Chandrababu Naidu is caught in a Hamletian dilemma — to be or not to be in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is simmering with discontent over the manner in which Arun Jaitley's 2018 Union Budget treated Andhra Pradesh.
It's holding crucial meetings on Friday and Saturday, yielding speculation in the political circles on the fate of the ruling alliance in the state. Naidu has openly displayed his anger and frustration over the raw deal meted out to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh despite NDA ruling in both the state and the Centre.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also party to the promises made by Naidu to the people of the truncated state in the run-up to the elections in 2014. In fact, the present finance minister, who was then the Opposition leader in Rajya Sabha, had vociferously defended the interests of the state along with the present vice-president, M Venkaiah Naidu, when the state bifurcation act came up for debate in the House.
Yet, not just the ruling TDP, there is a widespread sentiment in the polity and society of Andhra Pradesh that the state is not getting its due under the Modi dispensation.
Naidu personally submitted the state's wish list to the finance minister during his pre-budget discussions with him. But, the budget speech has not even mentioned the state. The TDP leadership strongly feels that this is nothing but undermining the political stature of their leader who was the cynosure of national politics much before Modi was elevated to the national political stage.
The key demands of the state like funds for the Polavaram Project, filling the revenue deficit as prescribed by the bifurcation act, railway zone for Visakhapatnam, steel plant for Kadapa district, special assistance measures in lieu of promised special category status that shall allow for greater central share in the development schemes, fiscal support for the construction of capital Amaravati, etc.
Surprisingly, none of them figured in the budget speech, creating a massive hostile perception among the electorate that the state is getting step-motherly treatment under the NDA dispensation. Naidu is seriously wary of the possible political fallout of such a perceived discrimination in the Union Budget 2018.
Sources close to Naidu feel that Modi is personally suspicious of the chief minister's national political credentials. The electoral trends reveal that Modi's popularity is waning while Rahul Gandhi is yet to fully capitalise on this. This throws up the possibility for a non-BJP and non-Congress leader to compete for the top political post in the country.
With the re-entry of Nitish Kumar into the NDA fold, the demise of J Jayalalithaa and the decline of Mayawati, Naidu and Mamata Banerjee remain the contenders from the so-called federal front, if it evolves. It is not that such a possibility is around the corner.
But, a leader like Modi cannot even accept remote chances of any competition for him within the party, alliance or outside. The TDP sources also state that Naidu too has prime ministerial ambitions. He is more acceptable and has better national stature than any other regional satraps.
He had not accepted the offer during the United Front regime. But now, with his son and the heir apparent ready to take over, Naidu has no inhibition to move to Delhi politics, opine leaders who have been close to him for decades. This political possibility is behind the lack of proper chemistry between Modi and Naidu.
Meanwhile, the BJP is pursuing a policy of dual containment of regional parties. While sailing with TDP, the saffron brigade has also reached out to the Opposition leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy. The YSR Congress has lent an unconditional support to BJP-led NDA nominees in both the presidential and vice-presidential elections, despite the presence of its arch-rival TDP in the alliance.
The BJP is in a love-hate relationship with the TDP, though the two parties share power in the state and at the Centre. Even as the party shares ministerial berths in Naidu's Cabinet, a section of state BJP leaders never misses an opportunity to criticise the TDP regime.
Jaganmohan Reddy is certainly an option for BJP if it is to estrange Naidu. The acquittal of DMK leader in 2G spectrum case, the lack of any progress on the cases in regard to Reddy and the conviction of BJP adversary Lalu Prasad Yadav and BJP stalwart Subramanian Swamy calling Rajini, whom the party is wooing, as corrupt reveal the big picture in Indian politics, though, it is technically wrong to make a political reading of the judicial process.
The fact that the Andhra Pradesh BJP leaders never criticise Reddy even while some of them attack their ally Naidu is a clear indication of BJP's policy of dual alignment with regional parties to derive maximum political mileage. The BJP, in fact, hoped to embrace the matinee idol Pawan Kalyan, who campaigned for the TDP-BJP combine in 2014. Pawan himself revealed recently that BJP president Amit Shah had requested him to merge his Jana Sena Party into BJP. No BJP leader so far denied these claims of the Jana Sena chief. As the BJP is shrewdly doing its political maths, Naidu cannot remain silent.
Alliance with Modi was the critical factor in reaping the mandate in 2014 as the margin between TDP and YSR Congress was a mere two percent. Naidu is unable to come to a firm conclusion on the cost of severing ties with the BJP, especially when the Assembly elections are coterminous with Lok Sabha elections and the possible impact of the national political mood cannot be completely denied. That too with the opposition YSR Congress ready to have a tacit understanding with the BJP, Naidu is doubly cautious.
However, with the recent decline of BJP, evident from the Gujarat polls and more so in the recent Rajasthan bypoll, the TDP leadership is toying with the idea of estranging BJP.
The author is a former MLC of Telangana and editor of The Hans India.
Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 18:52 PM