The life – and tragic death in a helicopter crash on September 2 – of Y.S.Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress Party’s chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, have captured some significant facets of modern political life in India, especially corruption and unbridled dynastic ambition.
YSR, as he was known, was chief minister for five years and worked effectively for the state’s overall development and the rural poor. He gained widespread respect and loyalty, despite allegations of significant family corruption that involved high profile cases such as the scam-ridden Satyam software company.
He was a skilful regional politician. Born a Christian, he knew how to build an unassailable regional power base and combine that with loyalty to the Gandhi dynasty that runs the Congress Party.
Now YSR’s coterie is trying to create a new dynasty in his memory by making his 37-year old son, Y.S.Jaganmohan Reddy, (pic below) the chief minister.
As many tens of thousands of people gathered before YSR’s Christian funeral and burial on September 4 – with reports of suicides and heart attacks - the state government’s cabinet and other sycophantic supporters openly campaigned for the politically inexperienced Jaganmohan, who became an MP for the first time only five months ago.
A veteran politician has been given the job temporarily by Sonia Gandhi, who heads Congress nationally. But Jaganmohan – known as Y.S.Jagan – is still being projected as the future chief minister – with support from the family’s business friends and their political contacts who stand to gain from a dynastic succession that would continue favours arranged in YSR’s time.
(On a different note, there must have been fears that the unexpected disappearance of YSR’s helicopter could become linked with Naxalite terrorists who are active in the remote forested area where his aircraft disappeared. I wondered two months ago in a post on this blog what the Naxalites must do to rate nationally as a real threat to India’s security. I suggested that the reason for many years of complacency is that they have never seriously attacked a centre of power – which they could have done if they had got to the helicopter before government rescue teams and had found YSR alive and made him a hostage. The speed and scale of the search for the aircraft suggests that this was a real fear in Delhi.)
There were many reports of deals being done for the personal gain of the family, including contract awards and links with big companies and projects. That was in addition to substantial collection for, and payments to, the Congress Party ahead of the last general and state elections – the side of corruption which is generally tolerated in India because it is accepted that parties need funding.
Jaganmohan built up media, cement and mining (the family’s original business area) companies – including Sakshi TV, Sandur Power, Jagathi Publications, Bharathi Cement and Raghuram Cement – with the help, it is widely acknowledged, of his father.
Yet none of this seems to matter, judging by the huge mass of mourners – from Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh to the poor – who gathered to pay their last respects.