Hyderabad: Jagan Mohan Reddy should be Chief Minister latest by 2014, says fond sister Sharmila, as she steps out of the Chanchalguda jail after having met the day's big victor. Jagan is in jail on corruption charges but his family wears big smiles, brought to their faces by the YSR Congress' near-sweep of the by-elections to 18 assembly and one Lok Sabha in Andhra Pradesh.
It has won 15 of the 18 seats and has not even spared the Congress its Nellore Lok Sabha seat.
Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has been in a series of emergency meetings. He has met his ministers and MLAs, a flock he is now fighting to keep together. Mr Reddy is the one Congress chief minister who has not rushed to Delhi on urgent summons from the party high command. He is assessing the damage. His party, which eventually held all 18 of those assembly seats till December last year, has won back just two seats.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has expectedly won the one Telangana seat of Parkal, but there is a twist to this tale too. A very close number 2 in Parkal is the YSR Congress. It's candidate is lost by only a few hundred votes only suggesting that the Jagan phenomenon might be all-pervasive in Andhra Pradesh.
Jagan Reddy has accused both the Congress and the main opposition Telugu Desam Party, which has won nothing today, of being afraid of the rise of a third force in the state. Indeed, with his spectacular win today, he has changed the dynamics of Andhra Pradesh politics. Assembly elections are due in the state in 2014. (Who is Jagan Mohan Reddy?)
In 16 of the 18 assembly seats that were decided today, by-elections were held because the sitting Congress MLAs were disqualified by the Assembly Speaker for switching loyalties to the YSR Congress and voting against the Congress government during a no-trust vote in December last year. Every seat that Jagan wins of these will eat into the Congress' thin majority in the Andhra assembly. The Kiran Kumar Reddy-led government has 151 seats in the 294-member Assembly; the halfway mark is at 147.
But, it is not a collapse of government that the Congress fears as an outcome of today's results. At this point the, TDP with 80-odd MLAs, is also not mid-term election ready and is unlikely to try and topple the government. Jagan Reddy himself has said he does not expect the government to fall. Kiran Kumar Reddy's worst nightmare is the possibility of a mass exodus from his party into the Jagan camp. Just a few weeks ago, even as the CBI was prepping to arrest Jagan Reddy, two MLAs walked over to his side depleting the Congress's strength in the assembly.
Jagan Reddy is the son of the very popular former chief minister YSR Reddy, who died in a chopper crash in 2009. Some of his die-hard loyalists switched camp when his son broke away from the Congress. Jagan claims many others are just waiting to cross over. The TDP too faces that threat.
The Congress's one big weapon against Jagan Reddy, and which it can be expected to put to aggressive use to try and puncture his spectacular win are the corruption charges against him. The CBI is investigating how Mr Reddy became one of the richest MPs in the country. There are allegations that companies invested in his businesses in return for favours and benefits from the Congress government when YSR Reddy was chief minister.
Pollsters had predicted the Jagan walkover. The whopping 79.52 per cent votes cast on Tuesday made analysts wager that both the "anti-incumbency" and a "sympathy" factor would work for Jagan Reddy, who was plucked out of an intense campaign, questioned for three days by the CBI and then was arrested on May 27 and sent to Chanchalguda Jail in Hyderabad in a disproportionate assets case.
This kept him away from the rest of the campaign, but his mother YS Vijayamma and sister Sharmila took over and made a martyr of him, lambasting the ruling Congress for what they called unfair tactics. Jagan's camp is sensing victory already. In a first ever interview, his wife Bharati told NDTV, "Indications are that it will be a good day for us. Wish Jagan were here today. It is his day. He has worked so hard for it." (Exclusive: It's Jagan's day, says his wife)
The results will also been keenly watched in Delhi. In 2004, the Congress had won 29 seats in Andhra Pradesh out of its overall tally of 145 seats in the Lok Sabha. This tally increased to 33 - out of 207 - in the current Lok Sabha. Andhra Pradesh sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha, and these polls are being seen as a curtain-raiser to the 2014 elections.
The 294-member assembly also has a big impact on the upcoming Presidential polls, as it forms an important part of the electoral college. A big win for Jagan Mohan Reddy may compound the Congress' problems and make it more difficult to install a UPA-backed candidate in Rashtrapati Bhavan.