In the limited context of Andhra politics, the Narendra Modi-Jaganmohan Reddy meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday has set the cat among the Telugu Desam Party pigeons. The YSR Congress chief who was not able to get an audience with the prime minister all of last year, succeeded at last.
The Telugu Desam, the BJP's ally both in Amaravati and New Delhi, has good reason to be upset. Jagan gave the prime minister a copy of the YSRC-sponsored book on Chandrababu Naidu's alleged corruption titled — rather unflattering to the Andhra chief minister — Emperor of Corruption.
What's more, the six-page memorandum also listed out how Naidu unethically encouraged defections from the YSRC, even alleging that 20-odd MLAs were bought. References to the Agrigold scam and the Telangana cash-for-votes scam were also included in the complaint to the prime minister, besides pleading with him again for special status for Andhra Pradesh, a promise made by former prime minister Manmohan Singh on the floor of the House.
The TDP was livid even though in politics, to show nervousness is usually considered not-so-smart a thing to do. But blame it on poor advice or sheer lack of political sense, TDP leaders almost immediately questioned Jagan's move to meet the prime minister. It was a silly question to ask given that Jagan is no political untouchable and as the Leader of Opposition, he has every right to seek an audience with the prime minister.
— YS Jagan Mohan Reddy (@ysjagan) May 10, 2017
It only betrayed the TDP's nervousness that Jagan was trying to build bridges with the BJP at a time when Naidu was not even in India. What's more, the TDP was caught unawares as the PMO's decision to grant time to Jagan was a last-minute one. That Jagan reportedly spoke to Modi one-on-one for 40 minutes, was enough to make TDP perspire, given that the party prides itself as an outfit that has its ear to the ground in New Delhi and is good at sniffing out political developments.
But was the TDP overreacting or was it justified in its criticism? To be fair to the TDP, it has enough reason to feel insecure because without a doubt, the meeting was not just about handing over a memorandum. Both the BJP and the YSRC intended to send across a message that neither were political untouchables for the other. This Jagan made clear by announcing that his party will support the NDA candidate in the Presidential Election.
All these years, both parties did not show any keenness to do political business with each other. While the BJP looked at Jagan as a tainted politician, who was embroiled in corruption cases, the YSRC prided itself as a secular party that enjoyed significant support among minorities and therefore, the BJP was anathema.
The meeting has meant that many in the YSRC can possibly begin to daydream.
First, the party has realised that the BJP, despite its lack of strength on the ground in Andhra and lacking a strong regional leader, brings other pluses to the table. The Modi name works in urban areas and its impressive victory in Uttar Pradesh and an urban civic body like Delhi has given it momentum. Second, if Jagan could convince Modi and Amit Shah to dump Naidu and tie-up with him, it will send the impression that he is seen as a clean leader. Third, Jagan could offer the BJP far more seats in the Lok Sabha election than Naidu would.
The TDP's argument is that all that Jagan is interested in is the Centre's help to get off the hook in cases that have been slapped against him by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
All this does not mean that the BJP will dump Naidu after just a meeting with Jagan. This is basically to send a message to the TDP not to take the BJP for granted.
In 2014, Naidu drove a hard bargain, almost pulling out of the alliance if the BJP stayed adamant on the number of seats it wanted to contest. The BJP wants to let Naidu know it is no longer the BJP of 2014, and will argue at least for more Lok Sabha seats to contest from a position of strength.
At the same time, the BJP also will rework its Andhra strategy. While Shah is working on activating the party's booth committees in the state, he will also be aware that actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan is no longer part of the NDA mix. His absence could cost the alliance critical votes among the Kapu community and also the youth. While Naidu would hope his son Nara Lokesh, who was made minister last month, would succeed in keeping the youth vote in the TDP kitty, the BJP would probably look closely at the probability of success.
Jagan's decision to woo the BJP also means bad news for the Congress. The party which was whitewashed in Andhra in 2014 after its decision to create Telangana, has no MP and MLA from the state. It has been trying hard to woo Jagan and convince him to do a ghar wapsi but YS Rajasekhara Reddy's son who was almost pushed out of the party, is not too keen. His decision to back the NDA at a time when Sonia Gandhi is trying to cobble together Opposition unity will not be music to Congress ears.
As far as the TDP is concerned, it cannot do much beyond fretting and fuming. Given that the the BJP has an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, Naidu cannot arm-twist Modi. Moreover, he needs to be on the right side of the BJP to get maximum funds for the residuary state.
It is ironic that the party that is the weakest of the three is the one that is being wooed by the two principal parties. It is not a position the BJP will mind one bit.
Updated Date: May 12, 2017 08:02 AM