I cannot break a promise: Jagan

‘Agriculture, Education, Healthcare pillars to build foundation of a Human Resource wealth’

Less than four years ago, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy was elected as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh with a resounding majority of people who defenestrated the Telugu Desam led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, and gave the young leader 151 out of 175 seats in the Assembly.

As one of the youngest Chief Ministers who had led to victory his party, named after his late father, within a decade of its formation, Jagan Mohan Reddy did not have too much to celebrate, taking charge of a state still reeling from the shock of bifurcation, the loss of a capital city like Hyderabad and the loss of first five years post-division to wrong priorities.

Nearly nine years after the bifurcation, Andhra Pradesh and its people are seeing a new vision arise and getting implemented, a kind of peerless vision, but critics of Jagan Mohan Reddy call it reckless welfare spending.

In an exclusive interview, Jagan Mohan Reddy speaks on a plethora of issues, political and personal, and reveals his mind and opens his heart on a range of topics to Sriram Karri and N. Vamsi Srinivas.

You have had a challenging stint — becoming CM and holding office for the first time, no prior experience, taking over a state trying hard to find its feet. No capital, hard on finances. Then the pandemic happened. You had made welfare promises which would put a huge burden on the exchequer. Your critics say AP has too much of focus on welfare and too little on development?

We want to bring in a governance revolution in Andhra Pradesh based on simple human principles — whatever the government promises, it will deliver. When we give support to people, it must be timely when they need it the most. The needy have to be taken care of and provided with strength and confidence till they can stand on their own.

Historically, political parties and leaders give promises before the elections but after forming the government they don’t keep them. We have locked our election promises to the Budget of the state. For years, when state governments presented a Budget, it meant nothing to most people. Today, in Andhra Pradesh, every section of society knows we will give them the support on the day we promised to deliver it. There is a calendar of government welfare schemes delivery – for an entire year.

Which government in Independent India has delivered on its promises like us? Without corruption or leakage, a direct benefit transfer of over Rs 1.92 lakh crore has been given covering every segment. The disbursed amount is a record in terms of state GDP and revenue to per capita benefit per citizen. And not a single promise made before elections has been ignored.

Is there an integrated theme, or vision, underlying the welfare schemes or is it just distribution of cash through online transfers to different sections of people? And is not the responsibility of focusing on job creation for example important for a state government?

Creation of sustainable livelihoods is indeed the underlying vision of the welfare schemes. We have a population of over five crore people. When we came to power, we had four lakh government employees, which has now gone up to six lakh. Yet, it is clear government jobs are no answer because it is just over 1 per cent of the population, and a tiny fraction of demand for jobs.

The biggest employer in India, and AP, is agriculture. Over 67 per cent of people in the state are engaged in the sector. We had to make it resilient and strong. Over, way over, 70 per cent of these farmers have a land holding of less than 1.25 hectare. Rythu Bharosa and Rythu Bima ensured that the small farmers knew thrice a year — at the time specified, Sankranti, Rabi and Kharif — the state will invest into their farming cycle input requirements. If the crops fail, insurance will reach them before the next crop season begins. This welfare has ensured farmers and farming in AP are better off. How many sustainable livelihoods are we talking about here?

Another biggest segment is self-employment and traditional professions. When we give cash to weavers, tailors, drivers, even lawyers, or women-led self help groups, they are able to sustain and make plans to grow.

If jobs and livelihoods is one underlying theme of YSRC welfare, education is another. I believe nothing will change lives and make people develop as education. We are revolutionising education.

When the media or people talk of infrastructure — they mention roads, ports but seldom list government primary, middle and high schools. We are building modern school buildings with all facilities. Every student from Class VII onwards has a tab. The content comes from firms like Byju’s. We are providing subject expert teachers from Class III and have shifted to English medium. In three years, all 50,000 schools will be digitised, of which the first phase is complete.

India should know that Andhra Pradesh is the state on a path where within three years private schools will feel severe strain of competition from government schools. Even a scheme to pay a girl’s parents for their marriage has been linked to education — they must have completed Class X and be over 18 years. So parents are sending the girl children to school to get the benefits.

We are ensuring we pay full reimbursement to 200 students each year going abroad to study in the top universities and colleges globally. Within 15 years, a whole new generation of people, educated with the best curriculum and in English, will be the human resource wealth of Andhra Pradesh. I don’t see these as doles but as crucial investments in the most important resource — the human potential and future.

Education is the biggest drive and focus, alongside agriculture and healthcare. Under the YSRC government, AP is a state where poverty does not deter a citizen from rights of best education and healthcare. The state stands by them.

I am doing my best and in fact, the only thing I cannot do is — break a promise. I will go to people saying only if you have benefitted from my government, vote for me. The results will be amazing.

At a time when several non-BJP CMs are at loggerheads with Governors, you are a rare exception. How do you manage your relationships?

In politics, business or personal life, the secret of a relationship is credibility and trust, which is built by a simple question — does he live up to his promise. In life, character is tested when challenges arise and people opt for a shortcut and find justifications to not deliver on their promises. Even during the worst pandemic, we delivered. It creates trust.

I will always choose the hard and long path but the right one. On the long route with difficulties, a person is put to test but relationships become stronger because trust and credibility have been established.

You have a good relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre. Yet, the Special Category Status and other promises of the AP Bifurcation Act are still pending? What are you doing about it?

Not just the Special Category Status, but every promise made to us in Parliament, I am keeping it alive. I will never let it get buried. Whenever I meet leaders in Delhi, I make a request for clearance of all pending issues. It is taking time but we have to continue to push and keep it alive. I hope and pray that my sincere efforts will soften their hearts. Or we have to be patient for a change in political situation.

Your good friend and CM of Telangana, K. Chandrashekar Rao, has established the BRS as a national party to change the political situation in Delhi. Has he offered you to join his efforts? Will you consider it?

(Laughs) No, no. KCR garu has never spoken to me about such matters. I neither think nor talk of such things with him or anyone. I am not part of any front.

There is much similarity between your father and you, including a core of welfare-centric politics, and a reputation of keeping your word. What are the differences?

As with most or all children, as a son, my father is my role model. I have always immensely adored and respected him, and modelled myself after him. I can’t think of any difference between us... none at all.

Dr YSR would never rebel against the high command of the Congress. You did. You started a party of your own.

Even I had no intention to defy the Congress high command or leave the party or start a new party. At the crash site where my father passed away, overcome with grief and emotion, learning that so many people had given up their lives, I made a promise. There was no politics, only an emotion – I made a promise, do I keep it or break it.

What kind of a son I would be to that kind of a father, if I broke my word? I would lose all credibility. May be they would have elevated me at some time or may be because of floating a party I would have gone into political oblivion but it was a spontaneous decision to do the right thing and take the harder path.

Life is too short and we will all die someday. But when I meet my father in heaven it would be a great sense of satisfaction that he would appreciate me for keeping my word. You have the choice to be a hero or a villain with your actions and choices.

How do you find such inner strength? When faced with such tough times?

I believe in God, and destiny. And I believe Andhra Pradesh is destined for a great future and to emerge as the foremost state in the country.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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