Whether the TDP chief will remain relevant until 2024 is a big question mark
It has never been so bad for Chandrababu Naidu.
The TDP (Telugu Desam Party) supremo, at 69, appears to have reached an unpredicted point of no return.
Facing defeat in elections is not new for him; he was confident of bouncing back and did so earlier. Now for the first time, after the TDP lost the recent Assembly polls, Naidu finds himself in a predicament similar to the one Lalu Prasad Yadav of RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) is facing in Bihar.
Lalu at 75, serving a jail term in the Bihar fodder scam, and facing many more cases finds the going tough in a state where he was once the Raja.
The party drew a blank in the Lok Sabha polls for the first time, which is unthinkable for a man who stood at the centre of the state politics for more than three decades.
He has no dependable successor. His son Tejashwi, whom he anointed as successor, has proven a misfit to run the party. The Yadav vote bank is in fission.
On the other side, Modi’s BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has emerged stronger and completely rewritten the political narrative.
Consequently, the RJD, which was once synonymous with social justice, is thrown into disarray. Age is not in his favour either. His family is not intact, like his own party. The future looks bleak for the former socialist leader in Bihar.
Though the fall had begun a bit earlier, the jail sentence in 2013 in the fodder scam hastened the process of rendering him irrelevant in Modi’s era.
Since he was disqualified from the Lok Sabha and barred from contesting elections, he could not upgrade the party to halt the Modi juggernaut in its tracks as he did in the case of LK Advani’s Rath Yatra in October 1990.
In Andhra Pradesh too, Naidu’s chances of recovery appear bleak and he appears to be going Lalu’s way.
While Lalu could not handle the saffron turmoil Modi created among the various castes as he was bogged down by corruption charges and jail the sentence, Naidu totally gave short shrift to the power of saffron nationalism and got himself immersed in the extravagant politics of world-class capital building and promotion of Kamma caste politics brazenly.
This had loosened his grip over other communities. Following the disruption in Naidu’s support base, the ruling YSR Congress upped the ante and is planning to send him to jail at least for one day, which the party leaders think would damage the party irreparably.
YSRC chief Jaganmohan Reddy, who spent 16 months in jail in the infamous disproportionate assets (DA) cases, is seething with anger, which has been evident from his speeches ever since he assumed office as the chief minister.
He strongly believes that the DA cases and the consequent judicial custody were the results of a conspiracy jointly hatched by Congress and TDP. Since the Congress disappeared, Jagan wants to take revenge on Naidu.
The widespread talk among political circles is that the ground is being prepared to implicate Naidu and his son Nara Lokesh in corruption cases.
On Monday YSR Congress Rajya Sabha member Vijaya Sai Reddy demanded in Rajya Sabha a CBI probe into the “massive irregularities in the implementation of R&R package of Polavaram project during Chandrababu Naidu’s regime”.
Around the same time in Amaravati, YSRC minister Mekapati Gautam Reddy along with another senior leader of the party Kakani Goverdhan Reddy released a list of 38 foreign trips undertaken by Naidu spending about Rs 39 crore, and revealed that Naidu’s extravagance was under the scrutiny of a high-level committee.
The YSR Congress alleges that Naidu’s government bought power at higher rates instead of going in for competitive bidding incurring losses to the tune of Rs 2636 crore to the exchequer.
Three weeks ago chief minister Jagan announced that a cabinet sub-committee would be appointed to look into the alleged corruption that took place between 2014 and 2019 when Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister.
The committee will have the support of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Crime Investigation Department, and the Vigilance and Enforcement Department.
Given the ferocity with which the YSRC boss unleashed the war on the alleged corruption, one can easily surmise that he is hell bent on putting Naidu behind bars.
All this is happening in the midst of desertions of important functionaries of the Telugu Desam Party. The MPs and the leaders, who played a key role in Naidu’s political game plans, including in engineering defections, have either left him or are in the process of leaving him.
Four Rajya MPs, all wealthy businessmen and poll managers, quit the party and joined the BJP. Vocal former MP JC Diwakar Reddy and his brother Prabhakar Reddy, former MLA, are all set to join BJP.
Strangely, the JC brothers, as they are popular, want Naidu to completely merge the party with BJP.
Already party spokesperson Lanka Dinakaran has quit the party and joined the BJP. Many businessmen-TDP leaders will find it difficult to latch on to the sinking ship with CBI, IT and ED raids staring in the face.
Jagan openly admitted in the Assembly to the fact that he was stalling defections of TDP MLAs with the decorum that Naidu should not be stripped of the leader of the opposition status. He said he would respect the importance of the office of the Leader of Opposition.
Both Lalu and Naidu were victims of the disruption Modi caused in the traditional vote banks of their respective parties.
Modi took away a sizeable chunk of voters from each and every community cultivated by Lalu and Naidu for decades.
In fact, the process had begun in 2014 itself, but they could not smell it. Though the BJP is not a direct beneficiary of the disruption in the voting behaviour of people in Andhra, it helped Jagan emerge the strongest leader in south India.
The pitiable condition of Naidu has sparked internal feuds in the party. Son Nara Lokesh, like RJD’s Tejashwi has never been as inspiration for the cadre and leaders.
Naidu will be 74 by 2024 when the state gets ready for the next general election.
Earlier, whenever TDP was trounced, Naidu used to win back power by employing every trick of the trade as there was no third alternative. It was a direct fight between the Congress and the TDP.
Naidu, as shrewd as he is, had successfully postponed the entry of BJP by joining NDA. Now, the BJP, with enormous resources at its command, is eager to devour the TDP and wrest power from YSRC.
Barring a couple of loyalists, all the rich and ambitious are more than willing to ditch Naidu.
Now the moot point is will Naidu remain relevant till 2024?