On his first visit to the Capital after taking over as Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Jaganmohan Reddy spoke to HT about his plans for the state, his relationship with the Centre, and the upcoming Parliament session. Edited excerpts:
What was going through your mind when you became CM after a dramatic political journey?
Nine-year-long journey, yes. The first thing I thought was, ‘had my father been alive…’ Now we have a responsibility and God willing, him along with God, we will do better than him.
Do you feel weighed down by that – being your father’s son?
One thing lucky for me is that I had Chandrababu Naidu in between. He was the worst chief minister the state could get. That being the case, anything I will do will be far better than Chandrababu Naidu. But yes, competing with my dad is what I would like to do.
One particular decision you have taken – appointing five deputy chief ministers – is a record of sorts. What was the thinking behind that?
We’ve given one to Scheduled Castes, one to Scheduled Tribes, one for OBC, one for minorities, and one more for Kapus. All the sections were with us in this huge mandate. They’ve given us this mandate, and this was a move to instil confidence, to say, ‘I am with you’. To send a message that they mean a lot.
Some would say you are indulging in tokenism.
Basically, it is not just having deputy chief ministers, we have done something. Even the Cabinet berths, almost 60% are SC/ST, OBC and minorities. This was never done before. So we are sending a strong message on social justice that this government means that we are together with the downtrodden. That we’re connected with them. Ultimately, it is with all their blessings that we are what we are. We should never forget that.
For 14 months, I was on the road day in and day out. I was sleeping there, moving from one place to another. Before that, I was connected; but in that time, I travelled more than any politician in Andhra Pradesh. That padyatra made the difference, you know where you are and people know where you are. When I was walking, people came to explain their plight. Everything they said, they said with hope. They gave you a chance to change their life. That’s the most important thing. ‘Credibility’ is a word one must never forget, and it’s what has got me this far.
One important aspect of being a CM is Centre-state relations. You’ve just met home minister Amit Shah, what kind of relationship do you see with him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi? There is speculation that you have an understanding with them.
What is there to have an understanding? We fought the elections on our own, they fought the elections on their own; we got the seats that are ours, they got theirs. Everything is so transparent. As far as me going to Tirupati, he’s the Prime Minister of the country and he’s coming to my state; as chief minister, it is very important that I receive the PM, especially when he is coming to my state for a ‘darshan’. So I met and gave him due respect.
The elections are over; he’s the PM and I’m the CM, and we need to work together. I need him to run the state finances. So it’s very important that the relations between the state and Centre are cordial. Even though I keep pressing. I told him also, ‘every time I meet, I will never let you forget the special category status, and I pray to God that your heart is softened’. There’s nothing else I can do. If he’d gotten 250 [Lok Sabha seats], then probably it would have been a different ball game.
In Parliament, will you be supporting them?
It is always going to be issue-based support. If there is something that’s going to do good for the country, why would we not support? If you think it won’t, then why would you support. It is our choice.
What about the report that the deputy leader of Lok Sabha may be from your party?
To be fair , neither have we asked, nor have they proposed. This is all speculation
You said as CM, you need to work with the Centre. But Mamata Banerjee is not coming for the Niti Aayog meeting. What do you think of the stand she has taken?
We’ve just been elected. Our situation, our finances need the central government. So it is very important that relations between the state and the central government grow and become healthier. At the same time, it is our duty that the central government doesn’t forget our special category status. For Didi, it is a different story. She’s got elections around the corner. She has now got the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] in a position where they are fighting for that space. For us, national parties have no space in our state. So we don’t see anybody as a threat.
From one CM to another, would you tell her to work with the Centre?
She’s much more experienced than me so I don’t think I can even venture into trying to advising Didi. She knows what she’s doing.