In April 2014, at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) central leadership was on the verge of sealing the deal for an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, the saffron party's cadre in Srikakulam strongly opposed the move, saying they can't allow the TDP to gain ground in the district.
Four years later, on Wednesday late night, when Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu confirmed that the TDP is walking out of the central government, BJP cadres in Srikakulam were all smiles.
The state BJP has never been comfortable with having TDP as an ally, believing that their growth trajectory was being limited by the regional party. So, Naidu's decision to quit the NDA government has resulted in a wave of optimism in both TDP and BJP camps.
The break-up happened on Wednesday, but seeds of discord were sown two years ago, after the Narendra Modi government didn't react to the TDP's demand — that all commitments made at the time of Andhra Pradesh's bifurcation be realised. Political compulsions forced Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to extend the TDP an olive branch, offering them the promise of a special package instead of special status to Andhra Pradesh, and Naidu reluctantly agreed to it.
But just when things started appearing peaceful again, the 2018 Union Budget upset Naidu again. The BJP didn't agree to any of Andhra Pradesh's demands: Special status for the state after the creation of Telangana to tide over resultant loss of revenue; financial support in establishing a new state capital at Amaravati; and the Polavaram project.
Among these, the special status issue took centrestage, as parties and leaders found themselves dipped in an inkpot of emotion in Andhra Pradesh. Public sentiment started to grow over the issue, which directly impacted a slew of grievances, including losing state capital Hyderabad to Telangana. Politicians also made it a prestige issue.
Chandrababu Naidu's main rival in the state, YSR Congress chief Jagan Mohan Reddy, held a padyatra that raked up the special status issue and acted as gasoline to the fire which Naidu was trying hard to douse. Naidu, a shrewd politician, saw a large number of people perceiving the Centre's stand as a betrayal to Andhra Pradesh. With Assembly elections due next year, Naidu decided to act, and made his calculations. He wanted to avoid being tagged alongside the NDA government, which had failed to grant Andhra Pradesh special status. He started sending feelers of dissatisfaction to the Centre, but it fell on deaf ears.
TDP, which was under political pressure to demonstrate its strong base, had to move fast. In the last 48 hours, the party's MPs in Delhi and MLAs and MLCs in Amaravati decided to offer their full support to Naidu, urging him to withdraw from the government.
However, the chief minister, a master in striking strategic alliances with the Centre, knew the knack of bargaining with the government. He took little time in analysing the repercussions of a possible withdrawal. He also failed to understand Modi's cold shoulder treatment. In the last four years, he has visited Delhi 29 times seeking central funds for the development of the state. But in all these trips, he could meet the prime minister only a few times.
Naidu, the kingmaker in 1996-98 and from 1998 onwards, who was the principal ally to the Right-wing NDA governments, was finding himself in a tight spot which was suffocating him. Former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee used to wait for Naidu, but Modi only found time to meet him twice between 2016 and 2018. There was also a gap of 20 months between the two, which humiliated the TDP chief.
During campaigning ahead of the polls, Modi was all in favour of Andhra Pradesh, and Naidu and went ahead with the commitment and support at Tirupati during a rally. Later, Modi was the chief guest at the foundation laying of Amaravati as the new capital city. The prime minister brought special water and soil from Varanasi, giving out the impression that the future is bright and Andhra Pradesh will flourish.
Political pundits asserted that Naidu was confident that the Modi government would accelerate Enforcement Directorate cases against Jagan Mohan Reddy, which would break the latter's backbone and the YSR Congress party. This didn't happen, and instead, Jagan's proximity only grew with Modi. Naidu was alert to the developments. Naidu was also irritated with the refusal of increase in seats in Andhra Pradesh Assembly. And special status was the third and final nail that pushed Naidu into a corner and forced him to take a call on the relationship with Modi.
With Lok Sabha and Assembly elections a year away, Naidu is trying to create a new brand for himself. At this junction, he cannot let any negativity derail his dreams. Politically, the TDP seems all too aware that the Centre's stock is down with many sections of society, especially farmers. The Gujarat election was a pointer and has been followed by the BJP's drubbing in by-elections in Rajasthan too. Though victory in the North East for the BJP pushed Naidu to delay his call, a few other considerations boosted his thought process.
Chief among these was the knowledge that the BJP is not growing in Andhra Pradesh and cannot be a thorn in the TDP's side in an election. Besides, the TDP is confident of winning the Muslim vote, as was demonstrated in the Nandyal by-election. Thus, he felt, it's the BJP which should be running after the TDP, not the other way around.
Now with TDP ministers pulling out of the Modi government, all eyes are on Naidu on his next move. Will he exit the NDA altogether? He will take his time, as he is aware that despite knowing the political consequences, any action can lead to repercussions.
Updated Date: Mar 08, 2018 10:18 AM