Interview: TDP-JanaSena-BJP will bag 160 seats, I won’t take up any post; says Lokesh

Nara Lokesh in an exclusive interview speaks about the NDA alliance, TDP’s aims towards welfare and development in AP

By Coreena Suares  Published on  25 April 2024 12:05 PM GMT
Interview: TDP-JanaSena-BJP will bag 160 seats, I won’t take up any, says Lokesh

Hyderabad: Post the 2019 defeat in the Mangalagiri Assembly constituency, Nara Lokesh – the next in line for the throne of the Telugu Desam Party – is confident that he will not only win the seat in 2024 State Assembly elections but will clock the highest majority.

The star campaigner of the cycle party has been shuttling among Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to support his fellow alliance candidates like Annamalai and Tejasvi Surya.

At the peak of the election campaign, Nara Lokesh, in an exclusive interview with NewsMeter, speaks about why the party chose to go with the NDA alliance, TDP’s aims towards welfare and development in AP, his future role in the party and beyond.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: The TDP still holds a strong vote base, cutting across communities and religions in Andhra Pradesh. It is a secular party by birth. What made you (TDP) go with BJP (the NDA alliance) knowing they will lose minority vote share?

A: The state has been completely destroyed, financially. I think by the time this government steps down, we will have close to Rs 12,00,000 crores of debt (state debt). So, you know, to run the State government is going to be extremely difficult without the Central government’s help and there are a lot of contentious issues still to be resolved. The State will require the Centre’s intervention with regard to the Visakha Steel Plant, Railway zone, and development of backward districts. So, we truly believe that unless we have the help of the Central government, we won’t be able to achieve these things too. So, you do need the support of the Central government to attract large marquee investments, and real estate and get the required incentives also in place. So, therefore, we believe in the interest of the State, we have taken this decision to go together.

People across all communities are quite clear that they want to vote this State government out. Corruption, unemployment and an increase in the cost of living have affected the lives of many. People are quite clear and if you look, TDP, first time in its history, has announced candidates this early. Close to 70 per cent of our candidates were announced two and a half months before the election. All of us, I was one of the first list candidates. It takes a lot of time to work in our constituencies and build momentum for the elections. Therefore, you will see us a lot more relaxed and calm because we have had that time to do the groundwork and that’s been a success of the campaign. To answer your question, the party will uphold the rights of all its voters.

Q: After your defeat in 2019, what is your strategy for Mangalagiri? Explain your journey so far.

A. See Mangalagiri is a very tough seat for the Telugu Desam Party, right? If you look at the electoral history, TDP only won twice, that was in 1982 and 1985. After that, we have never won that seat. So, I have chosen a seat that’s very tough for the party. I believe I have turned it around to make it a stronghold for the TDP in the last four years and 11 months. I sweated it out definitely after my loss. The first day, post my defeat in 2019, it hurt me, but then all that I converted into my passion for serving people and winning their hearts. So, I didn’t leave the constraints. I continued to work. I continue to be available to people even during the Covid pandemic. I think we are running a parallel government in Mangalagiri. I have introduced schemes on my own financial strength, we run a skill development centre for women, constructed cement benches for students, distributed tailoring machines and provided drinking water facilities. We run three health clinics where we not only provide healthcare but also give medication free of cost. The weavers have started a Weaver Salah where I brought the latest maggam machine. I have done 29 more such programs. I have gone back to tell them that I have done all this being in the Opposition. Imagine when we are in power what all we can do. See, in 2019, I made the mistake of going to Mangalagiri in the last 21 days, but now I’ve had four years and 11 months. If you look at my entire campaign, I have so far finished 46 rachabandas. I have not done roadshows. I’m not doing any of these high-decibel programs.

I’m going to the wards and villages, sitting down with the villagers in a very casual and approachable setting. In fact, I aspire to be among the top three in terms of majorities in the State of Andhra Pradesh.

Q: What is the ‘Red Book’?

A: Over the last five years, Jagan’s government has foisted so many false cases against me, our leader and so many other karyakartas. So, the Red Book is a book where I maintain all the names of officials who have broken the law and who have foisted false cases against leaders, cadre and even the public who have been harassed. We are not going to let them go.

And the idea of the entire Red Book is for me not to forget their names. Because tomorrow we are going to have a judicial enquiry on this, and we will ensure that the officers who have exploited the law will be tried to the extent the law permits. We are not going to let them go scot-free. If you look at Andhra Pradesh, all the institutions have been destroyed systematically. As many as 23 false cases have been foisted against me. I have an SC/ST case against me. I have an attempted murder case against me. Mr Naidu today has 23 cases against him, all false. He has been sent to judicial remand for 53 days. First, they said it was a Rs 3,000 crore scam, then a Rs 270 crore scam now they say it is Rs 27 crores. Sounds quite ridiculous.

If you look at the allegations against Mr Naidu who has a clean electoral history, he, in fact, did not even have a cup of coffee from the company he has been accused of taking bribes. So when HCL wanted to invest in Andhra Pradesh, Sivanatharaji was very kind and he said, ‘You know, you’re young (state), I’ll invest in Andhra.’ Hence, they said they came to Amaravati. They wanted a plot closer to the airport, hence Gannavaram was an option. Now that land belongs to various departments. It was a Cabinet decision to bring big brands and create jobs.

Now Jagan’s government blames us for being expeditious in passing files; they blame me for being efficient, and they blame me for giving land at a very nominal price in return for jobs for the people. But look at the impact. Look at the number of jobs we have been able to create, right? Same thing with skill development. As many as 2,85,000 people have been trained, close to 1.2 or 1.3 lakh people have been gainfully employed in Mangalagiri. During my campaign, a person stood up and actually told me that skill development benefitted him and today is working at PayPal. So, it’s had a far-reaching impact. People are questioning the way we clear files within a day. When I was the minister of Panchayat Raj, Rural Development, IT and Electronics, my average speed of clearing files was 55 minutes. I mean, now they are questioning us for being efficient.

I thought that is what society wants from us. So, now you can question that Lokesh cleared 1,600 files in two and half years, at an average speed of 55 minutes per file. Every file has a vested interest. How is that fair here? So, I mean we are going to take this quite seriously because if youngsters like me and those who had the entire might of the party behind them are being harassed like this, then tomorrow, why will well-educated youngsters come into politics? I did my MBA from Stanford and worked at Heritage for five years. So, I understand things far better. Now and then people like me are being falsely accused. Therefore, we are going to take this seriously because we need to set the system right and the Red Book is part of that.

Q: YSRCP’s campaign is Capitalist vs Common man. TDP has chosen business men over common man. Your thoughts?

A: It is unfair to brand the TDP as being against the common man. Welfare was introduced to Andhra Pradesh by the Telugu Desam Party. The pension was brought in by NTR at Rs 200. The pension was made Rs 2,000 by Chandrababu Naidu. DWCRA was introduced by Chandrababu Naidu. Deepam Pathakam was by him. If you look at Chandrana Bima, which is our insurance policy for every citizen of Andhra Pradesh, it was by Chandrababu Naidu. Anna Canteen was created by Chandrababu Naidu. Input subsidy was done by Chandrababu Naidu. Drip irrigation with a 90 per cent subsidy was done by Chandrababu Naidu. The Telugu Desam Party has actually balanced both welfare and development. And that is something that people do understand because that is a pure narrative. Let me ask you this question. If YCP receives Rs 160 crores through electoral bonds from a betting king of India, how can they claim that they are a poor man’s party? Can you please explain this to me? If you look at Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assets that are declared, how can he claim that he is a poor man’s party? And if you look at TDP, we have fielded very strong grassroots leaders, even leaders from our frontal organization today.

So, I think it’s very unfair to draw that analogy for the Telugu Desam Party. We believe that our cycle has two wheels and one wheel is a development wheel, the other wheel is the welfare wheel and only both go together. We can deliver. Jagan Mohan Reddy is now claiming that he has pushed the button, whereas he has actually pushed the wrong button. One button is where he gives Rs 10, then he pushes the other button where he takes Rs 100. Now how does he take it? Current (electricity) charges have increased by nine times. The RTC charges have increased by three times. Then petrol, diesel, and gas have additional surcharges which make it difficult for people. And then over and above alcohol prices have gone up substantially. Steel and sand prices have gone up substantially. People are noticing all this so they believe that he has two buttons. Whenever he says that he is pushing a button people know he is actually pushing two buttons. So, that’s exactly the fact in the field and that’s exactly what I have been telling to people and people are absolutely relating to it.

Q We see Mrs Naidu and Brahmani hit the streets and campaign like never before. Will we see them in a larger role?

A: It is emotional, right? When Mr Naidu was arrested, it came as a shock to the entire family. Mr Naidu is an extremely docile person. The whole society knows it. When a corrupt person is arrested, every day a new scam of theirs comes out. But when Mr Naidu was arrested, his good work came out. If you look at it Telugu people in almost 100 countries stand in solidarity with Mr Naidu by organising various programs. In certain downtowns, close to 1,000 people walked for him. If you look at it in Hyderabad, they did a gratitude concert in Gachibowli where 45,000 IT professionals showed up.

Therefore, you know, as a family we felt it is unfair what is happening. It was truly unfair the way he was treated. It was truly unfair how many times the bail was denied to him and for a person who has done nothing but sacrifice his entire life for the people of Andhra Pradesh. So, it was very personal for the family. And he said it’s now or never. All of us need to be on the road. All of us, we will have to support the party in our own way and support our cadre in our own ways. My mother has travelled to every karyakarta’s house who died when they heard about our leader Naidu’s arrest. We supported their family financially. She almost travelled 9-10,000 kilometres by road, went to each house, stood by the family, and delivered a cheque from the party to them. Every karyakarta is a family to us. It’s very personal in that sense. My mother never came out even when her father was the chief minister and Brahmini campaigned rarely. She campaigned for maybe three days in the last elections in Mangalagiri, but she’s always stayed away from political life. But my mother being the former chief minister's daughter and wife to Naidu, has never ever, except for the swearing-in ceremony, showed up to any other engagements of the government. She stood out. I mean, she stood up saying no and said 'I need to fight' and it was purely emotional for us as a family. We all came together and said no, we need to fight because Mr Naidu is the cleanest politician that you can find in India.

Q In a recent interview, former Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao said the YSRCP government will come back to power in AP. Your thoughts?

A: KCR garu off late is getting his electoral predictions wrong. I think he predicted the same for BRS that they are going to sweep Assembly elections. So, I leave it to his wisdom and judgment. I think it’s unfair for me to comment on a former chief minister.

Q: What is the number of seats that the BJP-TDP-JSP will we see you in the AP Cabinet, if you win?

A: We are confident that we are getting back to power and winning nothing less than 160 seats. And nothing less than 23 MPs in an alliance. We were able to expose the misgivings of Jagan Mohan Reddy and we truly believe that the people of Andhra Pradesh will bless this alliance. I won’t be taking up any role, I will be working for the party.

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