Nara Chandrababu Naidu usually knows which way the wind is blowing. He has largely been correct in the way he took political decisions.
When he walked out of the NDA and Modi-led government at the Centre, he would have been partly swayed by the deep disappointment among people over NDA’s poor track record in fulfilling the 2014 poll promises. He was also downright angry that Andhra Pradesh was completely short-changed by the powerful Prime Minister.
At stake was the special category status for Andhra Pradesh that would have given financial stimulus and wherewithal to the Chief Minister to build the state and its economy after it suffered losses due to bifurcation of the state in 2014.
Although the promises were made by the UPA-2 regime, they were announced by the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and, as such, continuity in governance should have ensured that they be fulfilled by the successor.
Naidu also gained from the Modi wave as he won more Lok Sabha seats as well as pipped YS Jaganmohan Reddy to the Chief Ministerial chair by the proverbial whisker. As against the vote share of 32.5 percent of Telugu Desam Party, YSRCP got 32.1 percent vote that resulted in TDP bagging 103 seats in the Assembly as against 70 of YSRCP.
Today, the situation on the ground is tough for Chandrababu Naidu. But there is a lurking fear in the minds of Jagan’s supporters. Said K Krishna, a software professional hailing from coastal Andhra Pradesh but now working in Hyderabad, ‘it is Pawan Kalyan who is giving us tension.’ Admitting that there was a severe job crisis, he said that the youth could drift to the film star famous for his punchy dialogues and action-packed scenes.
Pawan Kalyan, a Kapu by caste, has pockets of influence in the costal districts of Andhra Pradesh that make up for over 50 assembly seats. He may not win, but can damage the chances of Jagan Anna, felt Krishna.
Last time Chandrababu Naidu gained by Pawan Kalyan, film actor turned politician, supporting his party through his campaigns. His countless fan clubs added to the campaign of Naidu and helped him pip Jaganmohan.
Chandrababu Naidu is clearly facing the toughest challenge in his four-decade long political career. Other than charges of corruption levelled against him, his failure to build the new capital as promised or take the AP development agenda forward his detractors say will cost him the election.
Although there is some sympathy for Naidu, many question his failure to secure benefits for the state during the four years he was with the Modi government at the centre.
Jaganmohan Reddy, on the other hand, has been campaigning ever since his father passed away in 2012. He dismisses with disdain all talk of a three way or fourway split of anti-Naidu vote entertained by the TDP chief.
Naidu, meanwhile, has mounted an aggressive campaign against Modi, as also Jaganmohan Reddy, questioning their links, and says that five years of Modi rule have been a disaster for the country.
A plethora of leaders from outside – Mamata Bannerjee from West Bengal, Arvind Kejriwal from Delhi, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, JD (S) leader HD Deve Gowda are expected to campaign in Andhra Pradesh. Their presence is calculated to add to the image and stature of Naidu as a national leader who could be playing a key role in national politics, in a bid to impress the voters of Andhra Pradesh.
AICC president Rahul Gandhi’s promise of giving Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh, that Prime Minister Modi denied, has gone down well with the people of the state. Moreover, the pro-poor push of the Congress, as recounted in party poll manifesto and the basic income guarantee scheme has enthused many.
“The result will surprise many who have written off the Congress,” said a veteran journalist from Rajahmundry.