For the last several weeks, former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu seems to be at the receiving end of an offensive by present Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy.
On September 18, things got worse with former Speaker of the AP Legislative Assembly Kodela Siva Prasad hanging himself to death at his home. Though he left no suicide note, Kodela — once N T Rama Rao’s home minister, was disturbed because the AP Police was actively pursuing him in various cases. Chandrababu Naidu claimed that Kodela was under great pressure because he was implicated in ‘false cases’. He has now sought a CBI investigation. Kodela, a surgeon, was always a controversial figure, albeit a tough administrator.
In the latest case filed by Jagan government, he was charged with taking away a huge amount of furniture from the Assembly secretariat. This was when the government shifted from Hyderabad to the new capital Amaravati, but Kodela said he kept the furniture with him for safe custody since the new Assembly had its new furniture. But the police did not buy this argument.
Reddy’s government is now seen on a collision course with Naidu. In the last instance, the state administration tied a rope to the gates of Naidu’s residence to prevent him from travelling to a place where his party had set up a dharna against the state government. Earlier, the state government had declared Naidu’s residence, which was taken on rent, as illegal because it was on the river front and thus allegedly violated environmental regulations. They had also demolished a huge convention hall next to Naidu’s residence.
Those familiar with the state of affairs say that Jagan was planning to set up the state capital 150 km south east of the present Amaravati. Being on sandy land, this was better than Amaravati which is on prime double cropped farmland on the banks of river Godavari. Besides being low lying, acquisition of land in Amaravati meant loss of crops. Yet Naidu chose his capital here — also counter to the recommendations of the Capital committee set up by the GOI — because the land belonged to absentee landlords who had already migrated abroad.
The absentee landlords thus got a good price for their land, which de facto belonged to the cultivators! After the acquisition of land by the AP government, land prices appreciated tremendously. And it is alleged that Naidu’s close associates, already aware of his plans beforehand, had cornered large tracts of land in the area. Jagan’s aggressive utterances against Amaravati has now led the prices to crash.
But the location of the new capital of Andhra Pradesh in Amaravati is not the only reason that Jagan is miffed with Naidu. In fact, the battle has its roots in the villages of feudal Andhra Pradesh where Reddys and Kammas have been in conflict for decades. In the 1940s, Reddys joined the Congress and Kammas joined the Communist Party, but the latter made little headway. The Kammas made it big when cine idol and Kamma-to-boot N T Rama Rao formed the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982. Thereafter the parties have been alternately in power and the Kamma-Reddy rivalry has gone up in intensity in Andhra Pradesh that political analysts describe as Bihar of the South.
After the old Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated, Chandrababu Naidu, the son-in-law of N T Rama Rao, came to power in residuary AP in 2014. But in 2019, Jagan Reddy — who was ousted from the Congress and formed YSR Congress — won to become the Chief Minister. His party garnered 151 of the 176 seats in the Assembly and 23 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh. With TDP and the BJP on the war path (after being partners since 1998), the saffron party extended unseen help to Jagan and is believed to have prompted the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in Telangana also to do so.
Jagan has many CBI cases against him and analysts feel that he will toe the BJP line to protect himself. He will also try to annihilate the TDP for his own interest. This will help BJP whose top leadership now hates the TDP. In the two decades that the TDP was in alliance, Naidu never allowed BJP to strike roots in Andhra Pradesh.
As a result, when Naidu walked out of the NDA alliance, BJP was left high and dry. When four TDP MPs left the party to join BJP two months ago, the saffron party announced that a strategy to annihilate Naidu had been initiated. Jagan through his actions has also declared that he is on a similar mission. Time alone will show whether this will succeed.