The 43-degree heat and a nearly four-hour wait did not deter thousands who showed up in Narasannapet this afternoon. When Jagan Mohan Reddy's mother arrived, the crowd roared its support. "I am grateful," said Vijayalakshmi, or Vijayamma as she is known in these areas of Andhra Pradesh, areas whose political allegiance was held near effortlessly by her husband, YSR Reddy, when he was alive.
YSR died in a helicopter crash in 2009. Till recently, it was his memory that was evoked on the campaign trail. Now, there is another martyr.
Jagan Mohan was arrested on Sunday. A court has said he cannot leave prison till June 11 -the day before 18 assembly constituencies select their new representative. A Lok SAbha seat is also at stake. The YSR Congress, formed by Jagan Mohan after he quit his father's party one-and-a-half years ago, is hoping that a huge sympathy wave will turn voters in its favour. "They have sent him (to jail) far away from all of you because they are worried he is going to win all the seats," says Vijayamma, now the party's star campaigner by default.
If his party hopes to leverage sympathy over Jagan's arrest, political opponents are highlighting the fact that this is a man accused of whopping corruption. The CBI case against Jagan Mohan, ordered by the Andhra Pradesh High Court, taints not just him but YSR with graft. While he was Chief Minister, the three chargesheets filed in the case allege, YSR leaned on businessmen to invest in his son's companies if they wanted licenses or other clearances.
The Congress showered praise on YSR while he was alive as one of its most efficient and able leaders. As it fights Jagan Mohan in the elections, it's hard to circle him with corruption charges linked to his father. Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy will campaign in each of the constituencies at stake. His strategy so far appears ill-advised - he has said that if YSR delivered Andhra Pradesh to the Congress for two successive terms in power, it's only because he was given a chance to take centrestage by the party.
Chandrababu Naidu, who heads the main opposition party, the TDP, has begun targeting Vijayamma. "You are not bothered about common man. You are bothered only about your son. That is your affection. But as a political leader how are you going to justify that? You have to answer that,'' he said.