Chandrababu takes on Jagan, BJP and anti-incumbency in AP

With the TDP’s popularity on the wane in Andhra Pradesh, with one move of quitting the Union Cabinet, Chandrababu Naidu hopes to quell anti-incumbency and stave off the challenge from Jaganmohan Reddy

Photos by Raj K Raj, Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photos by Raj K Raj, Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Kingshuk Nag

Whatever Telugu Desam Party president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu may say, reliable sources suggest that internal surveys done at his behest in Andhra Pradesh in recent weeks have revealed that the popularity graph of the TDP is on the wane. Although, as per the same surveys, the popularity of opposition YSR Congress is not rising, Naidu did not want to take a chance. With barely a year to go for polls to the state assembly and Lok Sabha, he decided to initiate moves to rescind ties with the BJP. By doing so he hopes to beat anti-incumbency and place all the blame for lack of development in Andhra Pradesh in the last four years on the step motherly treatment by the ruling BJP. This will not only set back the BJP—which does not have a political base in the state and is largely dependent on the TDP—but also prevent any consolidation by the YSR Congress. YSRC chief Jaganmohan Reddy, like his father and former chief minister of united Andhra YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2003, is on a padyatra of the state. YSR’s padyatra did wonders for the Congress party and YSR romped to power in 2004, beating Naidu. Apprehending an encore (albeit the internal polls did not suggest that this would happen, as yet), Naidu decided to call it quits with BJP.

In some senses, the snapping of ties has been on the cards from the time the TDP and BJP tied up in 2014. Naidu is an agonisingly slow decision maker and though the internal survey might have been the proverbial last straw, he had been considering exercising the option for a long time.

A consummate politician, Naidu always knew that a special status could not be conferred on Andhra Pradesh. For one, AP is not a backward marginal state like some small states with difficult terrains in the north east, which have been conferred with this status. Secondly, the provisions of according special category to backward states have now been abolished. He was playing around with the BJP-led central government knowing that a time would come when he would have to split from the saffron party.

At the same time, Naidu and his party had maneuvered in such a way that the BJP could never strike deep roots in Andhra Pradesh. As the ruling party at the Centre and perceiving itself to be the central pole of Indian politics now, BJP wants to build a strong unit in Andhra Pradesh. But such was Naidu’s influence in some sections of the BJP that he virtually prevented them from doing so, and if sources are to be believed he even influenced who would be the state BJP chief. This, it goes without saying, was resented by large sections of BJP who believe that the strongest obstacle to the party’s growth in AP is Chandrababu Naidu. By implication, large sections of the BJP are actually happy that TDP has broken the alliance. This will give the BJP a chance to grow in AP, uninfluenced by the overarching presence of TDP. Perhaps this is the reason why Arun Jaitley announced publicly that a special category status could not be conferred on AP and that ‘sentiments’ cannot decide the matter. Naidu reacted and decided to withdraw his ministers from the union cabinet. As a last resort, he called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tell him about his decision. But Modi perhaps had anticipated the move and did not even want to go through the motions of asking him to stay on. So he decided not to take Naidu’s call. That left Naidu with no option but to quit.

The snapping of ties has been on the cards from the time the TDP and BJP tied up in 2014. Naidu is an agonisingly slow decision maker and though the internal survey might have been the proverbial last straw, he had been considering exercising the option for a long time

However Jagan, realising that he could not afford to be seen on the side of the BJP, has raised the ante and is busy mobilising support from other unaligned parties at the Centre to move a no confidence motion against the NDA government. Jagan does not have the mandatory 50 MPs required to move a motion, but is appealing to smaller parties who may have their axes to grind before the elections. In this way Jagan hopes to convince the electors in AP, that he and not Naidu is more stridently opposed to the Modi government in Delhi for the ‘step motherly treatment to Andhra Pradesh’. He will argue that Naidu, in spite of withdrawing TDP ministers from the cabinet, is still part of the NDA. This would imply that Naidu is still in the Modi camp while Jagan himself is far distant from the BJP. One wonders whether the Jagan move would force Naidu’s hand and push him to walk out from the NDA. If that happens, BJP can go hammer and tongs after TDP, and work out a tacit deal with YSR Congress.

Politics like cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, and there is no way to predict how things will pan out. But it promises to be a fight to the end in Andhra Pradesh, where the electors after the bifurcation of the state feel strongly that they have been wronged.

This article was updated at 9.20 am on March 9 to correct the byline.


Kingshuk Nag is former Resident Editor of the Times of India in Hyderabad and is a veteran political commentator

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Published: 09 Mar 2018, 8:03 AM
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