In the past three decades, 27 political clans have emerged in the regional political landscape, and are showing the old guard how technology and freebies can change political fortunes of their fathers drastically.
Having studied at Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon, Nara Lokesh, the 33-year-old son of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is emerging as the latest star in this club of political progeny with a spicy mix of regionalism, technology, and legacy, ready to aid him on the road to become the successor of the large Telugu Desam party (TDP).
As the TDP licked its wounds after its first defeat in the local body polls — Pedana Municipality in Krishna district — in the first week of October, there was turmoil within party circles. Opposition candidate of the YSR Congress, Bandaru Ananda Prasad, was elected chairman of the municipality by a single vote. It is rumoured that YSRC secretly won over one ward member in the voice vote during the polls. This is the first loss for the TDP since the 2014 general polls, and it has sent shock waves along the party leadership. Chandrababu Naidu openly riled at the district president while participating in the party meeting at KL university.
Only one person sat coolly in the session, unmindful of the tremors, preferring to tweet instead. “Here is the proof to set the record straight for our Opposition. My humble request, please stop petty politics,” wrote Nara Lokesh. He was referring to a media report by Sakshi, a Telugu newspaper and the mouthpiece of the YSRC party led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the opposition leader in the AP Assembly.
The brainstorming session and workshop for nearly 300 party leaders — ministers, MPs, MLAs, district leaders and others to mark the fourth anniversary of Naidu’s landmark padayatra (2,817 km in 208 days covering 16 districts), also showcased Lokesh as a new mentor of the party. Lokesh made a long power point presentation on the following subjects — membership to cadre grievance management, training, and monitoring active leadership. He explained how technology was leveraged to cover the entire cycle and lauded party leaders who had embraced technology.
As Lokesh took centre stage, his proud father had a wide smile on his face. “Lokesh is my firewall. He updates and tutors me in the use of technology,” he told his close cabinet colleagues who sat next to him in the audience.
The workshop for party leaders was organised at the spacious campus of KL University, the Koneru Lakshmaiah Education Foundation, a deemed university located in Vaddeswaram, Guntur district.
Report Card On TDP Leaders
At another part of the campus, another drama unfolded at the ‘Medho Mathanam’ (brainstorming session). Naidu handed over sealed covers containing party assessment of TDP ministers, MLAs, MPs and district presidents as a 15 point charter. Each report was five pages long. “This is a confidential report. I will not discuss what's in it. If you want to survive in politics, correct yourself. Improve,” Naidu said to each one of them.
Team Lokesh and a consultancy agency are behind the surveys on the performance of party leaders on a quarterly basis. Naidu has sanctioned a special corpus to keep the surveys going until the next election in 2019. With more than 20 opposition party leaders defecting to the TDP on the promise of tickets in the next polls, Naidu has his task cut out for him. “But they too have to perform and only on merits do they stand to gain re-selection,” he warned everyone at the meet.
Presently, Lokesh is the brain behind the party organisation — welfare of party workers, membership drive, and policy implementation in the party. He also supervises the execution of party sops in government circles. He is also focusing on the Kuppam Assembly segment that his father had nurtured, ensuring implementation of welfare schemes and party drives. Recently, Naidu said that conditions in Kuppam had improved after Lokesh took charge of the segment. “But Kuppam is still the most backward constituency in the state,” he added indicating that it needed dynamic leadership, meaning his son Lokesh.
Lokesh had joined the TDP officially in May 2013, and now heads the youth wing, party workers' trust and also its IT division. Though he works out of NTR Bhavan in Hyderabad’s Banjara Hills, his team is set up in an apartment in nearby Jubilee Hills. Always armed with an iPad and very active on Twitter, Lokesh is well connected with officials in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) and hands on in party affairs. Since the Mahanadu (public meeting) of 2015, Naidu has been showcasing Lokesh in party forums and is always seen in the younger team of the TDP leadership. Asked recently what he had in store for Lokesh, Naidu had modestly thrown the ball back. “It is for him to decide what kind of role he wants to play in politics,” said the Chief Minister.
Since then there had been a chorus of demands that Lokesh should be inducted into the cabinet and given a larger role. Two months ago, Information Minister Dr Palle Raghunath Reddy, said, “Since Lokesh anyway is going to become our future chief minister, he should be taken into cabinet now and taught the ropes.”
Naidu has given a mandate to Lokesh and his team to make a foolproof assessment so that TDP could repeat its performance in the next polls. “TDP has to gain 80 percent popular votes through its welfare programmes. Already, the vote banks of SC/ST and minorities who were distanced and voted for YSRC in 2014 are returning to TDP,” Naidu had said at the Medho Mathanam, last week. He wanted the weakness in the party organisation in Kadapa, Kurnool, Chittoor, Nellore and Prakasam districts to be corrected with better policy implementation.
TDP not so tech savvy?
Though Naidu is known to be tech savvy, the Medho Mathanam session exposed the poor computer literacy in TDP. Since the shifting of the party headquarters to AP with a sprawling bungalow in Vijayawada, Naidu and Lokesh have roped in a strong team of 150 IT professionals to constantly monitor party affairs, government activities as well as the performance of ministers, MLAs, MPs and other district leaders.
At the session, Lokesh made a presentation on how the party has mopped up 55 lakh members with a fee of Rs 100. It has also introduced digitised photo IDs for its members and maintained a database on at least 50 young "probables" for each Assembly and Parliament seat. “Party has also doled out about Rs 15 crores through insurance for the welfare of workers since 2014,” said Lokesh.
At the training session for party leaders, KL University provided over 60 trainers — one for three leaders — on using and updating apps like CM's dashboard and the Kaizala app which has been specially designed for TDP. “We taught them basics in computer tech and also focused on their need for updating info sites,” said Professor K Srikanth, head of IT at KL University.
It was found at the session that nearly 90 percent of party leaders were poor in using applications and about 30 percent were not even capable of opening their email inbox. About 42 percent did not even know what apps like Kaizala, Dropbox and CM’s dashboard meant. “Many wanted us to give hard copies of instruction manuals which they said would read at home and practise,” said Srikanth.
“For a change, the elected representatives became students,” smiled Tirumala Rao, a senior faculty member at the University.
With the party gearing up to face polls in two states in less than three years, Lokesh is training them in the art of new weaponry. And Naidu’s trusted lieutenant is waiting in the wings to take charge when the time comes.