As one moves farther away from Delhi to the South, the nationalism narrative and the government’s muscular approach towards neighbours gives way to more real local issues. In Andhra Pradesh, it is its perceived neglect and denial of Special Category status after bifurcation while Telangana has become the fiefdom of sorts of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
Where does this leave Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who does not tire of attacking N Chandrababu Naidu, till recently his colleague in the NDA and a participant in the government, and his government as the epitome of corruption?
At least, the Congress in these two states is essaying a revival with AICC president Rahul Gandhi promising special category status if voted to power at the Centre.
In an indication of the shape of things in the post-poll scenario, Congress president Rahul Gandhi refrained from attacking TDP or its chief and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu during his campaign. Rahul Gandhi targeted Modi and YSRCP leader Jaganmohan Reddy as per the narrative he is setting for the state polls.
In Andhra Pradesh, Modi and the BJP are seen as villains for denying it what was due after bifurcation – the promises made by the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh as the head of the government.
Balakot or nationalist sentiments being whipped up by the BJP and its leaders find little resonance. People are certainly concerned about national security but they don’t hold the Congress as guilty of failing on this front and fondly recall Indira Amma’s blow to Pakistan and breaking it up into two.
Denial of special status category to Andhra Pradesh is the popular sentiment on the ground, exploited by the master strategist in Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu to the hilt, is going against Modi and the BJP, especially unthinkable during the four years that Telugu Desam Party spent in alliance with the BJP in the NDA.
In fact, Naidu smartly made the denial of Special Category status an issue to leave the NDA and broke ties with the BJP to ride on popular sentiment.
As things stand today, for Prime Minister Modi and his party, Andhra Pradesh remains a no-go area as the main battle is between TDP and YSR Congress Party led by Jaganmohan Reddy. It is of course an entirely different matter that Reddy could swing either way – as he has indicated that he will support ‘any party’ that gave his state the Special Category Status.
For the record, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has already declared that if voted to power, his government will honour all the commitments made by the UPA 2. Although the Congress was totally wiped out from Andhra Pradesh, the party is in fight in a few seats unlike the BJP which is missing in action, despite the high-profile and highly-visibility campaigning.
“In Tamil Nadu and even in Andhra Pradesh, Modi is not even a factor, whatever he may say,” says political analyst Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University. In Andhra Pradesh, it is a 100 per cent no to Modi, he said, adding that the only three players in the state are Naidu, Jagan and actor Pawan Kalyan.
Though denial of Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh is due more to technical reasons, the denial is going against the BJP and it helps Naidu to that extent- as it is an emotional issue for the people of Andhra Pradesh.
There are many die-hard Modi bhakts who now openly rant against the Prime Minister precisely for this reason although they may not want Naidu back as the CM. There are other factors that could go against Naidu, Prof Manivannan points out and adds, “Ground situation points to a tough battle between the two regional players with the actor coming in between.”
As things appear today, Andhra Pradesh will be witnessing multi-cornered contests and a lot will depend on the Pawan Kalyan factor and who he will hurt more – Naidu or Jagan.
Whichever party wins Andhra Pradesh Assembly will be a key player in the post-poll government formation at the Centre. Jaganmohan Reddy has made enough noises to indicate his support for the BJP, but that could be due to tactical reasons. After elections, both would see which way the wind blows. And, act accordingly.