As the Pratyeka Hoda Vibhajana Hameela Sadhana Samithi called for an Andhra Pradesh bandh on April 16, against the denial of special category status to the state, all parties but the TDP extended support to it.
Even as the bandh was successful and barring a few minor incidents, was peaceful, TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu, stated that bandhs are not conducive for the development of the state.
Considering that before assuming power in 2014, the TDP led by Naidu called for and organised bandhs across the state on a number of occasions, his new sobriquet of "U-turn Uncle", seems justified. However, there are much sharper U-turns he has taken to earn that unflattering nickname.
As he pulled out of the NDA government last month, in a bid to be seen as a martyr in the long-drawn fight for the special category status, much of the otherwise boisterous Telugu media maintained a diabolical silence on Naidu’s earlier stand.
When in 2016, the BJP government blatantly broke its electoral promise to accord special category status to Andhra Pradesh, Naidu didn’t just keep quiet. Instead, he welcomed the decision and did a high-decibel media campaign to tell the people the benefits of the special package that was announced in lieu. He even stated that the special status was not a panacea and referred to it as a "closed chapter".
After the central government announced the special package in 2016, the then Union minister Venkaiah Naidu arrived in Vijayawada to a hero’s welcome accorded to him by the cadre of both the TDP and BJP.
Venkaiah Naidu confessed that he was aware that the special status was not possible. Nevertheless, protestors who demanded that the promise of special category staus be honoured were detained by the TDP administration.
The two Naidus reassured the state that the special package was a better deal. Venkaiah Naidu then added that the BJP was set to return to power in 2019 and that nothing will happen to the party if any alliance partner wanted to leave. Chandrababu Naidu maintained a meek silence.
Back then, the special category status was such a "closed chapter" for Naidu that when in June 2017, as many as 14 parties extended their support to the Congress which demanded that the special staus be implemented, Naidu seemed unmoved.
In fact, a few TDP men protested with black flags as the then vice-president of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, arrived in Guntur for a rally.
But as the Opposition persisted, with Rahul Gandhi announcing in March 2018 that if the Congress comes to power in 2019 the promise shall be honoured and the demand got louder, Naidu changed his tune once again post the Budget.
With an eye on the 2019 elections, he pulled out of the NDA citing the injustice done to the state over the matter of special category status. Perhaps he sensed the growing resentment and anger against the BJP, especially among the Dalits and minorities and looked for an exit strategy.
He has so far managed to deflect people’s anger and pass on the TDP government’s failures to the BJP. He has now opened the "closed chapter" and is fumbling through it trying to untangle himself just in time for the 2019 Assembly elections.
Sadly, the media is so subservient that it closes its eyes to all the U-turns Naidu has taken over the past four years. And since our political system lacks the machinery to audit promises made during elections, the BJP will for now escape the responsibility citing its ignorance, which it implies by claiming post elections that the special status cannot be accorded due to legal complications.
For now, both must answer why they misled the people. The BJP must explain why it promised and demanded that special category status be given to Andhra, if it could not deliver on its promise. The TDP for its part must answer why it welcomed the special package in 2016, but now wanted to open the "closed chapter".
Political parties like the TDP and the BJP must not take people for a ride and have "friendly fights" before elections only to return as alliance partners at an opportune time, as they have done in the past.