Centre's refusal to confer special status to Andhra has given Chandrababu Naidu chance to overcome anti-incumbency
Chandrababu Naidu has successfully used people's discontent over Centre's refusal to confer special status to Andhra Pradesh as an instrument to avoid the sporadic disgruntlement over the non-implementation of several promises made by TDP in 2014
In the wake of Chandrababu Naidu leaving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), an intense war of words broke out between BJP and TDP. The BJP claims that everything possible under the law has been implemented for Andhra Pradesh and that Naidu's crusade is primarily a political ploy to divert the attention of people from his own failures.
A deeper analysis suggests that BJP's claims are unfounded as far as implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act and the promises therein are concerned. However, TDP's latest rebellion on Modi government is more symbolic than substantive. It's more political than a protest against the hurt caused to the pride of the Telugu people.
The Centre has certainly faltered on the promise of conferring special status to Andhra Pradesh. BJP failed to convince the people who look at the special status as a sentiment. Meanwhile, several other aspects of the bifurcation act and the special package promised in lieu of the special status like bridging the revenue deficit, setting up of a railway zone, steel plant, port, supporting the construction of greenfield capital, development of infrastructure in backward districts, construction of Polavaram project, 90 percent central funding, industrial incentives similar to the entitlements in case of special category states, satisfactory funding for national educational institutions, etc, remain unimplemented or unsatisfactorily executed.
But, quite interestingly, Naidu for a long time has not only disowned the special status and praised the worthiness of special package, he also expressed satisfaction in the manner in which the Centre is assisting the state. It's only in the recent past that the TDP sharpened its attack, and the acrimony became shriller since the presentation of Union Budget 2018.
The ruling TDP finds it difficult to answer why the party which has been more or less content with the Centre, except a few occasional expressions of discontent, has suddenly turned hostile.
The growing disenchantment among the people over the special status and the moves of the Opposition YSR Congress have certainly precipitated the differences between TDP and BJP. However, the TDP has successfully used the discontent on special status as an instrument to avoid the sporadic disgruntlement over the non-implementation of several promises made by TDP in 2014, and prevent it from galvanising into anti-incumbency.
The Amaravati-centred development model has led to a sense of alienation in the backward regions of North Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Except for some movement on projects like Handri Neeva, there has been precious little done to address this discontent.
Rayalaseema has been a stronghold of YSR Congress. The special package for development of Rayalaseema and north coastal Andhra was elusive. To placate the people away from the state capital, Naidu announced a detailed development and industrialisation plan for every district in the state Assembly. Though partnership and investment summits were held periodically, and the chief minister held many foreign tours to lure investment, not much has happened in terms of industrialisation especially in terms of providing jobs for the unemployed. Despite the lofty talk of rebuilding the Information Technology landscape in the residuary Andhra Pradesh, the state has a long way to go.
The controversial Janmabhoomi committees constituted solely with TDP activists have only established their supremacy, and favoured party sympathisers in the rural areas. They weakened the elected local bodies and turned out to be a major political embarrassment for Naidu. This forced the chief minister to scrap these committees, revealing the gravity of people's ire with such parallel partisan bodies that interfered with the distribution of welfare benefits under a host of government schemes.
The demarcation between the party and the government has blurred quite contrary to the Naidu administration of the united Andhra Pradesh. This might have satisfied the party apparatus but has caused resentment in the general electorate.
The TDP also promised unconditional waiver of loans to farmers and Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) groups. Learning from his party’s defeats in 2009, Naidu did not lag behind in making several populist promises. More significantly, his promises of a loan waiver for farmers and women workers with the DWCRA certainly influenced voters in 2014 elections. Nearly 20 percent of the DWCRA groups did not repay the loans in April 2014 in some banks. This increased to as high as 80 percent in May indicating the impact of Naidu’s promise of a loan waiver in the run-up to the elections.
The government partly waived the loans of farmers and DWCRA members and banks were reluctant to grant them loans in view of the mounting interest on uncleared loans. Anecdotal evidence from several villages reveals that the phased manner in which the scheme was implemented left many beneficiaries disappointed.
The TDP in its election manifesto promised a job for every household. "If you want job, vote for Babu" was, in fact, the poll plank of TDP in 2014.
The promised 'Udyoga Mitra' scheme, a recruitment calendar for government jobs, remained a non-starter. More significantly, the promise of Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 as unemployment allowance remained an election jumla.
Land acquisition in Andhra Pradesh became controversial and even led to periodic violent protests in different parts of the state. As land prices shot up, there have been a stiff resistance to land acquisition from farmers. The landless agricultural labourers were the worst hit.
Social engineering was a critical component of Naidu's successful poll management in 2014. Kapus constitute a significant share of voters in more than 40 Assembly constituencies. This section of society was not so loyal to TDP historically. In a bid to attract this social segment, who play a decisive role in scripting mandate in many seats, the TDP in its election manifesto promised that a time-bound plan will be executed to accord reservations without hurting the interests of OBCs. After dilly-dallying for long and suppressing the Kapu quota agitation, Naidu government finally recommended five percent quota and threw the ball into the Centre's court knowing well that the Modi government is not in favour of reservations going above the Supreme Court-prescribed limit of 50 percent.
Besides, the demand for Scheduled Caste categorisation has remained unaddressed again, with the TDP blaming it on the Centre. The TDP fears a possible political fallout as the Opposition will campaign on these issues among affected social groups.
As the simmering discontent over the loss of sprawling capital city of Hyderabad pervaded the political discourse in 2014 in the Seemandhra region that constitutes present Andhra Pradesh, Naidu could successfully convince the people that he, with the active support of NDA, which was expected to come to power, would unveil a capital better than Hyderabad and a city which even Delhites will be jealous of. Despite showing a scintillating vision of a capital in the lines of Singapore, nothing much has been achieved on the ground.
All this is not to say that anti-incumbency is building against the Naidu regime. The TDP is still successful in effectively marketing the doomsday bifurcation narrative and the fascinating dream of rebuilding the state among the people of Andhra Pradesh. The correlation of political forces seems to have not significantly altered since 2014. But, with the estrangement of BJP and the poll fever gripping Andhra Pradesh, TDP is not ready to leave any scope for this sporadic discontent to spill over into any sort of strong anti-incumbency. This is much more essential given the slender margin of victory in 2014.
Thus, TDP was desperate to vilify someone for whatever may be the lapses of Naidu rule. The Centre's intransigence to the just demands of the people has come in handy for TDP. The party's exit from NDA is a clever political ploy to convert a threat into an opportunity, a management lesson which Naidu is quite fond of.
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