Andhra Pradesh by-poll: Nandyal seat is a prestige battle between Chandrababu Naidu and Jaganmohan Reddy
Nandyal (Andhra Pradesh): It was a single by-election, but Andhra Pradesh's main parties turned the contest for the Nandyal assembly seat into a huge prestige battle with Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and opposition leader Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress leading bitter and often personal campaigns that saw an exchange of sharp words and allegations.
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A high voter turnout of about 80 per cent was recorded on Wednesday in the Nandyal by-election, seen as a bellwether for assembly elections in the state and national elections, both to be held in 2019.
There was massive security, with drones deployed to beam real-time images of the polling to control centres amid allegations from both sides of voters being bribed. Rs. 16 crore were recovered from 90 people in run-up to the by-election and there were reports of betting worth hundreds of crores.
2,500 cops and six paramilitary units were stationed for Wednesday's election. The Election Commission used the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) for the polls.
By-elections were held because the Nandyal legislator Bhuma Nagi Reddy died in March this year. Mr Reddy had won the seat as a YSR Congress candidate in 2014, but switched to Mr Naidu's ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) soon after. He was not alone; 20 of the 67 legislators who won in 2014 as YSR Congress candidates are now in the TDP.
"He stole 20 of our MLAs. Why should I not call him a thief?'' said Jagan Mohan Reddy while campaigning in Nandyal, seen as a stronghold of his YSR Congress. Nandyal's voters, Mr Reddy has said, will punish the Chief Minister for poaching.
The 44-year-old opposition leader defined a new low when he said in a public meeting that there would be nothing wrong if Mr Naidu "were to be shot dead on the road." In another meeting he said there was nothing wrong if someone like Mr Naidu is "hanged for his wrongs." He later explained that he had "been carried away" by his emotions because the Chief Minister is "betraying the people."
Mr Naidu shot back saying he believes that Jagan Mohan Reddy's father, former chief minister YSR Reddy, was a behind-the-scenes player in an assassination attempt that saw Naxals target his convoy in 2003.
Twice, the chief minister also snapped at questions put to him by voters. "You take pensions that we give you. You use the roads built by us. You take rations and other benefits, why should you not vote for us?" Those who asked about undelivered promises and schemes he billed as Mr Reddy's "lackeys."
Mr Reddy's supporters circulated an old video from last year in which Silpa Mohan Reddy, his candidate in Nandyal - who was then in the TDP - is seen pleading for funds to widen roads in constituency. The Chief Minister retorted on camera that there wasn't enough money.
The Election Commission's reprimand for Mr Reddy is dated Augist 21, but became public on Wednesday.