Never in the past has TDP supremo Nara Chandrababu Naidu faced this kind of cataclysmic threat to his political career.

In the just-concluded Panchayat polls in the Kuppam Assembly segment, the ruling YSR Congress bagged 74 Panchayats out of 89.

Telugu Desam Party (TDP) ended up as a poor second with just 14 Panchayats, an unbelievable decline in Naidu's influence in a constituency that was once touted as his fortress.

Naidu has been uncrowned king of the constituency since 1989. The road may be rough and the journey tough in the future.

The 2021 local election has completely changed the political scenario. The constituency has now been occupied by his opponent's army, commanded by Panchayat minister Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy who has been a constant fixture there.

As the capture of villages is so absolute, it would be difficult for Naidu even to pay a visit with his usual fanfare from now onwards.

The former chief minister's future visit is bound to create tension and a possibility of his eviction by the police cannot be ruled out on the pretext of law and order problem.

In the opinion of locals, Naidu's doesn't seem to have a war-time strategy. When in power, Naidu assigned the constituency to proxies and took the mobilized crowd at his meetings for granted.

For the past two years, neither Naidu nor his son Lokesh, who is also the party general secretary, cared to visit the constituency. Lokesh's last visit was in June 2018.

After the 2019 debacle, Naidu left the constituency in the lurch. Corona lockdown further alienated the constituency from the TDP boss. The total absence of Naidu, and the scare created by the thumping-majority of YSRC in general elections was thoroughly exploited by the army of chief minister Jagan.

District's YSRC strongman Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy is made in-charge of Kuppam. Chitoor MP Reddappa was asked to stay put in Kuppam. The regular presence of ministers, the MP, and the MLAs along with the meticulous implementation of the cash-transfer welfare schemes helped YSRC wean the OBCs away from TDP. During the lockdown, the YSRC presented itself as a savior to the people while the TDP was nowhere to be seen.

As for TDP, the constituency has been headless. "All Naidu's men, who flourished during the TDP regime, have either fallen silent or disappeared from the constituency after the 2019 election. The once-VIP constituency has become an orphan with no leader available to bolster the sagging morale of the party workers in the face of a frighteningly aggressive campaign by YSRC," said Asgar Ali, a local journalist from Kuppam.

Amid this precarious situation, Asgar Ali said, TDP supporters had no option but to leave the 'absentee landlord'.

Naidu's delusions of permanency of power have disabled him to sense the lurking danger in the growing vote share of his opponent in the elections since 2014 when Jagan pitted K Chandramouli, a retired OBC IAS officer, against Naidu.

It made the first dent in Naidu's image and reduced his victory margin to 28.81 from 46 percent in 2009. Jagan repeated the experiment in 2019 as well which further brought down Naidu's margin to 16.93 percent.

Many in Kuppam feel that Naidu could not read the message and continued his rule by proxy and fell victim to his own nature of dismissiveness.

Ramachandra Reddy has been Naidu's rival from their University days. They both are said to have headed rival (Reddy and Kamma) camps in SV University, Tirupati. What is happening now in Kuppam is the extension of 4 decade-old SVU rivalry in essence.

Naidu did not face this type of bloodthirst in YS Rajasekhar Reddy, who defeated TDP twice in the state in 2004 and 2009. In the days of Congress' YSR, Naidu enjoyed LoP status honorably. Now, the political rivalry between two regional parties, YSRC of Jagan and TDP, has taken fiercest form and the former's master plan is to drive Naidu out of Kuppam.

Unlike other VIP constituencies like Pulivendula, Kuppam is not Naidu's hometown. He did not make it one either. Now, the party is so disheartened that the construction of a massive TDP office has also been put on hold. YSRC is working on a goal to make Naidu, the former CM without a home-constituency.

Jinka Nagaraju

Jinka Nagaraju is a Hyderabad based journalist. He covered the entire spectrum of political activities of Telugu states from Hyderabad and New Delhi for about 3 decades. He represented Vaartha in New Delhi during the most happening decade of 1996-2006. He was the political correspondent of Times of India from Hyderabad for 10 years. He was editor of Asianet's Telugu digital platform.

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