On 26 December, 2012 when Narendra Modi was sworn in for the fourth time as Gujarat Chief Minister, one of the dignitaries invited to grace the occasion in Gandhinagar was Telugu film star and NTR's son, Nandamuri Balakrishna. That was beginning of Track Two diplomacy to soften the TDP's stance towards the BJP and Modi, the man who knew he would be shaping the destiny of the country's main opposition party in coming months.
Balakrishna could not make it to Gandhinagar on that day, ostensibly because TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu thought it was not the time to make any such overtures to Modi, direct or indirect. But a relationship between Modi and Balakrishna was getting cemented in any case. Balakrishna’s importance lay in the fact that besides being an actor and NTR’s son who has now announced his intention to contest the coming Parliamentary elections on a TDP ticket, his elder daughter Brahmani is married to Nara Lokesh, Chandrababu Naidu’s son. Though the two are cousins, such matrimonial alliances are an accepted practice in Andhra Pradesh. And Naidu reportedly values Balakrishna's opinions.
Modi surprised people with his open overtures to the TDP during his Hyderabad rally last month, recalling the contributions of the late NTR to the unity of the Opposition to create an anti-Congress front and how it was time for the TDP to once again play that role in the 2014 elections. He has substantive reasons to do that. During the same visit, his meeting with Balakrishna and Murli Mohan, another actor and TDP leader, had been meaningful. Modi was aware that given the ground realities, a momentum was building up in the TDP cadre for an electoral tie-up with the BJP. The YSR Congress with its strong unified Andhra pitch was squeezing electoral space in Seemandhra and TRS had caught popular fancy in Telangana. The TDP, which had a confusing stance on Telangana, needed a serious review of its poll strategy.
Some other influential persons in both parties as well as some common friends were pressing hard to bring the BJP and TDP on a common platform, the common anti-Congress cause, both at the state and at the national level. The Andhra Assembly will go to polls along with Parliamentary elections.
The massive turnout at Modi’s rally was watched keenly by political players. Modi has supposedly been creating waves in the urban pockets of Andhra Pradesh and the BJP has tremendous goodwill in Telangana, but it did not have the organizational structure to turn this into winnable votes. But the BJP could bring value to a prospective alliance partner whose structures are in place.
Sources said that right after Modi’s Hyderbad rally, Naidu had started weighing the prospects of a tie-up but was not sure how to go about it and whether or not he should do anything that might send early warnings to rival political formations.
But since then, two things happened – Modi was declared BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and it became very clear that Jagan Mohan Reddy would get bail and the Congress was working on a grand alliance plan. Sources say this made him make up his mind and meet BJP president Rajnath Singh in New Delhi. Though the two sides officially deny discussing any possible tie-up, they certainly didn’t meet for about an hour for idle chatter.
After exit of the JD(U), the BJP is in desperate search of a big ally to send a message across the nation that under the new Modi-Rajnath dispensation, it was not a politically untouchable entity. Sources told Firstpost that though the tie-up will happen only much closer to elections, the two sides know that it has to happen.
“The situation is still fluid in Andhra. But clarity would come in the next two months, depending on whether or not the Congress bites the bullet on the bifurcation of AP.The real game would begin thereafter. But early signals for us are very positive, a BJP leader said.
A seat adjustment with INLD in Haryana or return of a Yeddyurappa or Babulal Marandi to the BJP fold would not be as big a morale booster for the BJP as an understanding with the TDP.
Ironically it was the TDP, which in the aftermath of 2002 Gujarat riots had openly campaigned with then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy LK Advani for removal of Modi from the chief minister’s post. It attributed its loss of power in 2004 to negation of Muslim votes owing to the 2002 riots. The TDP had contested 1999 elections as an electoral partner with the BJP, and the results were mutually beneficial to them. The BJP won seven parliamentary seats in the state out of eight that it contested. TDP won handsomely in parliamentary elections and comfortably returned to power in the state. In 1998 TDP had come to a post poll understanding with the BJP and supported NDA government from outside.
As for the Muslim votes, which some argue could eventually hold Naidu from a pre-poll tie up with BJP, counter arguments are interesting. A BJP leader from Andhra who is in close touch with TDP leaders said Muslim population in Andhra accounts for 8 percent. But the bulk of it is in Telangana region with major concentration in Hyderbarad. In the rest of Andhra, with exception of Kurnool district, Muslim population accounts for just 4-5 percent. The Muslim voters in Hyderabad, in any case, favour MIM.
The TDP has had to reckon with the surging popularity charts of Jaganmohan, whose release on bail has further complicated matters for Chandrababu Naidu. As compared to Jaganmohan’s unwavering United Andhra stance, Naidu has had some flip-flops.
For same reason, the TDP had been losing popular support in Telangana and has to contend with a resurgent TRS. The BJP has goodwill in Telangana but no organizational structure. In Seemandhra, the BJP does not have much popular support but many say that Modi is being watched very carefully. The buzz that ultimately Congress, YSR Cong and TRS would join hands, pre or post poll, would be the challenge for the BJP-TDP.
Much would depend how much sympathy Jaganmohan is seen to be garnering on his release on bail. That perhaps would decide whether or not Congress brings the resolution to bifurcate Andhra for creation of Telangana state to the union Cabinet. The BJP and TDP have separately called Jagan’s release on bail a fixed match between him and the Congress.