Andhra Pradesh is politically a weak turf for BJP. The party’s electoral presence in the state is almost zero. Yet, as it prepares for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and the Andhra Pradesh Assembly on 11 April, Andhra Pradesh is also one of the states where you hear Narendra Modi’s name most often.
That’s because YS Jaganmohan Reddy (known as Jagan) of YSR Congress Party, the main rival of Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader Chandrababu Naidu, is seen as Modi’s proxy or a secret supporter.
Also, in neighbouring Telangana, which was carved out of Andhra Pradesh as a separate state five years ago, BJP is zilch, but its Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (known as KCR) is deemed as a Modi’s secret backer. And what does that make KCR and Jagan? Covert supporters of each other, of course. But this has nothing to do with their respective reasons for backing Modi. The objective of their own underhand alliance is to see that Naidu loses polls.
It’s not surprising that Naidu calls the triumvirate of Modi, KCR and Jagan three “evils” he is fighting. But that’s a trouble Naidu brought on himself by abandoning the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the unconvincing reason of denial of “special status” to Andhra Pradesh. And for its part, BJP is forced into the ignominy of fighting proxy battles instead of straight, neat and honest elections only because it let go of Naidu as an ally.
In the normal course, Naidu would have returned to power for a fourth term as chief minister and won most of the state’s 25 Lok Sabha seats with little difficulty. But things are far from normal, though he might still coast along to a victory in both the Assembly and Parliamentary elections if the voters see his strengths overshadowing his weaknesses (listed below).
Ten strengths and weakness of Chandrababu Naidu
|1||Fairly good governance||Some degree of anti-incumbency|
|2||Hardworking||Alleged favouritism to his Kamma caste|
|3||Thinks big||Unconvincing volte-face on backing BJP|
|4||Has a clear vision for the state||Political opportunism|
|5||Welfare schemes for all sections||Autocratic functioning|
|6||Enjoys nationwide respect||Boosting his son Nara Lokesh|
|7||Hands-on functioning||Distrustful of others|
|8||Support of Backward Classes||Weak political strategy|
|9||No major scams||Rampant grass-root level corruption|
|10||Tech-savvy||Some unfulfilled promises|
What must worry Naidu was the precariously thin difference between the vote shares of TDP (44.45 percent and 101 seats) and YSRCP (44.12 per cent and 67 seats) in the 2014 Assembly election. And in the simultaneous Lok Sabha poll that year, the TDP polled 40.54 percent votes and won 15 of the 25 seats against YSRCP’s 45.38 percent votes and eight seats. In addition, BJP, with which the TDP had formed an alliance in 2014, had polled 2.2 percent votes and won four seats in the Assembly election, and 7.2 percent votes and two seats in the Lok Sabha election. Last time around, the TDP also had support from actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena which supplied a good proportion of the votes of his Kapu caste.
But, this time around, Naidu neither has an alliance with BJP nor the support of Pawan Kalyan. Both are fighting separately now. Naidu had considered continuing in Andhra Pradesh the alliance he had with Congress in the December Telangana election but dropped the idea. It’s a risk he didn’t dare to take because the people of Andhra Pradesh hold Congress responsible for what they think was the state’s needless division.
It’s against this background that KCR’s support for Jagan must be seen. TRS has no organisational presence in Andhra Pradesh, and the backing that Jagan can expect from KCR’s Velama caste and the people of Telangana living in Andhra Pradesh may be minimal. And Naidu’s allegation that KCR has given Jagan Rs 1,000 crore to defeat him can never be proved. But the benefit that YSRCP can get from the Telangana chief minister’s resources and strategic cunning can make a difference.
KCR’s intrusion into Andhra Pradesh politics is a “return gift”, as he once called it, for Naidu’s own effort to defeat him in the Telangana election three months ago. At that time, KCR ripped Naidu apart, saying his interference was a blot on Telangana’s “self-respect”. It worked, and he won handsomely. Naidu is now countering KCR with the same slogan of "self-respect" — of the Telugus. He hopes it will work.
The Andhra Pradesh chief minister has been telling rally after rally that voting for Jagan is no different from voting for KCR, which, he says, means handing over the control of Andhra Pradesh to Telangana, and also that it’s no different from voting for the BJP.
Where votes are caste-based
Naidu must also contend with the inscrutable X-factor of caste. What makes an election outcome especially unpredictable in Andhra Pradesh is the overriding importance that caste gets over issues of governance in the minds of many. Despite Naidu’s sundry schemes for backward classes, the perception that his forward Kamma community rules the roost is all-pervasive.
The possibility of some voters venting anger against this by voting against TDP is all too clear for Naidu to ignore. All that he can do to stop them from doing it is to pick candidates of right castes and harp on his government’s performance.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 16:29:56 IST