Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu has been left high and dry after the Congress-led Prajakutami bloc, of which his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is a constituent, was swept away in the Telangana polls by the KCR tsunami.
Naidu entered the elections with a three-pronged strategy. The immediate task was to ensure the presence of TDP in Telangana politics at a time when it was facing an existential crisis. Large-scale desertions, erosion of traditional vote base, the estrangement of 2014 ally BJP and more significantly the changed political idiom post bifurcation of Andhra, etc., have contributed to the predicament staring the TDP in the face in Telangana. So, as Naidu himself pointed out several times in his interaction with Telangana party leaders, an alliance was crucial for the TDP to make its presence felt, however feeble it may be.
Naidu has admitted that his party tried to forge a coalition with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). The purported reason cited for such an expectation was the unity of the Telugu people. However, no such union could be worked out. The TRS president, Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), strongly dismissed any such possibility existed at any time, much to the embarrassment of Naidu who acknowledged that such a plan could not materialise because of the kar seva of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
With the premature dissolution of the state Assembly, the TDP came closer to its arch-rival Congress. Naidu’s party left the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over the special status demand for Andhra and kicked off an anti-BJP tirade. Calling KCR an undeclared friend of Modi, Naidu defended his new-found love for the Congress. To give it some legitimacy, he created a backdrop of national political compulsions to defeat the BJP and its allies.
The Congress-TDP alliance was a precursor to any such possible arrangement in Andhra Pradesh early next year when the state Assembly goes to polls along with the Lok Sabha. So, the second part of the strategy was to test the waters.
The third tactic was to make ground for Naidu’s national political ambitions. Like his Telangana counterpart, Naidu has also set in motion the succession plan in Andhra Pradesh. He has inducted his son Nara Lokesh into the cabinet by bringing him to the Legislative Council through an indirect election. Any success in the Telangana experiment would have delivered significant political dividends for Naidu both in his own state Andhra and also in national politics, at a time when he suddenly became the Congress’ trusted ally to mobilise other regional and smaller parties into an anti-Modi conglomeration led by the grand old party.
But his Telangana counterpart successfully checkmated Chandrababu Naidu. So, the shishya has surpassed the guru, at least for now: KCR had his early political lessons under the Naidu-led TDP.
In a swift and potent move, Chandrashekar Rao turned the threat into an opportunity. To outwit Naidu, he relied on political chemistry. By painting the TDP as an Andhra party, KCR used the opposition alliance as his main electoral weapon. This triggered a powerful sentiment among the core Telangana electorate that had launched the movement for a separate state, questioning the political domination of the leadership from Seemandhra region, which now constitutes the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. With the other two parties, YSR Congress and Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena opting out of the Telangana election, the entire attack was focused on Chandrababu Naidu. Given his machinations and diabolical stand on the demand for a separate state in the run-up to the bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh, people of Telangana were always suspicious of his role.
The Congress did not anticipate such an adverse outcome as the TDP in alliance with the BJP won 15 seats and stood second in many in 2014 when the Telangana sentiment was at its peak.
The Seemandhra voters completely rallied behind the TDP in 2014. But now, they too are politically divided owing to the clear battle lines drawn in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. This is evident from the YSR Congress and Jana Sena cadres across Andhra Pradesh celebrating the victory of the TRS and the defeat of the TDP-Congress alliance.
Post 2014, the TDP suffered massive erosion with most of its MLAs and leaders deserting the party in search of greener pastures in the ruling TRS. KCR’s cleverly crafted welfare schemes could effectively rally the other backward classes (OBC), previously the preserve of the TDP in the united state too.
The TDP alliance with Congress was unnatural compared to its 2014 tie-up with the BJP. What made things much worse was the overwhelming role of Naidu in electioneering on behalf of the Prajakutami. Amid speculation that the combine may win, he was keen to create a perception that he was the author of the alliance’s mandate.
Even as KCR and his team were firing salvos at Naidu for what they described as an encroachment into the neighbouring political terrain, the TDP chief's every step was strengthening the TRS propaganda. Naidu fielded the granddaughter of TDP founder NT Rama Rao from Kukatpally assembly seat that has a sizeable presence of Seemandhra electorate. Several ministers descended on the Telangana campaign trail. Naidu’s brother-in-law and actor Nandamuri Balakrishna, TDP legislator from Andhra Pradesh, also stepped into the canvassing. All this created a strong perception in the core Telangana voter that Naidu was trying to control the fledgeling state’s politics by remote control, as repeatedly alleged by KCR and other TRS leaders.
Though it is wrong to make a sweeping conclusion that the TRS won and the Prajakutami lost because of Naidu’s overenthusiasm, it is beyond doubt that the TDP leader’s intense campaign cost the grand alliance. However, it’s difficult to assess the adverse impact empirically.
So, in the wake of the debacle, the Telangana Congress leaders too started to rethink the role of Naidu in the party’s politics in the state. Sources in state Congress said that the local leaders, in fact, carried such apprehensions even before the polls. But Rahul Gandhi was keen on roping in Naidu with an eye on national politics.
However, Naidu should have played a restricted and positive role in the Telangana electioneering instead of taking KCR head on.
Andhra Pradesh Congress chief Raghu Veera Reddy has already clarified that the ties with Naidu are for national politics and no decision has been taken on alliance in the state, indicating the divided opinion.
KCR has said that he would give a “return gift” to Naidu for his role in the Telangana elections. The newly appointed working president of TRS, KT Rama Rao, has also announced his party’s plans to play a part in Andhra politics, though the exact contours have not been defined yet.
The rival YSR Congress and Jana Sena leaders have started mocking Naidu’s fiasco in Telangana, calling his defeat in the neighbouring state a firm indication of his imminent fall in Andhra polls too.
In fact, TDP leaders like deputy chief minister KE Krishnamurthy and minister Chintakayala Ayyanna Patrudu have earlier publicly expressed displeasure over the tie-up with Congress only to retreat after being reprimanded by the leadership. But, such voices of dissent may grow stronger in the wake of the Telangana debacle, giving Chandrababu Naidu more sleepless nights.
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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2018 16:18 PM