On April 20, TDP Supremo Chandrababu Naidu is turning 71. Naidu will be celebrating his birthday amid series of defeats and setbacks. Since the day he lost power to YS Jaganmohan Reddy in 2019, the tide has never turned in his favor even for once.
First, the 2019 defeat itself was humiliating. His son, the heir apparent, Nara Lokesh was rejected by the very people of Mangalagri who were the principal beneficiaries of his dream project Amaravati. The project Amaravati itself is in tatters; his party faced a rout in both rural and urban local body elections. Finally, much to the disappointment of leaders at the grass-roots level Naidu had to boycott the ZP election to avoid the ignominy of being defeated one more time. The outcome of the ongoing Tirupati Lok Sabha election would further vitiate the mood in the party on April 20 if Naidu fails at least to minimize the winning margin of YSR Congress. The situation has never been this worse for Naidu.
It reminds one of the pathetic condition RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav suffered in Bihar around the same age i.e. at 71.
Lalu, just two years senior to Naidu, was jailed and barred from contesting elections following the conviction in the infamous fodder scam in 2013. More convictions followed. His party bit dust in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Both, wife Rabri Devi and daughter Misa Bharati were defeated in party strongholds by BJP candidates.
His family was beset with problems such as the son's ruptured marriage, feuding among the siblings, and revolt by some members. Friends were leaving him. There's nobody to come to the rescue of once fabled and formidable OBC leader. The media was portraying him as a synonym for corruption. And the BJP was leaving no stone unturned to irrevocably malign the image of Lalu Prasad.
This was the situation when RJD was facing Assembly Election in 2015 and Tejashwi Yadav was a debutant with a minor role to play. In the 2015 election, RJD joined hands with Nitish Kumar's JD (U) and formed the government with Tejashwi Yadav as deputy chief minister. But the JD (U)-RJD government proved short-lived. JD (U) and BJP joined hands to form the next government.
Surprisingly, as is often said, this adversity and misfortune have carried the seeds of hope for RJD. The party started to learn to cope with a situation where Lalu Prasad is not there around.
This unforeseen development gave Tejashwi ample time to hone his skills as a tough leader. Between 2017 and 2020 he transformed himself into a new generation leader with a new slogan 'Nayi Soch Naya Bihar'. Though a school dropout, Tejashwi stole the thunder by his speeches in Hindi and English and whirlwind tours. In just two years he tamed the hostile social media. With his father in jail, the mantle fell on Tejashwi in 2020. It was the first election for RJD without Lalu Prasad. And the first one for 31-year-old Tejashwi as the leader of the party.
Between 2017 and 2020, Lalu's RJD seamlessly metamorphosed into Tejashwi –brand RJD. The new RJD emerged as the single largest party (75), bigger than Prime Minister Modi's BJP (74) and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD (U) (43). Though his Mahagathbandhan (110) fell short of the magic figure (122) to form the government, Tejashwi has been hailed as the real winner of the Assembly election. What is striking is Tejashwi portraits replaced dad Lalu's, giving an impression that the takeover is complete and successful. The results endorsed him as the true mantle-bearer of Lalu's RJD.
Will such generation-change be possible in Telugu Desam Party? Will Naidu come to terms with the realities of the day and make an announcement on his birthday to herald a new era in the organization of the party? No doubt, at 71, Naidu is still the indisputable leader of the party. But, all his skills and abilities acquired to meet the challenges of Congress-era politics are being proven ineffective in the face of the aggressive campaign style of new generation chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy.
The situation is warranting a complete overhaul of the party. Since the TDP is also a dynastic party, encouraging outsiders to lead the party is inconceivable. The whisper in the party circles indicates this as the primary reason for keeping Junior NTR away from the party. The one and only option is son Nara Lokesh, who is now MLC and general secretary of the party. Naidu, so far, has not summoned his courage to announce that it is time for Nara Lokesh to lead the party independent of him. He knows pretty well that it is one thing to appoint him a minister when the party is in power and quite another to pass on the baton to him when party fortunes are dwindling.
The question now is how would Naidu reinvent the party and make it combat-ready in 2024? Will Lokesh become Tejashwi Yadav of TDP?