What’s on Chandrababu Naidu’s mind? 1996, for sure. The former United Front convenor would like a repeat of the political situation two decades ago. Because that remains his best bet to become kingmaker, if not king, and ensure goodies for his state, Andhra Pradesh.
The morning after he quit the NDA, Naidu spoke of the role that regional parties coukd play to safeguard the interests of their states. It is obvious that Naidu, after having been in a relationship with the BJP twice, first under AB Vajpayee and now with Narendra Modi, has fallen back on his default option – to push ahead on New Delhi’s “stepmotherly” approach and the need to increase regional clout if states have to get their due.
What has upset Naidu is that with the BJP, there has been no give and take. Photo:PTI
It is this hope – or rather a calculated risk – that regional satraps can together edge out the BJP and the Congress as the single largest political formation that has pushed Naidu to take a political gamble. The plan is to go to town painting the BJP as the party that did a Congress to Andhra.
In 2014, the Congress was severely punished for dividing united Andhra Pradesh against their wish, and did not win a single MLA or MP seat in the residuary state. The TDP plan is to ensure that the same kind of electoral treatment is meted out to the BJP. Four years ago, in an alliance with the TDP, the BJP won two Lok Sabha seats from Andhra.
What has upset Naidu is that with the BJP, there has been no give and take. He supported the NDA government on both GST and demonetisation, and yet got little in return for the state. His inability to secure an appointment with the PM for a year in 2017 was seen by his party as a personal affront. This when the PM took time out to meet his political rival in Andhra, YS Jaganmohan Reddy.
What’s interesting is that much of this quest for power is taking place under the garb of cooperative federalism. Just over the weekend, Naidu’s neighbour K Chandrasekhar Rao used the same catchphrase to announce his leap into national politics. Does Naidu’s divorce from the BJP mean he will flirt with the idea of the Third Front floated by KCR?
Knowing Naidu, he is unlikely to jump onto such a bandwagon immediately. Certainly not under KCR’s leadership, because the Telangana chief minister was his junior when he was a part of the Telugu Desam. KCR was, in fact, the transport minister in Naidu's cabinet in the 1990s.
Sources in the TDP say Naidu is convinced the BJP will struggle to get a majority on its own in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Plan A is to then extract its pound of flesh and funds with a BJP that will need the TDP’s support to form the Union government.
Plan B is a situation where the regional parties have enough number of seats to form a government with outside support from either the BJP or the Congress. A United Front kind of situation.
Either way, it will be a win-win for the TDP and Andhra, believes Naidu. At a personal level too, 2019 is an important election for the Andhra chief minister. Sources say his son Nara Lokesh, who at present is Andhra’s IT minister, will be elevated to the top job if the party returns to power.
That will mean Naidu would like to move to Delhi in a powerful position. That would mean either the top job or at least one of the top four ministries in the Union cabinet.
Naidu’s emphasis on being the “senior-most politician” in the country – though he seems to have forgotten the likes of HD Deve Gowda and an ailing M Karunanidhi – is an attempt to tomtom his CV. “I have been in political life for 40 years and have vast experience,” he said.
But will a Naidu who has enjoyed power in Delhi for four years, only to relinquish it in the last year, have credibility among the people? That will be the challenge he will face.
In 2014, he had promised to convert Andhra into a Singapore and a Washington DC. Today those dreams exist only in fancy powerpoint presentations.
The people of Andhra know the script Naidu is trying to play out. The question they will need to answer is if they give the TDP 25 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats, will it mean acche din for them, or will it mean another spell of a TDP-BJP marriage and a divorce close to 2024? Or a rickety coalition that spends most of its time infighting and politicking?