As Chandrababu Naidu mulls the worst defeat in his political career, he would do well to reflect on two statistics that lulled him into a sense of `All is well’.
In May 2016, the Andhra Pradesh Planning department said it conducted a perception survey among 15960 stakeholders in 661 randomly selected gram panchayats and 137 civic wards. The report claimed that 74 per cent of households in Andhra Pradesh felt there is no corruption in the state or has decreased significantly.
The second statistic was closer to Naidu’s heart. Following in Madhya Pradesh’s footsteps, the Andhra CM had started a Happiness department under his charge. The idea was to measure the happiness levels of people and organise `Happy Sundays’ in different cities and towns. Andhra government officials often spoke of a happiness index of 85 per cent. That if Andhra Pradesh was a country, it would rank 7th in the world in terms of happiness.
On 23 May, both these myths were smashed comprehensively. The 39 per cent vote share the Telugu Desam got, nowhere reflected the 85 per cent happiness index. And all through the election campaign, if there was one big negative the voters spoke about, it was the corruption by the Janmabhoomi committees. These committees were created in every village, were largely staffed by TDP activists and were alleged to have made money through various government schemes and contracts.
Informal post-mortem by TDP leaders of its resounding defeat has dwelt on how far-removed from reality the Naidu model of governance was. Much like his first stint as CM of united Andhra Pradesh where he overemphasised on Hyderabad, the highlight of this innings was Naidu’s Amaravati focus.
He planned to make the capital city of Amaravati among the top three happiest cities in the world and organised events like the Happy Cities summit in Amaravati in February 2019. While his vision for Amaravati was grandiose and futuristic, it was deemed unrealistic given the fact that the state was grappling with shortage of funds to execute different projects.
To the citizens in far away Vizianagaram and Anantapur, Naidu came across as disconnected from the problems that ailed them. In contrast, at around the same time, YS Jaganmohan Reddy was covering every district by foot, connecting with the people, rubbing shoulders, lending an ear to their grievances. The contrast between the powerpoint-obsessed CM making presentations in an AC room and a Jagan soaked in sweat on the road was stark. The people of Andhra noticed silently.
To visiting dignitaries, be it former British premier Tony Blair or industrialist Mukesh Ambani, Naidu often showcased his Real Time Governance Society (RTGS) which he boasted could even track which tubelight is on and which one is off in every street in every town in Andhra Pradesh. While Naidu’s fascination for embracing technology, introducing systems and ability to think ahead is laudable, what this CEO of AP Inc. approach did was that the data cut him off from real feedback from the ground.
In Naidu’s mind, numbers became sacroscant, human emotions which conveyed a different impression were deemed to be cooked up and political motives imputed. Reposing blind trust on data, some of it not collected scientifically according to officials in Naidu’s own office, lulled the CM into complacency.
Politically, what the data did not convey was the perception on the ground that Naidu’s regime was a Kamma community-focus one. It only led to a caste consolidation of sorts against the Kamma hegemony under the TDP, that ultimately inflicted a deep electoral cut.