Jagan Mohan Reddy, chief of YSR Congress, was allowed to leave Chanchalguda jail after 38 days, for a short while today, to vote in the presidential elections at the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The MP from Kadapa and his 17 newly-elected MLAs and one MP are voting for the UPA's candidate Pranab Mukherjee, in a decision that has sparked speculation about whether this may thaw relations between Mr Reddy's party and the Congress.
Mr Reddy was brought to the state assembly building amid tight security in a black Scorpio. His supporters and party members chanted "Jai Jagan" to welcome him. He greeted them with folded hands and a smile. Mr Reddy was there for about 15 minutes, voted, met his mother and other MLAs, and then went back to jail, where he has been lodged for over 50 days on corruption charges.
The YSR Congress' decision to back Mr Mukherjee for President and Mr Hamid Ansari for Vice-President has triggered hopes among some that a rapprochement with the Congress is on the cards. For some time now, Mr Reddy has been at daggers drawn with the ruling party; he broke away from it months after his father, YSR Reddy, died in a helicopter crash, and formed his own party.
Jagan Reddy's disillusionment with the Congress came to a head when the Central leadership chose to ignore his incessant claims that he be recognised as the political successor to his father, who was the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and a very popular leader. Prominent among the senior central leaders that decided not to give in to Mr Reddy's many pressure tactics, was Pranab Mukherjee as the Congress' chief troubleshooter. The fact that Mr Reddy still chose to support Mr Mukherjee for President has added both to the surprise and to the speculation.
Mr Reddy is being investigated by the CBI in a disproportionate assets case and was jailed in May while campaigning for crucial assembly by-elections in Andhra Pradesh. He has accused the Kiran Kumar Reddy government of conspiring against him fearing his rise as a powerful third force in the state. His success in the by-elections, which his party swept, has proved that he is indeed building a strong political base.
Apart from Mr Reddy, former excise minister Mopidevi Venkatramana, who also came out of Chanchalguda Jail to vote, did not feel isolated by his cabinet colleagues today. Ministers were seen posing with him, before he drove off in another Scorpio. Mr Venkatramana had issued orders allotting land and extending other concessions for Vanpic company, whose promoter Nimmagadda Prasad made investments in Mr Reddy's companies. He was arrested by the CBI on May 24.