TDP locating itself in right national political context was critical for 2014 mandate. This was the time when people of the state strongly felt that they needed Centre's handholding. At a time when the Narendra Modi wave was sweeping the nation, Chandrababu Naidu joining NDA made perfect political sense for TDP.
But, now, Naidu took a calculated political risk by pulling his ministers out of the NDA government. He cannot join the Congress initiated grand opposition alliance as he accused the party to be the villain of bifurcation. Third Front is colourless, shapeless, odourless and tasteless. How will Naidu construct his national political context in 2019 is a test for his political sagacity.
In 2014, the circumstances and the manner in which the state was divided created a sense of helplessness among the people of Seemandhra who now constitute the state of Andhra Pradesh. The building of infrastructure in the new state and setting up of a new capital city dominated the political discourse. This was the context in which elections were held in the Seemandhra region in 2014. This author in his article, Chandrababu Naidu's Comeback, in Economic and Political Weekly, 12, July, 2014, wrote, "The Modi Factor: The sense of helplessness strongly instilled in the Seemandhra electorate in turn also generated a feeling that the residual state of Andhra Pradesh desperately needed help from the central government... Chandrababu Naidu demonstrated consummate political skills by arriving at an early understanding with the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and converted the threat into an opportunity. The strong Modi sentiment evident across the country convinced the average voter in the Seemandhra region that Chandrababu Naidu could form a part of winning combination at the centre and could deliver for the truncated state without a capital. The Modi factor thus helped Chandrababu Naidu to further galvanise his campaign."
The TDP won the mandate in 2014 by a slender margin of over six lakh votes or 2.06 percent. Thus, the Modi factor has certainly helped the TDP to reap the mandate. Perhaps, this statistical account might have emboldened the BJP to take TDP's support for granted. In fact, the possible political fall out of estrangement with BJP was the principal reason for Naidu's hesitation to quit NDA. Even now, he left a window for the BJP to respond by pulling out ministers but not quitting the NDA formally. This is an attempt to create an impression among the electorate that Naidu left no stone unturned to convince the BJP-led Central government to help the state.
But, the BJP calculations are misplaced. Politics do not follow arithmetic. Politics resemble chemistry more than maths. Numbers in elections need not necessarily follow a linear progression or regression.
In fact, analysing the 2014 mandate this author said in Chandrababu Naidu's Comeback, Economic and Political Weekly, 12, July, 2014, "... it is wrong to conclude that Chandrababu Naidu could ride to success only due to the Modi factor. This was evident from the fact that TDP performed well even in the elections to the local bodies much before an alliance with BJP was formalised and before popular film actor Pawan Kalyan joined the TDP-BJP bandwagon." More recently, the TDP won a massive mandate in Nandyal by-elections even after keeping BJP almost aloof.
Thus, the TDP might have come to a conclusion that divorcing BJP would not be counterproductive for TDP given the fact that the saffron party hardly has any popular base in this state. The Hindi-Hindu political narrative of BJP is unpalatable for Telugus of this region that never saw any large scale politico-religious mobilisation. There is no popular leader in the state BJP who can convince the electorate that the Modi government did what it could do for the people of Andhra Pradesh.
More than the urge of Centre's handholding, an emotional sense of being let down sweeps the state of Andhra Pradesh today. While the Congress was the target of Seemandhra people's anger in 2014 due to what they believed to be an arbitrary bifurcation, the BJP is now considered as a party that reneged on its promises as the party has little or no political stakes in Andhra Pradesh.
The manner in which the special status discourse was crafted in the recent past and the sentiment was nurtured by the political parties with a competitive spirit, it becomes rather suicidal for the YSR Congress to have any pre-poll alliance with the BJP thus benefitting TDP electorally.
Pawan Kalyan's Jansena is most likely to ally with the TDP that shall compensate to an extent the loss of BJP vote. Though Jansena supported TDP-BJP combine in 2014 without contesting, the party will now be in the electoral fray.
Surveys conducted by respective political parties in the state reveal a surge in support for Congress in the parliamentary seats. But, the people are not ready to forgive and forget the Congress in the Assembly elections. The Congress promising special status if voted to power in 2019 and the BJP's blunt denial of the same might be the reason for this change in the people's mood. But, this contradictory perception among electorate towards Congress makes any electoral prediction for the party uncertain.
Even the TDP cannot so easily arrive at any pre-poll understanding with Congress as the latter is still portrayed and perceived as the villain of bifurcation. Thus, the state will certainly witness multi-cornered contest and the TDP leadership is pretty confident that it could win the mandate even without the support of BJP in such a contest. The sliding fortunes of BJP in the states where it is in power like Rajasthan further strengthen the belief in the TDP circles.
Now, Naidu would aggressively sell the hurt pride of Telugu people and the regional sentiment.
Thus, though the TDP does not have a perfect national political context available for 2019, Naidu a veteran of many poll battles has come to an understanding that the party has no choice except to distance itself from the NDA. And henceforth the calculated risk he took in doing so.
The writer is former MLC in Telangana, former editor, The Hans India and Professor, Journalism, Osmania University.
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