Kuppam (Andhra Pradesh): Kuppam, a nondescript small town sandwiched between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu looks more like a part of these two states. For, most speak all three languages — Kannada, Tamil and, of course, Telugu — and depend on the neighbouring states for jobs and education.
Naidu, the three-time Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief first won from here in 1989. After that, he won six straight elections from Kuppam and is now seeking a seventh term from the southern-most constituency in the state.
Naidu, a native of Naravarapalle near Chittoor, first won on a Congress ticket from Chandragiri in 1978 at the young age of 28 and went on to become a minister in the AP government headed by then chief minister T Anjaiah.
After his father-in-law and Telugu matinee idol NT Rama Rao founded the TDP, Naidu joined him in 1984.
Even though Kuppam is a part of arid Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, it is full of lush green coconut groves, vegetable gardens and flower fields. All the roads are tarred and the town has good educational institutions, including a medical college. Compared to the rest of parched Rayalaseema, Kuppam electorate look happy and content.
Most agree that Chandrababu Naidu will easily win from Kuppam for the seventh consecutive term. But they are not sure about their celebrated MLA returning as the Chief Minister for the fourth term.
Speaking to News18, a roadside vegetable vendor, Balakrishna, says Naidu has done a lot for the constituency in the last 30 years. "People all over India know Kuppam because of him. He is a national leader. He has put Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad on global map. We have been voting for him for the past 30 years. We will vote him this time too.”
Venkatadri, a local trader, also endorses this view. He says that Naidu had improved the lives of people in Kuppam through various schemes. "We grow flowers, vegetables and fruits. We send them to Bengaluru, to Chennai. Also to Tirupati. A lot has been done here over the years.”
Naidu is also getting Krishna water from Vijayawada to Kuppam through pipelines for irrigation and public needs, they say.
Naidu's main rival YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has opened a big election office in Kuppam and some of his enthusiastic workers are hopeful of a good fight. Venkatesh, a party worker, says, "We know that it is almost impossible to defeat Naidu in Kuppam. But, we are giving him a good fight. We don't want to make it a one-sided election.”
He is confident of Jagan coming to power this time. "In 2014, he narrowly lost. This time he is winning big," Venkatesh declares. "This time, Kuppam is electing leader of the opposition," he says with a laugh.
Surprisingly, even die-hard fans of Naidu are not hopeful of the return of Telugu "Bidda" this time. In private conversations, they admit that Naidu is on a weak wicket and the momentum across Andhra is in favour of Jagan Mohan Reddy.
The son of the late AP chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, 46-year-old Jagan is posing a huge challenge to his arch-rival, 69-year-old Naidu. Across Rayalaseema, comprising eight Lok Sabha seats and 56 Assembly seats, YSR Congress looks formidable and its candidates are campaigning extensively.
A wave for Jagan is clearly visible across the region, which once his legendary father virtually ruled as a ‘king’. ‘One chance for Jagan come what may’ is the popular slogan in these parts this election season.
Chandrababu Naidu, who is aware of the ground situation has launched an all-out attack on the resurgent YSR Congress Party, dubbing Jagan as an agent of PM Narendra Modi and Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao. Speaking to media, he said that electing Jagan was just like signing the “death warrant” of Andhra.
With two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, being pushed to the fringes across the state, the fight is between two local players — Jagan and Naidu.
Most, including Congress and BJP workers, agree that these two national parties stand no chance and may not be winning even one seat from the state.
Telugu film star Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena is also in the fray and political pundits are divided over who it would harm or benefit. One would have to wait for April 11, the day Andhra Pradesh votes to elect new governments in the state and Centre.