NAIDU’S SOMERSAULT: Time now for Chandrababu Naidu to cozy up to Congress — after Congress said it would not press for PM post after LS polls

NEWS / NAIDU

Andhra Pradesh CM sees a window of opportunity to push his case for PM post.

VIJAYAWADA: Politicians, it is often argued, are worse than prostitutes. They do everything for money or other personal benefits. This might be true of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu too, as his shifting of alliance loyalty from the BJP-led NDA to the Congress-led UPA at a juncture close to the next Lok Sabha polls would show. Naidu posed for photographs with Congress president Rahul Gandhi, formalising the new alliance, in New Delhi Thursday.

Chandrababu Naidu does not need more money, if what his family already has in its possession is reckoned. He, or his family, has enough of it.

Naidu, however, will not be happy with what he has. Had it been so, he would not have come this far, having inherited a family property of no more than a few acres of agricultural land. He obviously is not happy with being the ruler of a state too. He’s having his eyes fixed on distant Delhi. He wants to be anchored in Delhi to straddle national politics, so that son Lokesh whom he has already groomed to step into his CM shoes, can get the throne down the Vindhyas. If he can’t be King in Delhi, he can be satisfied with a role he played to for a while in the past, that of a king-maker.

Naidu seems more inspired by the fact that the Congress party has said it would not insist on the PM post if it did not get a lot of seats. For now, Naidu’s plan is to visit the national capital at least once a week until the next Lok Sabha polls take place. After the results are out, Naidu will either call the shots there, or scoot from the scene.

For now, he has hit the gold-pot. Rahul Gandhi has shown a willingness to have Naidu and his Telugu Desam party on his side in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. This should help the Congress find its feet not just in Andhra Pradesh but also neighbouring Telangana. Both the states now have very little of the tricolour culture, leave alone a mass base. That got eroded over time, thanks also due to the leadership being handed over to men with no popularity, a reason why the choice fell on them in the first instance. N Kiran Kumar Reddy, for one, he having had western education and little understanding of Telugu language. Pedigree alone does not help in today’s politics. That he as chief minister had no ear to the ground meant the Congress went down to ground zero.

Since there are a lot of Telugu-speaking people from southern and eastern districts settled in Hyderabad and elsewhere in Telangana, Naidu still has some relevance in a land now lorded over by K Chandrashekhar Rao and his Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Congress there can add life to Naidu’s TDP, and vice versa.

For the past 30 years, Naidu fought the Congress and sided with the NDA. Problems started after Narendra Modi took charge of the BJP and the government in New Delhi. Naidu tried to scout around in the capital, seeking to throw his weight around as being the leader of a prominent NDA ally. For a while things went well, but Modi is not Atal Behari Vajpayee. After a while, Naidu found the atmosphere in Delhi suffocating and reduced the frequency of his visits. In Modi’s Delhi, Naidu felt like a fish ending up on the sand.

To start with Naidu started pressing for Special Category Status (SCS) for newly formed Andhra Pradesh state. He said that like a newborn baby, AP required a lot of assistance and support from the Centre. Among things that were promised under the UPA, but not in writing, was the Special Category Status. It meant state would get special and liberal provisions for start of industries, including tax waivers. More funds could come from the Centre. But, Modi had a problem. Odisha and Bihar were demanding the same for the past few years. If every state cited backwardness as a reason for the SCS, once this is granted to one state, the Centre would have serious problems. More states were bound to raise the demand. Modi altogether removed such a provision and made it clear there will no more be any SCS to any state. The matter rests there.

Naidu became the first chief minister of newly carved Andhra Pradesh in 2014. On his part, Naidu had gone around spreading word that he was planning to build a state capital which would be the world’s most modern and India’s best. Naidu cast his net far and wide and called in a Singapore consortium to plan and build the new capital city, Amaravati on the banks of River Krishna in Guntur district. Those were the days of bombast. What he didn’t say was where could the money for his ambitions comes from. In the end, the state government functions from make-shift offices and partly furnished rooms in the new Secretariat building.

What Naidu did as CM, and did effectively, was to introduce a land pooling system and take land required for the new capital from farmers. He had the muscle-flexers with him in the ruling party to expedite the process. Many farmers who gave away their land now say, though, that they were virtually fooled or cheated.

Naidu’s popularity in the state is on a fast downhill ride. This is because he has not been able to fulfil the grand promises he made in the last elections. The state is failing to progress with the speed that Naidu claimed he would ensure. Opposition leader Jaganmohan Reddy, son of deceased former Congress chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, is seeking to give Naidu a run for his money. But, for the common man, choosing between Naidu and Jagan is like opting for either the devil or the deep sea. Jagan sits plum on wealth his father helped him create during YSR’s innings as chief minister. Prominently, he is fighting a slew of corruption or Disproportionate Assets (assets disproportionate to known sources of income) cases, and an association with the NDA or BJP could be of help to him. YSR as CM had died in a helicopter crash in 2009 and Jagan formed the YSR Congress two years later by breaking himself from the Congress. The large number of pro-poor steps initiated by YSR, a Christian by faith from Kadapa, had helped him win mass support, a part of which got transferred to the party his son formed.

The BJP is not a major force in Andhra Pradesh, nor is it largely noticeable in Telangana. There are no credible leaders with mass support, for the saffron party, as is the case with all southern states other than Karnataka, where it had a BS Yeddyurappa and his Lingayat community to back it to the hilt. Last assembly polls in Karnataka proved that even that was not enough for the BJP to gain power. IHN=NN

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