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Anything to Retain Power
Andhra Pradesh

Anything to Retain Power

GS Radhakrishna

Chandrababu Naidu’s efforts in creating a base in Telangana have come to naught, as his poll alliances and political moves have only served to alienate the electorate. 2019 becomes crucial for the TDP satrap and AP CM if he is to remain relevant and retain power. 

By GS Radhakrishna

For the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu, November and December of 2018 have been full of political learning curves.

His alliance in 2014 with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (for the elections were held in the then-united AP) at the Centre, led to an electoral defeat that year. That honeymoon culminated in March 2018.

He switched sides, aligning with the Congress for the Telangana Assembly polls in December 2018, but was completely uprooted from the State.

For Naidu though, the writing was on the wall – his party knew that they would get blindsided in the sister Telugu State. After the formation of  Telangana, 12 of the 15 TDP members in the Telangana assembly had gone over to the TRS side. Talasani Srinivas Yadav was even made a cabinet minister by KCR to cash in on the Yadava community support in the 2016 GHMC polls in Hyderabad.

Losing Ground

“Post the ‘note for vote’ case Naidu had quit Hyderabad, which eroded the Telangana TDP.Its MLAs chose a future with TRS. Also, the working president of the TDP, A. Revanth  Reddy (nephew of  ex-union minister Jaipal Reddy), joined the Congress,” says former TDP leader and MLA Dayakar Rao.

One senior political analyst described Naidu’s attempt in Telangana as – “a desperate itch to hit out at KCR who had driven him out of Hyderabad.” KCR is K. Chandrasekhara Rao, leader of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the Chief Minister of Telangana.

Naidu’s election speeches in Telangana stunned even his allies, the Telangana Congress, for his slander of KCR. At an election speech in Kukkatally, Naidu kept on harking on the fact that he had built  Hyderabad. TRS members corrected him saying that Hyderabad was built by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah 400 years ago. In a meeting at Nizamabad on December 3,2018, Naidu said that he had come to Telangana for the well-being of the Telugu people.

But Naidu was on a losing spree. The Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy districts, once considered a citadel of the TDP and populated with Seemandhra settlers, did a turnaround. These electorates voted for the TRS, and the TDP ended up with only two Assembly seats in the Khammam district. As is common in Telugu politics, these two TDP MLAs are reportedly on the verge of joining TRS in the near future.

After the poll debacle, Naidu is focussing on speeding up work on his pet project, the new capital Amaravati, as well as the Polavaram irrigation project. “We have to do everything, use every trick to foil the designs of this dirty gang of BJP, YSRC (YSR Congress), JanaSena (actor-turned politician Pawan Kalyan’s party), TRS and AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen),” he is said to have told party leaders at a meeting in the last week of December.

The Action Plan

Naidu has also launched a multi-pronged strategy to drive home the fact that his recent overtures to the Congress are now null and void. Although he attended the swearing in of the Congress Chief Ministers in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhva Pradesh, he has reportedly sent feelers to the Congress High Command, saying that he would not want a pre-poll tie-up for the 2019 general elections in Andhra Pradesh.

“We discussed it at the party forums. Everyone is wary of a campaign with Rahul Gandhi and the local Congress leaders. Anyway, Chandrababu will take the final call and we have spoken our mind,” said senior TDP leader Kala Venkat Rao at a press meet after the TDP meeting at Vijayawada on December 14, just after the Telangana polls.

Naidu is also going to be presenting White Papers on issues that he wishes to highlight – like Special Status to AP, the State’s financial status and growth rate, rural and urban infra, farmer welfare, industries and employment, energy infra, social empowerment and good governance. He is going to be opening up these subjects to open debate and the Grama Sabhas that are going to take place from January 2 to 11 2019, as part of the Janmabhoomi program.

Naidu’s new campaign against the Centre is also going to be flagged off. He is organising Dharma Porattam meetings in different parts of the State, present White Papers that will highlight the failure of the Modi government to fulfil the promises of the 2014 election speeches, etc. This last, he aims to present at the Grama Sabhas for endorsement.

From Across the Line

But the political lines are drawn. Both the TRS chief KCR and Asaduddin Owaisi, the President of the AIMIM, have announced their plans to campaign in the AP elections insupport of the YSRC and “pay back” Naidu in the same coin, as his campaign in the Telangana elections. “I want to give Chandrababu a return gift for his alliance with the Congress, which gave TRS a landslide win,” KCR said at a press meet in Hyderabad after the poll results, on December 11 evening.

Meanwhile, Naidu has taken on his opponent, YSRC chief Jagan, for allegedly colluding with the BJP and the MIM, saying that he (Jagan) has done this to get relief from the CBI cases he is mired in.

Naidu also said that the Jagan-Pawan Kalyan and BJP combine would ruin AP and stall all development works. “What can Jagan, who will go to jail soon, and Pawan, who is just a dummy of the BJP, do for people of AP?” asked Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishudu, second in command in both party and government, at a Dharma Porattam meeting  in West Godavari district in the third week of December.

Anti-BJP Front: A Naidu Smokescreen?

Prominent regional satraps like Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal and Sukhbir Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal contend that Chandrababu Naidu’s projection of a non-BJP and non-Congress front and the lofty slogan of “Save nation and save democracy” is just a smokescreen for the ulterior designs of the TDP supremo.

According to sources, some of them told TRS leader KCR who met them recently, that Naidu’s big talk lacked conviction. “After a week-long of travel to bring 14 parties on a platform, Naidu landed in the lap of the Congress for the Telangana Assembly polls. What does that indicate?” they reportedly told KCR’s aides. At a media briefing on Saturday, KCR launched a blistering attack on Naidu saying, “He cannot speak in English or Hindi for two minutes! Then how can he push his Federal Front?” He added that he and his children,however, were fluent in English, Hindi, Urdu and Telugu.

Naidu and KCR have done two rounds of meetings with national and regional leaders in the last few months. Both have raised the same slogans of fighting for the cause of regional parties.

Ironically, they also want the support of national parties in their “fronts”, but only as spectators. KCR’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Modi, after a series of second round meetings with leaders in Odisha and Kolkata, earned KCR a caustic remark from Naidu, that he was being a front for Modi. In turn, KCR brought down the level of discourse by tellingreporters that Naidu blaming the Centre now for Special status is meaningless, adding, “You were sailing with the BJP for four years and even declared that Special Status was not a Sanjivini. You are a daddam (idiot) theluvi ledu (having no brains), who now finds fault with Modi and everyone else for your own failures.”

This led Naidu to hit back on Sunday saying that KCR was but a political opportunist who should mind his language and control his tongue.

Naidu’s lobbying worked well for him, bringing together 14 parties in Delhi on December 10, just a day before the Telangana poll results.

He personally met Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) leader Mayawati, and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, besides Loktrantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav, former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, CPI leader D Raja, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee amongst others.

KCR is now doing the same rounds after safely wrapping up Telangana in his fold.

TDP leaders though say that Naidu, a veteran in opposition coalition politics since the 1990s,was making a sincere attempt to find an alternative to the UPA and NDA, and that envious regional leaders are making cheap counters. “Don’t forget that Naidu made Deve Gowda and Gujral PM; he also helped Atal Behari Vajpayee enjoy a full term,” said Ashok GajapathiRaju, former Union minister and close associate of Naidu at a press meet in Visakhapatnam recently. But he too is unsure as to whether an alternate front to the UPA and NDA is feasible at present.

The Congress Rethinks

After the Telangana debacle, there is a rethinking within the Congress ranks as to whether a tie-up with the TDP will be fruitful in the 2019 polls. The party was routed in 2014 after bifurcation of the state.

“I have cautioned the party high command that a tie-up with the TDP in the backdrop of not only Telangana, but also historically, shows that neither the Left parties nor the BJP could grow in its shadow all these years, and that their vote banks have vanished,” said N Raghuveera Reddy, APCC president at a press meet in Vijayawada on December 13.

The TRS and TDP supremos have a common ambition though – that of forming a front that would give them a greater say in reshaping issues like central funds, state autonomy and a voice in the revamp of the concurrent list. “Both the regional satraps want more powers to their States and their regional parties, to become game changers and not be just puppets for the national parties,” political analyst, KVV Charya told The Lede.

The Near Future for Naidu

For Naidu, the 2019 polls are crucial in more ways than one. All of his mega-development programs are promoted by global funding and are in Public Private Partnership mode. Most will collapse if he is out of power for another two terms.

Naidu also wants to install son Nara Lokesh as Chief Minister in 2019. He is currently a cabinet minister.

“Chandrababu repents even today, of not offering free farm power in the 2004 elections. If he had, he would not have been out of power for ten years,” said senior BJP leader and former minister in Naidu cabinet, Manikyala Rao at Vijayawada two days ago. “That’s why he took no chances in 2014 on the Telangana issue. He sanctioned farm loan waivers at the last minute. He will do anything in 2019 to retain power.”