K. Ramachandra Murthy
Is Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, taking the AICC president, Rahul Gandhi, for a ride? The wily Chandrababu is taking advantage of Rahul’s good faith and a lack of guile. He appears to have successfully sold to Rahul Gandhi the idea that contesting separately in Andhra Pradesh in the forthcoming general elections will ultimately benefit the Congress party. Raghuveera Reddy, APCC chief, told reporters on Wednesday that his party would field candidates in all the 175 Assembly constituencies and 25 Lok Sabha seats. The arrangement suggested by the chief minister appears untenable and illogical. How can the two parties contest separately and still work together to dislodge the BJP? What should be the attitude of the Congressmen in AP towards the TDP? Raghuveera was very critical of news reports which suggested an indirect cooperation between the two parties. It appeared to be impotent anger which is on account of the failure to have an alliance with the TDP.
The shift in TDP’s stand is the result of chief minister’s perception that an alliance in AP between his party and the Congress would be a disaster. Although the TDP has been working overtime to portray Modi as the villain who refused to concede to the demand for special category status, the popular anger against the Congress is yet to subside. There is also a growing sentiment against Modi.
The latest U-turn by N Chandrababu Naidu to say no to a tie-up with the Congress, whose leaders were publicly abused for four years, is in keeping with his self-centred and opportunistic politics.
It may not make much difference to the Congress whether the alliance is on or off, since the party would not gain much in AP either way. However, at least a dozen Congress leaders, like Raghuveera Reddy, have been utterly disappointed by the moves made by the chief minister. The impression given by Chandrababu Naidu to local leaders of the Congress party was that he would be leaving about 20 Assembly seats and five to six Lok Sabha seats for senior Congress leaders who have enough clout to win the elections with the support of the TDP.
Raghuveera Reddy thought that his win in Anantapur district is certain if the pact with the TDP is in place. Without a pact, the Congress leaders have to fight with all their might to save deposits. Senior leaders like Pallam Raju, Kishore Chandra Dev, Kiran Kumar Reddy, Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy, Panabaka Lakshmi and Chinta Mohan have been eagerly waiting for the announcement of an alliance in AP on the lines of Telangana. Their hopes have been dashed with APCC chief’s media conference where he made it clear that there is not going to be any tie-up with the TDP.
Against this background, some of the Congress leaders are planning to join the TDP while the rest are looking towards the YSRCP. Kotla Surya Prakash Reddy, son of former chief minister, Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy, is preparing to join the TDP. Others will have to decide which way to go. But how could Chandrababu Naidu manage to convince Rahul Gandhi that not having a tie-up in AP is a good idea after the Congress suffered heavily due to its alliance with the TDP, particularly due to the extensive campaign by Chandrababu, in Telangana Assembly elections?
Chandrababu Naidu went to Delhi the other day to attend the wedding of Union Minister Harsh Vardhan’s son. There were stories in the friendly media back home that he would be meeting a number of Opposition leaders in his endeavour to mobilise forces to build a non-BJP front in order to oust Prime Minister Narendra Modi from power. The TDP supremo did not meet any other Opposition leader except Rahul Gandhi. He showed the Congress president the details of the voting pattern in the last general elections in AP.
The loss for the TDP would be more than the gain for the Congress in case there is a tie-up in coming elections since the TDP vote is unlikely to transfer to the Congress candidates and the Congress sympathisers would not vote for TDP candidates. That was the argument put forward by the TDP chief.
Whatever the number of seats left for the Congress would be lost to the YSRCP. Instead, all the Lok Sabha seats won by the TDP would anyway be in the Congress kitty. The TDP would try for an alliance with Jana Sena of Pawan Kalyan and win a majority of seats again in the Assembly, besides bagging a large number of LS seats.
Rahul Gandhi, who has no great expectations from his colleague in AP, is concerned with the numbers he would command in LS. Chandrababu Naidu had mesmerised Rahul Gandhi when they first met in Delhi for a one-on-one discussion where the Congress president was told that he would be made prime minister by mobilising all the Opposition parties in his favour. Rahul must have thought it is better to follow Chandrababu Naidu’s plan of action and asked the State leaders to go it alone. By doing so, Rahul hopes that the TDP would get more seats for him at least from AP.
The logic, though perverse, was bought by Rahul Gandhi. Thus, the politics of opportunistic alliances practised by Chandrababu Naidu would hurt the Congress in AP as it did in Telangana Assembly elections. Rahul Gandhi as no option, after all.
The AP chief minister had reportedly asked his party leaders not to say a word against actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan. He has been assiduously courting the power star once again as the elections are fast approaching and he needs to quickly settle for a partner. In 2014, it may be recalled, Chandrababu Naidu invited himself for a breakfast at Pawan Kalyan’s residence in Hyderabad one fine morning well before elections and sealed a secret pact with him.
Jana Sena, led by the popular actor, is perhaps the only political party in the country which did not contest a single seat, but canvassed for another party in all the constituencies. Modi, Chandrababu and Pawan shared the stage a number of times in united AP. Modi’s popularity and Pawan’s charisma helped Chandrababu to steer the TDP past the halfway mark in the elections. Without their helping hand, the TDP would have lost the elections which it won by a slender majority of five lakh votes, overall.
The TDP was part of the NDA at the national level and made the BJP a partner in the government in AP. Four years later, the TDP walked out of the NDA alliance and started building a non-BJP (or is it anti-Modi?) alliance as a part of which he travelled to Delhi to greet Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the party to demolish which the TDP was launched by NT Rama Rao, at the latter’s residence.
Pawan Kalyan, on his part, became somewhat critical of TDP rule. He called Lokesh, the chief minister’s son, corrupt, though he did not repeat or follow it up. The power star has been going about AP in fits, trying to project himself as a third option, an alternative leader to Chandrababu Naidu and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the Leader of the Opposition in AP.
As the TDP had never fought any election without an alliance, it thought of the Congress in 2019 in place of the BJP of 2014. Since Rahul Gandhi declared that he would attest his first signature, after becoming prime minister, on the file granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh, the party is no more untouchable, averred Chandrababu Naidu justifying his tie-up with the Grand Old Party in Telangana elections.
Why does he want to distance now from a party that has assured the TDP of special category status? What went wrong between Telangana Assembly elections and now? Chandrababu Naidu and his Delhi representatives can walk into Rahul’s residence any time of their choice which the AP Congress leaders cannot dream of. They have to wait at Andhra Bhavan for days for an audience with the Congress president.
Yet, Chandrababu Naidu does not prefer a tie-up with the Congress party for the simple reason that the national party has not been able to get over the negative image it had in the last elections, though one national channel’s survey says the vote percentage of the Congress in AP has gone up to 9. At one stage, he thought of a mahaghatbandhan a la grand coalition in Telangana, taking the Congress, Jana Sena and the Left parties into TDP’s embrace. But the Telangana experience has shown that the number of seats the main party (the Congress there) offered to junior partners are as good as lost.
Four parties, in the AP context, would ask at least for 40 seats of which they cannot win more than ten. It amounts to offering 30 seats to the YSRCP on a platter. That was the reason why he jettisoned the proposal and thought instead of going to the polls only with Jana Sena and Left parties leaving the Congress to its fate. He has no sentiments.
Local Congress leaders cannot criticise the TDP during elections even though they are on their own since their boss is dependent on the TDP president to become prime minister. The BJP leaders in the united AP used to feel the same way when Chandrababu Naidu used to deal with Vajpayee and Advani ignoring the local satraps. So, the Congress in AP is neither here nor there. These developments naturally frustrated Raghuveera Reddy who has been carrying on with the thankless job of the APCC president.
What do the latest twists and turns in AP politics indicate? A political party bereft of any ideology and principles can enter or exit any alliance at will according to its convenience. Ethics and moral values have no place in today’s power politics. The supreme leader’s interests, more than party’s, are paramount. What was done yesterday and what is being done today can be diametrically opposite and drastically different. One can do anything to win and do anything after the win. Spend any amount of money to win in elections and earn as much and more after the win. This has been the politics known to and practised by Chandrababu Naidu for four decades. He played the game in his own style and for his own sake with NT Rama Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi and now with Rahul Gandhi.
Chandrababu Naidu is one leader who never gives up. He knows pretty well that his rival YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is at the height of popularity, with the wave he created with his historic walkathon. The chief minister is neck-deep in problems in AP but would try to play politics in the neighbouring Telangana and at the national level.
TRS leader Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao (KTR) was sounded by Chandrababu Naidu if it was possible to have an alliance between the TDP and TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samiti) when the dead body of Harikrishna was still there. He is 24X7 politician. Except the YSRCP, he had tie-up with every party in the vicinity at one time or the other. The beauty with Chandrababu Naidu’s politics is that while doing all the dirty things, he would preach virtues of good politics and go on blaming the Opposition for things it did not do.
For instance, he used to call the Congress and YSRCP as mother Congress and child Congress (Talli Congress and Pilla Congress) as long as he was sailing with the BJP in NDA. After leaving NDA, he started blaming the YSRCP for having a secret understanding with the BJP, the same party he lived with for four years. The TDP leaders described the BJP as B for BJP, J for Jagan and P for Pawan Kalyan. Now he is winking at Pawan. He is capable of committing any political crime with impunity thanks to the friendly media which never questions his foolhardy decisions on making or breaking alliances. Chandrababu Naidu’s flip, flop, flip...would go on.