Chandrababu Naidu's sudden revolt against the Centre is a clever strategy to frustrate the plans of the ambitious BJP. As part of its 'Mission-seven states', the BJP was determined to increase its tally at least in the parliamentary seats in Andhra Pradesh.
The Saffron party was restless with TDP as Naidu is known to be unyielding. Thus sailing with TDP, the BJP has always maintained undeclared cordiality with opposition YSR Congress; and the latter reciprocated. Upset with this bonhomie between his alliance partner BJP and arch-rival YSR Congress, Naidu engineered a coup of sorts by declaring a sentimental war on the BJP-led Centre.
With this, he seeks to accomplish multiple objectives with one shot – making BJP a political untouchable in state politics, thwart any possible alliance between YSR Congress and BJP, divert the people's attention from YS Jagan Reddy's padayatra, ensure multi-cornered contest in the state to split anti-establishment vote benefiting TDP and tide over the possible anti-incumbency by diverting the people's anger at the Centre.
BJP, even while sharing power with the TDP, was never comfortable as a party with its regional ally. Despite personal chemistry of few BJP leaders with TDP supremo Naidu, the party was restless. He was never its trusted ally given the past experience and the BJP is unsure of its support in the future.
The saffron party was, therefore, working on making the hay while the sun shines. Team Narendra Modi is doubly suspicious as Naidu was instrumental in triggering the anti-Modi campaign during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime post the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Andhra Pradesh is among BJP chief Amit Shah's 'Mission-seven states'. These are the seven states which the BJP would like to focus on in 2019, to make gains as the party expects an inevitable loss of seats in north Indian states, where it had a saturated mandate in 2014. The party aimed at compensating the losses in the north with gains in these south Indian and eastern states.
The BJP leaders, even while attacking the TDP government much before estrangement, never questioned Reddy. The bonhomie between the BJP and its adversary was always unpalatable for the TDP.
While the central investigation agencies were hunting Opposition leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal, there was no significant progress in the cases pending against Reddy.
Reddy also reciprocated by extending unconditional and even rather unsolicited support to BJP nominees in the presidential and vice-presidential elections. In fact, the YSR Congress had a reservation on the vice-presidential nominee, M Venkaiah Naidu, who is considered to be closer to the TDP chief.
But, this did not matter for YSR Congress when it came to supporting the Modi-led BJP at the Centre. The leaders of YSR Congress right from its chief to Vijaysai Reddy, MP and close aide of Reddy, never had any problem in getting an appointment with the prime minister while the constitutional head of the government in the state, Naidu, often had to wait as Modi was busy with an official occupation.
Even on the question of the special status, Reddy was cautious enough not to target the Modi regime, but, chided Naidu for his alleged inability to get the maximum from the Centre. All this gave credence to the political grapevine that BJP has a clandestine deal with YSR Congress and considered Reddy's party as an ally in reserve.
The BJP was also uncomfortable with TDP as it feared that this alliance is detrimental to the growth of the saffron party in the state. They were sure that Naidu would not yield any more seats for the party. Several state BJP leaders, including minister Manikyala Rao, openly expressed dissent that the TDP is not allowing BJP to grow and enough importance is not given to the alliance partner.
On the contrary, the BJP was confident that they can strike a better bargain with YSR Congress, at least in parliamentary seats. Reddy is certainly not expected to be as particular as Naidu when it comes to contesting Parliament seats as his thrust is to win the Assembly elections to be held along with the parliamentary elections in 2019. He is desperate to ally with the Centre for personal reasons.
Meanwhile, Reddy is in Opposition and is also desperate to have allies. His bargaining power is definitely less as compared to the ruling party. The cases pending against Reddy can be an effective weapon for the BJP to arm-twist YSR Congress into any seat-sharing negotiations. The BJP was also expecting that the sporadic discontent on TDP rule will galvanise into anti-incumbency.
The TDP supremo, who is a veteran of many electoral battles and known for his killer instinct in politics, could smell the BJP's electoral strategy for 2019. Thus, he intensified his attack on the central government despite accepting the special package in lieu of special status.
Naidu could successfully get several objectives realised with one shot. The BJP is made untouchable for any political party as there is a simmering anger against the Modi government for the manner in which the Centre has let down the state.
There is a growing convergence in the anti-Centre protests evident from TDP, YSR Congress, Jana Sena, Congress and the Left forming part of 'Highway Bandh' observed on Thursday. The attention on Reddy's padayatra, which has now entered the TDP stronghold of Amaravati region, is diverted away as the focus shifts to Parliament protests and the no-confidence motion.
Reddy cannot have any alliance partner as he has to fear political backlash if he strikes any pre-poll arrangement with BJP, given the general climate of hostility towards the saffron party in the state. There will be a multi-cornered contest splitting the anti-establishment vote.
This would obviously benefit TDP. Given the slender margin of victory in 2014, Naidu feels that the fragmented polity would yield him electoral dividends. Besides, this coup of sorts will also help him to tide over anti-incumbency.
The author is former MLC in Telangana, former editor, The Hans India and professor, journalism, Osmania University.
Updated Date: Mar 22, 2018 13:48 PM