After the completion of just ten months of his first term as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy came face-to-face with the greatest calamity of a century, the Coronavirus pandemic.
The 47-year-old, who founded the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) a decade ago, grew rapidly in politics, braving testing times as a young rebellious leader. The experience he gained even as an Opposition leader was immense, as he embarked on a 14-months walkathon, meeting millions along the way.
However, administrative experience eluded him as he was never a part of any state government in a real sense. His political rivals used the ‘inexperience’ tag as a weapon during the two previous election campaigns.
But the voters believed in Jagan Mohan Reddy in the last elections and put him on a pedestal, giving his party more than 85 per cent of the Assembly seats.
Eager to prove his admirers right and detractors wrong, Jagan Reddy worked towards fulfilling his promises, despite near-empty coffers consequent to misrule of the previous Telugu Desam government.
For any young chief minister trying to steer his state on the path of development and prosperity, a pandemic and a strict nation-wide lockdown, a first in this nation’s history, can seem like an insurmountable problem. Welfare, policies and economy took a backseat, even as preventing mortality by tackling the virus became a priority.
As Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy completes one year as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh on May 30, it can be confidently said that half of this period was a testimony of his sincerity in fighting the pandemic.
In mid-March, in the early days of Covid-19 in India, he was the first top political leader who said that everyone has to accept and live with the Coronavirus as it will not go away immediately. Sceptics saw it as a politically incorrect statement and opposition heckled him.
The CM intended to show reality to people and prepare them for the life ahead. His critics had to eat their words as, later, many sane and important voices, including Prime Minister Narender Modi reiterated his exact same words.
There are many firsts to him as CM with respect to his approach to this crisis. When several of those who attended the Tablighi Jamaat’s Markaz congregation in Nizumuddin in New Delhi, were testing positive in large numbers and were being blamed for the spread of the virus, it was CM Reddy who spoke against discrimination of one community and reminded everyone that religious congregations exists cutting across all faiths.
Two weeks into the lockdown, he was at the forefront of suggesting restricting lockdown to certain areas and opening up economic activity, which is being precisely followed across the country now.
One unusual gesture of the CM was to readily accept to get tested for Covid-19 during the launch of rapid testing kits in front of his staff and visitors. With a smile on his face. A smile that gave courage to millions of his people.
Talking about testing, a state which was only in a position to test only a few samples a day initially, has ramped up to 10,000 tests per day, standing at the top of the table, ahead of all other states in tests per million category. This would not have been possible without the vision of the CM.
From day one, aggressive testing has been the policy of the state. Authorities were given a free hand to accomplish this. The result is that the health department tried and tested various machines and methods and are conducting tests in multiple ways.
The administration was quick to allocate separate ambulances, earmark hospitals and setup isolation wards in every district, right at the beginning when only a few cases were reported.
The backbone of the entire ‘Covid tackling programme’ of AP were gram volunteers, numbering more than 2.3 lakhs, a brainchild of Jagan Redd. The CM took a wise decision to utilise youngsters for door-to-door surveys and help local health officials during screening, testing and contact tracing. Lakhs of households were surveyed by them, three times till now, as part of the exercise to trace early symptoms.
Unlike many other states, AP has been lauded for being very transparent with Covid data. The official bulletin, which is released every day, has detailed information related to positive cases, deaths, tests and guest workers.
During the crisis, Jagan Reddy took a humane view of every issue that cropped up. Whether it was handing over cash to people who completed quarantine, or extending a scheme to patients providing them with healthy meals. He personally directed officials to distribute 16 crore masks, free of cost, to cover the entire population of the state.
Two medicos, hailing from Anantapur, who died in a road accident in Philippines were brought back during the lockdown because of his intervention, the entire cost of transporting the bodies borne by the state government.
Adding to the existing crisis was the unfortunate industrial accident which took place in Visakhapatnam. Upon learning of the gas leakage of from an industrial plant resulting in deaths, he immediately rushed to Vizag to take stock of the situation. He released promised compensation to victims, instructed ministers to stay with villagers for morale boosting, ordered a high-level probe and interacted twice with victims.
Soon, the state was again in spotlight when a trifle of a non-issue was blown up into a controversy. Communal politics came into play after the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) decided to continue the process of disposing unviable assets, initiated during the term of previous government.
Though Mr Reddy had no role to play in the affairs of the TTD, his name was dragged into it. The CM intervened and kept the decision of the TTD board in abeyance, making sure that religious sentiments were not hurt.
Despite staring at a global health emergency, continual and vested political attacks and an undesirable economic situation, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy kept his promise of implementing welfare schemes by releasing amounts for pensions and zero-interest loans with no visible signs of stress.
For a person who entered politics just 11 years back, the unprecedented challenge only helped him showcase his administrative capabilities and potential as a leader.
(The writer is a senior journalist and the National Media Adviser for AP state government)...