By Kommineni Srinivasa Rao
The Opposition Telugu Desam Party has had its unique place in Andhra Pradesh politics and survived over the past forty years. However, the questionable part is whether it has retained its goodwill among people after all these years.
The TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu has succeeded in leaving the party without any alternative for or in the Telugu Desam which was founded by the late NT Rama Rao. Not only did Chandrababu overthrow NTR -the party founder, he also turned his family members into dummies, for his own benefit. Even if someone tried to become active, he took care to see that they did not cross his path and subdued them. The fact that he became the Chief Minister three times is quite an achievement itself. To assess a leader like Chandrababu one has to delve into his past and know how he became NTR’s son-in-law and climbed up the ranks in the party.
When the actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao founded the Telugu Desam Party, Chandrababu was in Congress. In 1978, he won from the Chandragiri constituency on the Congress ticket. Even here it was senior leaders like NG Ranga and Rajagopal Naidu who are said to have helped in giving him the Congress ticket. Chandrababu, who was a student leader during his university days went on to become a senior Congressman and was able to win because of the Indira Wave.
He succeeded in lobbying and become a cabinet minister in Congress. If that was a turning point, he falls in the eyes of NTR, and becoming his son-in-law was another.
When NTR started the TDP, Chandrababu is said to have told the party high command that he was ready to contest against his father-in-law. But in 1983, Chandrababu lost by a huge margin. Then as soon as NTR came to power he made attempts to join the TDP. Several senior leaders tried to thwart his attempts. But NTR due to pressure from within the family had to take Chandrababu into the party which was another turning point.
Since then, he has made every attempt to gain hold over the party reigns. NTR also began to depend on him trusting him as he was his son-in-law.
However, Chandrababu did not contest in the 1985 elections and instead was appointed to the Karshaka Parishad which was founded by NTR. His claim that he had given it as a dowry had become a controversy at that point in time. Chandrababu made plans to gain control over the agriculture and allied departments. However, that was short-lived and Chandrababu was forced to resign following a court ruling against his appointment.
The defeat of the Telugu Desam Party in 1989 and Chandrababu strategically leaving his home turf- Chandragiri and winning from the Kuppam constituency was somewhat beneficial for the leader. The TDP was in the opposition during that term and Naidu managed to get more MLAs into his camp. NTR’s other son-in-law Daggubati Venkateswara Rao had his own set of followers, but he was more of fair politics which obviously did not benefit him. At that time, Chandrababu became the General Secretary of the party. He succeeded in gaining a foothold over the party cadre and key leaders at that time.
When the TDP was in power till 1989, he managed to turn even a newspaper like Eenadu, which had published cartoons against Chandrababu, in his favour. He used to visit the media baron Ramoji Rao regularly and pretend that he was following his advice. With that, Ramoji Rao, who was at loggerheads with the NTR, started favouring Chandrababu in the TDP.
When in opposition, NTR would not attend the Assembly sessions. Chandrababu at that time formed a group with K Vidyadhara Rao, A Madhav Reddy, and Ashok Gajapathi Raju. Daggubati's election to the Lok Sabha at that time also came in favour of Chandrababu. Whenever they created any ruckus in the Assembly the ruling party would suspend the TDP MLAs and also NTR, much to his chagrin. NTR in protest announced that he was boycotting the Assembly session which ... came in favour of Chandrababu and allowed full control of the party in the House.
NTR remarrying Lakshmi Parvathi for the second time during the 1994 elections created a sensation in those days. The likes of Chandrababu were afraid that the party would lose the elections which were also echoed by the head of a major newspaper. NTR started having suspicions about Chandrababu’s moves and is believed to have expressed his angst at him. Not worried about that he is said to have sent his camp members to Lakshmi Parvati for favours and to get tickets for his coterie members.
When NTR and Lakshmi Parvati went on an election campaign together, they had immense popularity among the people. The promises made by the NTR also impressed the people and TDP and its allies together got over 250 seats. Congress failed to secure even the opposition status. Lakshmi Parvathi gained importance but her lack of political experience was a plus point for Chandrababu and his camp. He was fortunate that two key portfolios of finance and revenue in the government were entrusted to him.
At that time, a vernacular paper supporting Chandrababu was posting false propaganda directly against Lakshmi Parvati and indirectly against NTR. They wrote that Lakshmi Parvati would be NTR's political successor and he was considering giving her the Deputy Chief Minister post as well. There were also rumours that the two were going to London together. It is not surprising that NTR was vilified by the TDP more than Congress.
After that NTR conducted a few welfare programs at the doorstep of the people in the Srikakulam district and he had apparently diminished the importance of the community close to Chandrababu there. That triggered his next move where Chandrababu immediately called for members close to him at a hotel in Visakhapatnam and held discussions there. Next, he came to Hyderabad and held talks with the MLAs in the Secretariat. Despite all this, NTR was clueless about the situation and the dangers that lurked behind his post. He was under the assumption that members close to Lakshmi Parvathi and Chandrababu would clash.
But then Chandrababu and his team played their moves so fast and succeeded in shifting the MLAs to Hotel Viceroy which was quite unexpected. A TDP MLA, once said that he had no idea what was going on and that he was in the Viceroy's hotel even before he could figure out the equations going against NTR.
People like Kotla Vijayabhaskar Reddy suggested that the House should be dissolved as decided by the NTR Cabinet, however, the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao did not agree. Despite the dismissal of five ministers, including Chandrababu, their expulsion from the party fold, the party MLAs elected Chandrababu, which was subsequently approved by Governor Krishnakanth.
There was severe criticism against Nadendla Bhasker Rao for backstabbing NTR in 1984, but it is believed that NTR was more hurt after his own son-in-law Chandrababu staged a coup in 1995.
NTR shared with the media that he had been betrayed by his family members and had left everyone saddened over his fate. If the insults where he was subjected to slippers thrown at him at the Viceroy Hotel were not enough, Chandrababu snatching away the party funds and the symbol from him was the last straw. They even obtained an order through the courts in their favor which left NTR even more dejected. Not the one to die down over these adversities, NTR formed another party of his own, and to show his true fighting spirit, he chose the lion as his party symbol. But his untimely death due to a massive heart attack in the early hours of January 18 in 1996 sent shock waves in political circles throughout the country. One can only term his death a historical tragedy when a charismatic personality like NTR ultimately suffered at the hands of people close to him. Another interesting point to note was that Chandrababu was not so popular among the people and was recognized as NTR’s son-in-law only. Chandrababu overcame that tag with great difficulty and through coalition politics, he was able to consistently hold some position or the other. He goes into the history of being the longest-serving Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition, not only in erstwhile United Andhra Pradesh but also after the bifurcation of the State.
He teamed up with the Left parties in 1996 and 1998, but jumped into the NDA in 1998 and supported the BJP which worked well for him. In 1999, thanks to the Vajpayee Wave and the Kargil War effect worked in his favour he was able to win. The Congress came to power twice in the centre and in between the State of AP was bifurcated. Chandrababu joined the BJP in time for the 2014 elections. Even as the young YSR Congress leader YS Jagan was coming up, Naidu was able to return to power thanks to the support of Narendra Modi and Pawan Kalyan. In 2019 when Chandrababu did the infamous U-turn and left the BJP, the TDP contested for the first time on its own but was defeated by the YSRCP.
There is no one better than Chandrababu who is capable of jumping alliances and retracting from his word and decisions regarding policies. Chandrababu’s faction badly humiliated NTR and had even released a cassette abusing the leader. But they were later seen claiming a stake in NTR’s political legacy the moment he died while feigning complete ignorance about the release of the cassette.
While the late NTR was known as straight forward political leader sans any deceitfulness, Chandrababu Naidu is known for his political conspiracies and ever-changing changing tactics. If lying was an art in politics, then Chandrababu was a master at it. It is noteworthy that Naidu, who was trying to gain political advantage by taking the name of NTR, could not name a single district after the leader during his reign. This was achieved by his political opponent YS Jagan Mohan Reddy would name a district after the late NTR which is located near Vijayawada.
The TDP meanwhile has been completely wiped out in Telangana even when Naidu makes tall claims that he had developed Hyderabad. His focus now lies in AP only. That too was quashed when he faced a massive defeat in the hands of YS Jagan. Not expecting such a humiliating defeat he moved on to the role of the Opposition leader once again and started maligning the YS Jagan-led government with the support of the 'Yellow Media' close to him.
Whether Chandrababu has kept the Telugu Desam Party afloat or has succeeded in turning it into a party without values, is left for one to analyze on their own...