As we step into Ichapuram, an otherwise sleepy town in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh which borders the state of Odisha, we see the entire village getting dolled up. Slowly and steadily villagers start queuing up on the Golden Quadilateral highway, sometimes blocking vehicular traffic, eagerly anticipating the arrival of a special guest. The excitement was palpable as Ichapuram was on the cusp of etching its name in a major political event in the state.
And so a little past 10 am on January 9, 2019, the villagers spot the special guest on the horizon, making his way into Icchapuram, eliciting loud cheers and hordes of whistles.
This special guest whom we are talking about is none other than YSRCP chief and Opposition Leader of Andhra Pradesh Jagan Mohan Reddy. Jagan in fact is used to this very warm reception every day ever since he began his padayatra on November 6, 2017. 341 days and 3,648 km later, Jagan was to complete his padayatra, titled Praja Sankalpa Yatra, across the 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh. It's no mean feat as Jagan is the only politician in two Telugu states to have walked on foot for such a long time.
What was the Padayatra all about?
The Praja Sankalpa Yatra involved Jagan walking for 12-15 km each day, with extensive roadside meetings with the common man and party workers alike. Across 341 days, Jagan visited 2,516 villages in 134 constituencies in the state According to YSRCP estimates, Jagan met over 2 crore people over the course of the padayatra
Padayatras and its significance in AP
When Chandrababu Naidu became the chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh in 1999, the Congress found themselves out of power and were a dispirited lot. This is when Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy, father of Jagan Mohan Reddy, embarked on his Praja Prasthanam, a march through the length and breadth of the state, establishing an instant connect with the common man. The efforts paid off and Congress rode back to power in 2004. Chandrababu Naidu himself took out a padayatra in 2013 for 2,800 km in 208 days and rode back to power in 2014, after a 10-year long hiatus.
On Wednesday, to mark the culmination of his padayatra, Jagan unveiled an 88-feet tall pylon called Vijayasankalpam in Ichapuram. The town hosts three pylons now, all belonging to the YS family. The first pylon marks late YS Rajasekhar Reddy's Praja Prasthanam padayatra in 2003, followed by his daughter YS Sharmila's Maro Praja Prasthanam padayatra in 2012. As Jagan made his way to address the public one last time to mark the end of end of padayatra, chants of 'CM CM' and ‘Ravali Jagan’, (Jagan should come) rented the air. Will the padayatra once again work its charm for Jagan Mohan Reddy or will Chandrababu Naidu be able to retain power ahead of the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls? This is one election where even pollsters are unable to pick out a clear winner offering a mouth-watering contest between the TDP and the YSRCP.