Seldom has Prime Minister Narendra Modi's National Democratic Alliance been rocked by a major ally in the manner the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has done this week.
When Parliament resumed its Budget session, on March 5, TDP supremo and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu got party MPs, who were joined by those from other parties in AP, to join the chorus demanding special category status (SCS), which mandates the central government to grant special fiscal incentives and other concessions to the state.
However, the situation had worsened by Thursday morning, March 8, with TDP threatening to withdraw its two MPs from the government over the Centre's refusal to give Andhra Pradesh central funding under SCS. TDP lawmaker Ravindra Babu told NDTV that pulling out the ministers was the first step. The next "logical step" was to exit the alliance.
What seems to have actually spoilt the relationship between the two parties is finance minister Arun Jaitley's disdainful comment to a delegation from the state which met him that AP had not rendered accounts for the Rs 12,500-crore assistance the Centre had extended to bridge the revenue gap following reorganisation of the state and carving out Telangana with the revenue-centric Hyderabad as its capital.
The central government also made no bones about its stand in not extending more benefits to AP arguing this would give rise to similar demands from other states, including Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Driven to the wall, he hurriedly convened a meeting of the TDP legislature party on March 6 to explain to party legislators the state's uncompromising stand. "The Centre has never asked us to submit utilisation certificates. But as a state, we have done it voluntarily, and on our own submitted all utilisation certificates. They are also available on the website. Their officials are perhaps ignorant that the central government's website itself states that AP occupies the third position in the country in submitting the certificates," declared Naidu, peeved by the disparaging comments against the state.
As TDP leaders turned up the heat on the BJP for its "haughty ways" for not meeting the financial and other commitments, as provided for in the AP State Reorganisation Act, some in the state BJP were annoyed over Naidu failing to see the obvious in the rival YSR Congress chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy's campaign for SCS. They believe that Reddy raised the issue only as a bait for Naidu and are surprised that in the face of adversity, a seasoned leader like Naidu, instead of remaining unruffled and getting carried away was targeting the central government.
So, according to a well-crafted and a nuanced strategy, Naidu took the central government on, the following day, March 7, while replying to the debate on the motion of thanks to governor ESL Narasimhan for his address on the opening day - March 5. "The central government has not honoured what is provided for in the law relating to reorganisation of AP in the spirit of cooperative federalism and granting the state its rights including SCS," thundered Naidu.
He pointed out these were among the assurances sought and received among others by the then Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha and now finance minister Arun Jaitley as well as the current Rajya Sabha chairman and vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu.
"What is happening to Andhra Pradesh is unjust. It hurts the people's sentiments and they will not forgive us," argued the chief minister explaining in the course of a 150-minute address about unkept assurances and short-changing on release of funds as promised and provided for by law. "If we have moved up the rungs in the ease of doing business, notching high economic growth and stabilising our agriculture it is largely due to the dint of hard work of the five crore residents of the state," reasoned Naidu.
He repeatedly referred to the state getting an unfair deal reading out numbers on how the Centre was more helpful to other states and their development projects. But he stopped short of saying what the TDP will do going ahead though "precious little has been provided in the last four years and there is nothing significant in the latest Union Budget."
However, he made it abundantly clear that AP's interests were paramount to his party and that is why when the TDP had a larger number of MPs in the undivided state, he extended support to the Vajpayee government without seeking any ministerial berths "in the larger national interest of the state". It is a veiled hint of how Naidu is inching closer to the high moral ground in the run-up to the next Assembly elections.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)