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Andhra Congressmen start jockeying for top post

By BS Regional Bureau, Hyderabad
May 03, 2004 18:09 IST
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The Congress in Andhra Pradesh is living up to the maxim: "Old habits die hard". Riding on the results of the exit polls, which indicate that the party may come to power in the state after a decade, a number of Congress leaders are making no secret of their aspirations for the chief minister's chair.

This, at a time when counting is more than a week away and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has rubbished the exit polls and is confident of returning to power.

The public statements issued by Congress leaders like D Srinivas and Dasari Narayana Rao have provided much needed fodder for the vernacular print and electronic media, which have been eagerly awaiting some developments ever since the elections in the state got over.

Interpretations in the local media notwithstanding, the claims and counter-claims for the chief minister's post have helped refresh public memory about the infighting and frequent change of chief ministers that marked the Congress rule a decade ago.

That the TDP has always utilised this vulnerability of the Congress to its advantage is an open secret, right from the time of the late NT Rama Rao to the present incumbent N Chandrababu Naidu.

Though murmurs in the party over the choice of chief minister have been on for some time now, the issue came into sharp focus only after All India Congress Committee General Secretary Jairam Ramesh announced the name of YS Rajashekhar Reddy (YSR) as the chosen man for the top post, if the Congress comes to power in the state.

Now, to the hilarity of those watching the developments, even those Congress leaders who are non-entities are claiming their candidacy for the top job.

Former Union minister M Venkataswamy, who initially supported the choice of YSR for the top post, has now changed tack by saying that the party high command should consider only a Telangana man (YSR belongs to the Rayalaseema region) for the post of chief minister.

Dasari Narayana Rao, a sulking Kaapu leader from the coastal region, and Nadendla Bhasker Rao, a Kamma leader from the coastal region who was chief minister for just a month after staging a coup against NT Rama Rao with the help of the Congress, have also expressed their unhappiness over the projection of YSR as the natural choice for the chief minister's seat.

YSR, however, is the man who is being considered instrumental in leading the party to a possible victory in the present elections. With his charismatic appeal, both in the party and among the people in the state, he is considered a natural choice for the top post by many.

Yet, the issue has some serious implications too, beside being indicative of the future power tussle within the Congress. Pradesh Congress Committee president D Srinivas' open utterances about his being in the race for the chief ministership has actually attracted the attention of many.

Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) has given a fillip to Srinivas' prospects by saying that his party will support only a Telangana man as chief minister.

It is said that KCR and Srinivas had been hand in glove from the time seat-sharing talks between the two parties were underway. Allocating a whopping 42 Assembly seats to the TRS is now viewed as part of the future game plan plotted by both KCR and the PCC president.

If the Congress does not get enough seats to form the government on its own and has to depend on the support of the TRS, Srinivas becomes a potential contender for the chief minister's post. In fact, YSR was instrumental in Srinivas being nominated as PCC president.

But behind all this cacophony, there is an interesting angle to the current episode, which owes itself to the games that Congress leaders are playing in Delhi.

Though he has never claimed to be a contender for the Andhra chief ministership, AICC spokesman S Jaipal Reddy is said to be playing his cards with the tacit support of a lobby comprised of Ambika Soni and Ahmed Patel among others.

It is learnt that this lobby is prepared to scuttle any proposals from Gulam Nabi Azad, the man in charge of the Congress' affairs in the state, with regard to the chief minister's post.

"Having no support base of his own in the state unit, Jaipal Reddy is waiting for the situation to develop to a stage where he would be considered as a consensus candidate for the top job," sources, who have been closely following the developments, told Business Standard.

S Jaipal Reddy is said to have been in touch with those who are raising the demand for a chief minister from the Telangana region.

Reacting to these developments, some of YSR's supporters have pointed out that they will not be in a position to go back to the people if YSR is not made chief minister.

They also point to the fact that YSR is on vacation in Ooty and has not reacted to any of these machinations, which indicates that he has overwhelming support in the party for the top job, and all the ruckus may well be just a storm in a tea cup.

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BS Regional Bureau, Hyderabad