Last fortnight was a bad time for both the Telugu-speaking states as Prime Minister Narendra Modi foiled hopes on their vote-oriented designs and left them high and dry.
Both the regional satraps — K Chandrashekhar Rao, Telangana chief minister and the chief of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), and Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and president of his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) — had been counting on the support of the BJP for the 2019 polls.
They were both stunned and alarmed by the prime minister's off-the-cuff utterances during the Gujarat election campaign on quota raj. Modi’s announcement that all states had to abide by the Supreme Court verdict on quota raj — not to cross the 50 percent barrier — had dashed the hopes of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments who had introduced legislation in their Assemblies to grant larger quotas to their volatile community-based voters — Muslims in Telangana and Kapus (a caste that wants OBC status) in Andhra Pradesh.
Sources within the TRS leadership told Firstpost that they wondered whether the manipulative charm or the much-talked influence of their satraps was waning on the BJP and Centre. "Have we lost our influence in Delhi corridor and is the prime minister abandoning us?" Telangana home minister Nayani Narasimha Reddy reportedly lamented at a party meeting last Sunday at Hyderabad.
Almost similar was the psyche of the TDP leaders in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh who felt that the Modi-Amit Shah combine was giving them sleepless nights as a deliberate arm-twisting tactic ahead of the 2019 polls. The writing is clear on the wall that without Muslim quota endorsement by the Centre, the TRS has a rough road to walk in 2019. Similarly, without funds for state development, Kapu quota, and Polavaram, Chandrababu will face brickbats from not only the YSRC, but also dissidents in the TDP and BJP.
What did Modi and Shah say
Not just quota, the NDA government also found fault with the contractor (Transtroy) building the prestigious Polavaram project — now a national project built under the care of the Andhra Pradesh government — and wanted to change the builder that the Andhra Pradesh government rejected.
Besides, the Centre has kept the issue of categorisation of SC/STs — an issue crucial for the TRS in Telangana and a burning factor in Seemandhra — in cold storage. "Why do both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana raise politically critical issues at testing times for the BJP? They raised the SC/ST categorisation issue during the Uttar Pradesh elections and now the quota for Muslims and Kapus when the crucial Gujarat poll is underway," said annoyed Telangana BJP leader G Kishan Reddy.
During his last visit to the Telugu states in May, Shah apparently ruptured the nerves of rulers and whipped up spirits of BJP state leadership in a clear deviation of the earlier policy of being the humble and obedient allies of the TDP. KCR was clearly upset by Shah’s remarks about Telangana and said, "Hum koi Amit Shah ko jante nahi. Hum hain Telangana ke Badshah" in an obvious effort to counter the BJP’s aggression.
Similarly, Chandrababu smelt dissidence in BJP ranks. Although ally BJP was granted two state cabinet berths and one Rajya Sabha seat since 2014, there was growing discontent even among the five-member BJP legislative party and state BJP leadership who were tired of playing second fiddle to TDP. BJP leader and endowment minister P Manikyala Rao often said that though he was a minister, issues concerning Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams were decided by the chief minister and others without his knowledge.
BJP leaders are also unhappy with comments and criticism by TDP in general over special status to Andhra Pradesh, funds allotted for the development of the new state and Polavaram. "Our prime minister is trying his best to help Andhra Pradesh in spite of legal and constitutional hurdles. So far, over Rs 3,500 crore has been given to the state. If TDP is unhappy, they should raise the issue in correct forums rather than washing their dirty linen in public,” said Somu Veeraju, MLC and vice president of the state BJP.
State BJP leaders say that undue advantages taken by Chandrababu Naidu during the Vajpayee period have damaged the reputation of BJP. Hence the BJP national leadership is very cautious about Chandrababu and TDP. "We don’t need BJP support in the Parliament as in 1992. Naidu blackmailed us by dangling his 33 MPs then,” said a senior BJP leader who did not want to be quoted.
While the Telangana government had enhanced the quota for Muslims from 4 to 12 percent allegedly on population ratio (totaling to 54 percent quota), the Andhra Pradesh government had also passed a bill in the Assembly to grant 5 percent quota to the Kapu community (totaling to 56%). Anticipating a favourable announcement by Modi after the Gujarat election campaign, the Andhra Pradesh government even managed to get the rough drafts of three members of the backward classes commission favouring Kapu quota without even informing the commission chairman Justice Manjunath. A furious judge said he was not aware of any favourable reports by his members and that he will give his total report shortly and expressed shock at the government's arm-twisting tactic.
In Telangana, Congress leader Mohammed Ali Shabbir, Leader of Opposition in Telangana Legislative Council, mocked KCR on how he would get the 12 percent quota given to Muslims endorsed by the Parliament through inclusion in the 9th Schedule after Modi's categorical rejection of support.
Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were waiting for the NDA government to endorse their vote-oriented quota grant. "As of now, 30 legislations are waiting since last one decade for endorsement of the Parliament in the 9th Schedule under Article 31 and also by the Supreme Court. Only Tamil Nadu has been able to scrape through and get 69 percent quota as it was done before the Supreme Court verdict in the Indira Sahni case in 1992,” he said.
In the same breath, the TDP leadership found fault with the Centre’s handling of the prestigious Polavaram project. Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari had warned the builder chosen by Andhra Pradesh against delays and had advised the state to change the contractor Transtroy which triggered a volley of hostility between them.
To pressurise the Centre not to meddle in Polavaram and continue releasing funds, Naidu took busloads of MLAs, MPs, and MLCs to the project site to show them the ‘good work’ done by the contractor chosen by his government. Rival YSRC legislators were also goaded to visit Polavaram in ‘state interests'. Even Jana Sena leader actor Pawan Kalyan made a fleeting visit to Polavaram. All these had an impact on the Centre and Gadkari agreed to allow Transtroy to continue but with conditions. Gadkari also made it clear that since the Centre was funding the project, it will have a say in everything.
BJP leader D Purandeswari said last week at Kurnool that the TDP government was incapable of meeting the Polavaram Project cost. “But it is also playing games with the Centre by not giving correct estimates of the project and keeps changing it. Though we treat TDP as a partner, it is spreading canards about BJP,” she said.
Another issue that is straining the TDP-BJP alliance in Andhra Pradesh is the meagre funding from the Centre for development of the new state which has no buildings for the Secretariat, no Assembly, High Court or Raj Bhavan.
“With trust on the BJP-led Centre we came away from Hyderabad though we could have stayed there till 2024,” said Andhra Pradesh finance minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu, alleging that the NDA was going back on its own words of support of special status for Andhra Pradesh.
"I gave up the demand for special status to Andhra Pradesh banking on assurances by the prime minister and BJP that they would give matching funds for state’s growth. Now, we have to continue begging at every stage for projects and capital,” Naidu reportedly lamented at a party meeting earlier this month.
According to soruces in the Andhra Pradesh government, the Centre has given only Rs 35,00 crore for the state capital but has gone agonisingly slow on other projects including Polavaram.
Chandrababu Naidu is now pushed to the wall with the Centre and the national leadership of BJP asking him to commit more for the 2019 poll alliance. The bogey raised by the state BJP for fighting independently is contained to Telangana alone where they do not want an alliance with TDP. BJP is also willing to sail with TDP and Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh only to reorganise and consolidate the gains of 2014.
“It is time TDP stopped thinking that we are parasites. We too have a vote bank and following in both states. We have learned the lessons of how TDP delinked the Left parties from its bandwagon after enjoying their support for almost two decades since 1983,” said Krishnasagar Rao, Telangana BJP spokesperson.
It appears that the Modi-Shah combination is keen to rewrite their equations with regional parties in the south and attempt to place BJP on firm footing as a key player and not as a tag-along.
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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2017 11:07:46 IST