With unhappy BJP stuck in an unhappy marriage with TDP, split among coalition partners seems inevitable

'Coalition dharma' is a phrase often used by both the Telugu Desam Party and the BJP in Andhra Pradesh. In what is a pointer to the trust deficit and souring of relations between the two partners in power — in New Delhi as well as Amaravati, both parties accuse the other of violating the coalition dharma.

If Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's decision not to allot funds for various projects in Andhra Pradesh in the Union Budget was the final straw for the TDP, forcing the party to make a noise about it, the BJP rewinds the clock to September 2017 when the elections to the Kakinada Municipal Corporation took place. The BJP was irked by the TDP reportedly encouraging Independents in seats allotted to it. Three pro-TDP Independents won in the nine seats where the BJP was contesting and supported the TDP after the results.

"What happened in Kakinada was unfortunate. But I would think it may have been done without Chandrababu Naidu being aware of it. I suspect that a mischievous lot of local TDP leaders was responsible for harming BJP's chances," says Vishnu Kumar Raju, leader of the BJP legislature party in the Andhra Assembly, giving the chief minister the benefit of doubt.

File image of Narendra Modi and Chandrababu Naidu. PTI

File image of Narendra Modi and Chandrababu Naidu. PTI

There is a huge difference in the interpersonal relations between the BJP and TDP in Telangana and in Andhra. The BJP was quick to dump the TDP after a poor show in 2014, pointing out that Naidu's outfit is seen as an Andhra party in Telangana. In contrast, the TDP in Andhra, as if in revenge mode, makes no effort to conceal who is the boss.

Which is why the feeling among many BJP leaders is that sticking around with the TDP will not help the party grow. Just as it did not in the late 1990s when Naidu joined hands with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA. Senior BJP leader and MLC Soma Veerraju accuses the TDP of even ensuring that Central schemes get no prominence.

"Take the example of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Will you find Prime Minister Narendra Modi's photograph in the backdrop? No. Instead you will only have Naidu and Municipal Administration Minister P Narayana's pictures," points out Veerraju.

The TDP's decision to raise the decibel levels against the BJP was entirely political. At the heart of the move is the feedback from the ground — both offline and online — that a case of neglect of Andhra's interests is strongly established in the public psyche. The feedback from north coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions is not encouraging at all. The BJP got a taste of public ire when its state unit's Facebook page was littered with comments critical of the Budget.

The TDP feels boxed in because even though the BJP shares power with it in Amaravati, the onus of explaining or even justifying the stepmotherly treatment is on Naidu. Which is why if anything is certain after Naidu pressed the pause button on the friction between the two parties after Sunday's meeting, it is that the exit from the NDA is inevitable.

"The decision to exit has at best been postponed. We have to go back to the people to tell them we are not party to the letting-down of Andhra by the Centre. The perception is very strong on the ground and it is indefensible. The benefits of being in alliance with the BJP are not visible. Having to explain has become a burden for us," says a senior member of Naidu's inner circle.

This will create a rather peculiar situation where the TDP despite being the party in power, will also endeavour to occupy the Opposition space. The party will make the BJP the villain of the piece, pointing out that Modi during the 2014 election campaign had promised to help build a capital city better than most cities in India.

The contrast will be made against what has been provided to Karnataka in the budget. Rs 17,000 crore was promised for Bengaluru's suburban rail network system and this, the TDP believes, is only because the BJP thinks it is in with a chance to come to power in the forthcoming election. With no such stakes in Andhra and its state unit having little political heft, the BJP can afford to neglect the state and hope to do business with whoever gets more Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

The state unit of the BJP is in a Catch-22 situation, not knowing if Naidu is friend or foe. If the alliance somehow survives, Naidu is certain to veto candidates who have been critical of his government in the past four years. If the tie-up collapses, the chances of BJP candidates winning become remote, which may lead at least some senior leaders to look for greener pastures.

But is the central leadership of the BJP in a mood to pander to Naidu's demands beyond a point? The TDP thinks the choice of Rajnath Singh to make the call is an indication. When the point of contention is the Budget, ideally it should have been Jaitley who should have reached out to Naidu. Rajnath, the TDP believes, has no locus standi in the standoff, and served at best only to ensure a temporary cooling-off period.

But having exhausted his ammunition over the raw deal in the Budget, Naidu will need a fresh issue to stage a walkout. His party's calculation is that even the YSR Congress will now be wary of moving in with the BJP. This will mean even the BJP will take away a bit of the anti-TDP vote in the urban constituencies and even that marginal vote share in a tight contest will mean Advantage TDP.

Updated Date: Feb 06, 2018 10:27 AM

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