As the hot sun beats down on Tadepalli, along the banks of the river Krishna in Andhra Pradesh, a shining yellow campaign vehicle stands out, close to the other side of Vijayawada’s iconic Prakasam Barrage. Atop it, the man that a large crowd has gathered to see waves and smiles at those below him.
Situated in the Mangalagiri constituency, this is where Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader and incumbent IT Minister Nara Lokesh, the son of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, is seeking to make his electoral debut; in the heart of the capital of Amaravati, his father’s dream project.
Lokesh was nominated as an MLC by the TDP in 2017, and later inducted into the cabinet, making this the first time that he will contest a direct election.
Speaking at the event, he says, “I am Nara Lokesh, son of Chandrababu Naidu and the grandson of (TDP founder) NT Rama Rao. But I am not here to ask you to vote for my family. Vote for us only because you wish to continue the development that you have seen here over the last five years.”
Lokesh has no easy fight. The opposition YSRCP has pitched Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, a politician who has been rallying farmers under the jurisdiction of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), who will be displaced soon and has even moved court several times to stall the project.
Alla Ramakrishna Reddy
On the ground
As Lokesh gets down and walks further ahead after his speech, a huge sound system can be heard blasting a song ‘Malli Nuvve Ravali Swarnandhra Kosam" (You must return for a golden Andhra).
As the crowd follows him, a small group creates a commotion, demanding justice. One of the women in the group, Nalladi Sarojamma, alleges that her house along with 200 others was destroyed in order to facilitate the Krishna Pushkaralu – a festival that takes place once in 12 years. The ritual was last held in 2016 with the full support of the ruling TDP government, which had made grand arrangements. As a result, several houses were destroyed and Sarojamma, along with others, say that they haven’t received the compensatory house assured by the government.
As local TDP men tried to rush in and pacify her, she says, "Everyone is saying our problem will be solved once they come into power, but what were they doing all these years when they were in power?”
Besides displacement due to the region developing fast, other issues in the urban areas of the constituency include an underground drainage and piped drinking water to keep up with the growing population. The constituency has a considerable population of weavers belonging to the Padamashali community, who are finding it difficult to make ends meet, making the distribution of pensions another poll issue.
While traditionally, the constituency voted for the Congress and the Left, since bifurcation, the voters have been divided between the TDP and the YSRCP, with the battle becoming highly polarised. Naidu also believes that Lokesh’s election from here would ensure that he stays close to the capital and attempts to facilitate its speedy development.
In 2014, Ramakrishna Reddy won over TDP’s Ganji Chiranjeevi by a razor thin margin of 12 votes, the thinnest victory across the state.
“Reddys will vote for YSRCP while Kammas and other BC communities will vote for the TDP. While it is a tough fight, Lokesh has the upper hand as the TDP is doing all it can to ensure his victory,” one local in Kuragallu notes.
If it wins, it will also vindicate the party’s stand that the people of the state support the capital plans.
“It is not just a reflection of whether people will vote for Lokesh or not. In all villages, it is being seen as a mandate of whether people are with Amaravati or against it. The result will reflect both,” a local in Nidamarru says.
Even in his speech on Wednesday, Lokesh reiterated the point, saying, “Bless me this time and I will make sure that the whole country looks at the development of Mangalagiri.”
In September 2015, Naidu promoted his son, making him an ex-officio member of the politburo before he moved on to become TDP General Secretary, the party’s second-in-command, and the same post that Naidu held during the tenure of NTR.
Being groomed by Naidu as his successor, Lokesh was nominated to the Legislative Council in 2017 and then inducted into the cabinet. If the latter succeeds electorally, the TDP chief hopes that it will seal the deal.
Alla Ramakrishna Reddy does not plan to give up without a fight and will be rewarded suitably by YSRCP chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy if he succeeds in trumping Naidu’s heir-apparent, but he doesn’t have an easy road ahead either.
One shopkeeper in Nidamarru sums it up best. “Lokesh will win, but it is because he is Lokesh.”