Naidu ‘divorces’ Congress, sends message to BJP

By Prof. Nageshwar K  Published on  2 Oct 2019 9:39 AM GMT
Naidu ‘divorces’ Congress, sends message to BJP

Hyderabad: The Telugu Desam (TD) national president, N. Chandrababu Naidu has cleared the proposal to field a TD nominee in the Huzurnagar bypoll elections in Telangana. This development is a political message to its political rivals who will be fighting the bypolls in Telangana.

Despite the Congress appealing to the TD to support it, the TD has decided to go alone, ending the Mahakutami bond with the grand old party. The TD even turned down the request of the CPI-M to support its nominee.

However, the Telangana TD leaders ostensibly tell a different story for the decision to contest the bypoll. The contest in Huzurnagar is primarily between the Congress which won the seat in 2018 and the ruling TRS, which is desperate to wrest the seat this time. The TD has no chance to even make a significant presence in the constituency.

Speaking to NewsMeter, TD party leader, Ravula Chandra Shekhar Reddy said that the decision to contest the by poll alone is part of the effort to revive the party in Telangana. The party expects to rally the cadre lost due to the political desertions and electoral erosion it suffered in the recent past.

Despite facing serious headwinds during the movement for separate Telangana state, the TD in alliance with the BJP could win 15 seats in 2014 while its ally secured five seats. The saffron party was part of the movement for separate state and its support was critical for the state bifurcation bill getting the approval of the Parliament.

On the other hand, the TDP was seen as an ambivalent party as its leadership hails from the Seemandhra region which now constitutes the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh.

The electoral performance of the TD in 2014 was far superior to the BJP and closer to the Congress that delivered the new state. This indicates a strong grassroots presence the TD enjoyed in Telangana since the days of its founder, N.T. Rama Rao. The party has strong cadre and leaders especially from the backward classes.

But, post-bifurcation, things changed for the TD. The party came to power in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh with its supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu becoming the chief minister of the state. His son also joined the Cabinet, leaving the party in Telangana with no leader from the family.

Meanwhile, TD's arch rival the TRS came to power in Telangana making things difficult for Mr Naidu. The TRS supremo and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao who is known for his shrewd political strategies came from the TD ranks. He clearly understands the strengths and the vulnerabilities of the TD.

In 2014, the TRS won a mere 63 seats in the state Assembly of a total strength of 119. Political rivals were waiting in the wings to destabilise the Mr Chandrasekhar Rao’s government, as claimed by Mr Chandrasekhar Rao himself. Besides, the TRS though it won the polls riding on the popular Telangana sentiment, it lacked organisational wherewithal. Mr Chandrasekhar Rao saw an opportunity in the crisis. His first target was the TD, as the party is highly vulnerable to Telangana sentiment.

Post-bifurcation the two Telugu states saw many tricky differences coming to the fore especially in sharing of assets, liabilities, river waters, employees etc. For his own political needs in Andhra Pradesh, the popular political narrative for Mr Chandrababu Naidu was around the bifurcation. This gave Mr Chandrasekhar Rao further ammunition. Every move of the Andhra Pradesh government especially its opposition to irrigation projects in Telangana were deftly exploited by Mr Chandrasekhar Rao to marginalise the TD in Telangana state.

Telangana TD was suffering from a congenital disorder, with Andhra leaders perennially leading the party and Telangana leaders having no chance to be at the helm of affairs in the party.

The TD thus became a victim of post-bifurcation political idiom in Telangana. The Telangana BJP considered their friendship with the TD as a liability and distanced itself. This was even when MR Chandrababu Naidu was backing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime, and the two parties were part of the NDA, sharing power in Delhi and Amaravati.

With the growing discontent over the denial of special status by the Centre and the opposition, the YSR Congress strongly exploited the sentiment over special status. Mr Naidu reworked his political strategies, and was eager to find a scapegoat for his government's inability to deliver, as per the expectations of the Andhra electorate. Thus, Mr Naidu saw an opportunity in the special status that could rake-up Andhra regional sentiment, but also divert the people's attention from his government's failures.

This resulted in the TD pulling out of the ruling NDA and Mr Naidu became a cynosure of national opposition unity. This was the backdrop in which, the TD then came closer to the Congress. The TD has been built on the anti-Congress DNA. Mr Naidu could come to power in Andhra Pradesh riding over a powerful challenge posed by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy by effectively exploiting the people's anger over what they called arbitrary bifurcation among the Seemandhra electorate. Thus, the TD was associating itself with the Congress at national level even though it remained aloof from the party at least in Andhra Pradesh.

Mr Chandrasekhar Rao’s premature dissolution of the Telangana state Assembly came in handy for Mr Naidu who saw the state Assembly polls as a pre-test for his electoral strategies in his home state of Andhra Pradesh.

Notwithstanding reservations expressed by some influential party leaders in Andhra Pradesh, Mr Naidu's party became part of Congress-led grand alliance in Telangana.

With reports of the Mahakutami surging ahead as reported by the media, Mr Naidu played a more active role in the Telangana elections. This proved to be a disastrous strategy as Mr Chandrasekhar Rao resorted to the sentiment to paint the grand alliance as betraying Telangana’s interests for the sake of power. The Congress-led grand alliance failed to make any impact. This was responsible for TD not aligning with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, though Naidu was still instrumental in forging an anti-BJP alliance led by the Congress at the Centre.

However, Mr Naidu's electoral manoeuvres proved to be a damp squib, as the pro-Modi sentiment owing to Phulwama and Balakot swept away the special status sentiment. The people of Andhra Pradesh did not forgive BJP but did not also pardon Naidu for joining hands with the Congress that divided the state against their interests.

Post-2019 mandate, there was intense speculation that Mr Naidu was once again holding parleys to come back to the BJP-led NDA. However, the BJP reportedly is not keen on inducting the TD back at least for now, knowing Mr Naidu's U-turn politics.

Since the 2019 mandate, Mr Naidu has been conspicuously silent over the BJP and on Modi whom he targeted so intensely in the pre-poll arena. Instead, the TD supported the BJP on issues like Kashmir giving credence to the speculation of Mr Naidu's intention to come closer to the BJP again.

Close confidants of Naidu, Mr Sujana Chaudary, CM Ramesh, Garikapati Mohan Rao joined the BJP. Political rivals of Mr Naidu see this as a move by the TD supremo himself to build bridges with Modi. Though nothing can be said with any amount of certainty on this speculation, the fact remains that Mr Naidu has kept himself away from national politics. His silence over the arrest of Mr Farooq Abdullah who had in fact campaigned for the TD is certainly questionable. The complete absence of anti-Modi rhetoric is a ground for suspicion. Meanwhile on issues like, Y.S. Jagan scrapping the power purchase agreements (PPAs) concluded during the previous government, escalation in Polavaram estimates, retendering, Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government's policy on Amaravati etc., the BJP-led Central government has taking stands that are music to Mr Naidu’s ears.

Amidst these developments, comes the decision of the TD to not support the Congress in its sitting seat in the Huzurnagar by-election. Despite not having any chances of registering significant presence, the TD is contesting on its own is viewed in political circles as a subtle message to the BJP that the TD's honeymoon with Congress is over. The TD remains the 'Most eligible Bachelor now' for the BJP to respond. Only time will tell us whether the marriage will consummate between estranged partners.

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