Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, is among the shrewdest students of contemporary national politics. The uncharitable of the critics describe him as a dependable political weathercock.
So, when he pulled away from the NDA alliance and the Modi government at the Centre, it did not surprise many given the prevailing anti-BJP sentiments in Andhra Pradesh due to the central government failure to confer special category status to the truncated state.
Telangana was carved out of the United Andhra Pradesh in 2014 after a central government promise to confer special category status to the state for five years and special funds to enable it catch up in terms of infrastructure and industry. Since Andhra Pradesh had to build its own capital city, assistance was also to come from the Centre.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana will be facing simultaneous elections to Assembly and Lok Sabha.
The BJP, trying to expand and annex new territories in South India, has been targeting the two regional parties – the TDP in Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in Telangana to an extent that Naidu chose to break free of his alliance with the BJP and walked out of the NDA coalition.
Andhra Pradesh will elect 25 Lok Sabha members and Telangana would send 17 members to the Lower House.
In Telangana too, TRS head and Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao is wary of BJP’s expansionist designs and is hobnobbing with non-Congress anti-BJP forces with an intention to bring about a coalition of non-Congress and non-BJP forces.
In Andhra Pradesh, opposition YSR Congress party headed by YS Jaganmohan Reddy is snapping at the heels of Chandrababu Naidu and his party and it is the aggressively competitive politics over Special Category status that eventually forced the hand of Naidu.
It was also his game of one-upmanship with YSR Congress party that Telugu Desam forced a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha.
Its blistering attack against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government is proof of political positioning of Naidu – at a time when the BJP is also likely to face anti-incumbency in North India.
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In the last 2014 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the BJP and the NDA gained on the strong performance of the TDP, which now is no longer the case. Given the public perception of the BJP as seemingly anti-Andhra, anyone associating with the BJP can be expected to fare badly as well.
Which is why the political situation in Andhra Pradesh has become more fluid now than before after Naidu stormed out of the NDA on the issue of the central government’s attitude towards the new state.
The BJP asserts that it has given much more assistance and grants to Andhra Pradesh than what was conceived of in the special category status. Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured people of Andhra Pradesh that the Centre will do everything to ensure to their welfare and development.
Lanka Dinakar, senior TDP leader in Andhra Pradesh, is confident that the party will return on the strength of host of welfare schemes and development programmes. But the BJP has mounted a shrill campaign against Naidu and his alleged corruption in every conceivable arena of governance and projects in the state.
Just like Naidu’s proverbial eleventh-hour withdrawal from NDA coalition is suspect in the eyes of the people, the BJP’s corruption campaign against Naidu has few takers in Andhra Pradesh.
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The BJP is trying to work out a coalition of forces, along with YSRCP and film star-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan – who has launched a diatribe against Naidu. But he sends out confusing signals with his attack on the central government on the special category status. Both the YSRCP and Pawan Kalyan are perceived to be B team of the BJP.
Incidentally, the BJP’s tirade against Naidu is helping him given the sentiments on the ground that Andhra Pradesh and its people were cheated by successive governments at the Centre – led by both the Congress and the BJP.
The TDP was aligned with the BJP and the Jana Sena of Pawan Kalyan in the 2014 general elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly, it was in a tight fight against the YSRCP in Seemandhra. The difference in vote share was a mere two per cent and the TDP came to power by winning 102 of the total 175 seats. The YSRCP won 67.
At that time, Naidu’s experience as a CM who worked and his alliance with Modi. The promise of special category status too helped him and his alliance with BJP then. Naidu had also managed to hand the corrupt tag on Jaganmohan with the help of the Congress party, which was completely wiped out.
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People of Andhra punished the Congress for the way it divided the state and this time they could punish the BJP for betraying the people of the state. But Naidu’s failure to fulfil his 2014 election promises could cost him. Progress on Andhra Pradesh capital Amaravathi too could haunt him, as farmers had given up lands for the new capital unconditionally.
On the farm loan waiver too, Naidu has not been able to win the trust of the farming community. He has also failed to create job opportunities.