohan Reddy with a stupendous mandate. But the YSRCP soon got busy putting in place instruments to carry out its whims and fancies. Events of recent past – be it arrest of 60 years old Ranganayaki for sharing an opinion online, or suspension of Dr Sudhakar, or violations against Amaravati protestors reflect incumbent government’s autocratic approach towards any dissent in the State. Swinging close to Ambedkar’s warning, this vindictive political culture of the ruling party is harmful for the budding State. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government cannot assume impunity for its actions.