The day Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the Union Budget in Parliament, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief and Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu called for an emergency meeting of MPs because the chief minister was angry over the "raw deal" meted out to the state. For the next three days, what the nation witnessed was a tepid attempt by the TDP to break the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The TDP, a partner in the BJP-led NDA government, however, acknowledged was not yet ready to pull the plug on the alliance, but only wanted to make the Centre "realise" its "strong displeasure", a senior party leader told PTI.
Naidu, on Thursday, reviewed the Budget with some senior ministers and also held a teleconference with party MPs, he said. All the party leaders expressed "serious displeasure" over the Union Budget as it "gave nothing" to the state. TDP MPs, who earlier met at the residence of Union Minister of State for Science and Technology YS Chowdary in New Delhi, flayed the Centre for handing out a raw deal to the southern state in the Budget.
Naidu also spoke with them via teleconference. A couple of MPs reportedly suggested that they would quit their posts in protest but Naidu, as reported by PTI, told them everything would be discussed at the TDP parliamentary party meeting on Sunday, according to the leader.
A few senior state ministers, who were closetted with the chief minister after the Budget presentation, noted that the Centre only "meted out injustice" by not honouring any of the promises made over the past four years.
"Jaitley seems to have completely forgotten Andhra Pradesh while presenting the Budget though we have given him a detailed report on the funds due from the Centre to the state," Agriculture Minister Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy said after the meeting with the chief minister.
"We are very much pained that the Centre turned a blind eye whereas Andhra Pradesh should have been looked at specially. We will let the Centre realise our displeasure. We will have no objection if it responds favourably. But if it continues to behave the same way it has been doing over the (past four) years...it is not justified," Somireddy noted.
TDP is BJP's biggest ally in the South and the BJP is sharing power with the TDP in the state. Naidu expressed his unhappiness over the lack of thought given to his state by the Centre and said, "I am sticking to the coalition dharma and keeping quiet. I am also restraining my colleagues from speaking out against the BJP. But if they do not want us, I will say namaste and walk away. This is no way to treat a coalition partner."
The discussion at the meeting (held on Thursday) centred around the Narendra Modi government's treatment of Andhra Pradesh and the "injustice" heaped on the state in the Budget proposals, he sources said. PTI report said that that a few senior TDP leaders said that almost everyone, including many district unit chiefs, wanted the TDP to end the alliance with the BJP after the budget "ignored" the state. Party sources, however, added that Naidu apparently dissuaded his senior party colleagues from speaking about the fate of the alliance with BJP and dwelt on the Rajasthan bypoll results where the BJP tasted defeat. The TDP sources said that according to Naidu, the bypoll results are a clear example that people will be unsparing if governance is not good.
The state leaders of the BJP have been criticising the TDP on various issues. Some of them have even indicated that they were ready to work with the opposition YSR Congress Party. Naidu's remarks were also crucial as they came close on the heels of YSR Congress Party chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy's statement that he would support the BJP if Andhra Pradesh was given special status.
However, on Sunday, after the TDP parliamentary meeting, the party said its alliance with the BJP in Andhra Pradesh and the Centre was very much alive. "As and when it is required, the chief minister and party chief will take the decision appropriately. As of today it (the alliance) is just going on. We never said (about snapping ties)...it's all speculation," Chowdary said on Sunday.
"Our state is in a disadvantageous position due to bifurcation (of united Andhra Pradesh). People are dissatisfied because there is no specific mention of state issues in the Union Budget. All this was discussed," Chowdary said. The meeting was attended by party MPs, a few state ministers, senior TDP leaders and senior bureaucrats. "We have already taken up the issues with the Union Finance Minister, Railway Minister (on setting up a railway zone in Visakhapatnam). Definitely, in the next two-three days we are hopeful everything will be resolved," he added.
The Indian Express quoted Kambhampati Rammohan Rao, TDP Central Committee member and the party’s special representative in New Delhi, who said that they had "decided to take up the TDP-BJP alliance issue at a later date". "Right now, we have to focus on why the Centre has not addressed issues like bridging the revenue deficit, hastening funds for Polavaram project, additional funding for Amaravati capital city and new railway zone for Visakhapatnam."
However, a caveat was inserted.
Still upset over the "injustice", TDP decided to raise the issue in the Parliament. TDP members were given instruction to take a political decision on the issue as Naidu told leaders to pressurise BJP-led NDA. He, however, advised his ministers to exercise restraint and not to speak whatever they like. The nearly three-hour-long meeting, which ended at 8.30 pm, discussed in detail the meagre allocations made to the state in the budget despite repeated demands for last four years to fulfill the commitments made at the time of the state's division.
Naidu noted that compared to the northern states, the budget allocations for the southern states were meagre. He said among the southern states, Andhra Pradesh has the lowest revenues and he had been demanding the Centre to handhold the state till it came up to par with other states.
The meeting felt that the Centre ignored the demands for release of funds under special assistance measure announced last year in lieu of special category status, allocation for Polavaram project and financial assistance for development of state capital Amaravati. The ministers were of the view that the Centre should have at least sanctioned Metro project for Visakhapatnam.
News about TDP breaking away from the BJP garnered steam days before the Union Budget was presented and if the so-called "divorce" happened, it wouldn't have been the first time for the two parties. The TDP had first walked out on the BJP in 2004 after which Chandrababu spent a decade out of power in virtual wilderness. He returned to the NDA fold in 2014 and won, riding on a Modi wave.
The current TDP-BJP alliance resembles lot of what was left of the Shiv Sena and the BJP's relation in Maharashtra just before the former decided to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections on its own strength. Confirming that his party would go it alone in the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, Shiv Sena's Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut predicted that the Shiv Sena would win at least 25 of 48 the Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra as well as 125 of the 288 seats in the state Assembly. Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray also announced that henceforth the party would broaden its horizons beyond Maharashtra to fight all state elections.
Even though for a while it seems that the TDP might not break away with the BJP, but TDP leaders creating a ruckus in Parliament to "pressurise" an ally is as unprecendent as Sena mouthing off criticism against the Centre over its decisions in Jammu and Kashmir, the Doka La standoff or over every other issue, very similar to how a party opposing BJP would.
A Firstpost article argued, in a bid to increase its footprint from South India to the North East, the BJP is trying to compensate for the potential losses from anti-incumbency. However, "in doing so, the saffron party runs the risk of ignoring its old allies. Its party may be up for a rude shock in the upcoming elections due to its separation with its old allies."
Updated Date: Feb 05, 2018 15:12 PM