TDP has given the BJP a long rope. It had made several representations to the Centre, underlining that Andhra needed more hand-holding.
N.T. Rama Rao was often derided as N.T. ‘Drama Rao’ for his penchant for theatrics, be it in his sartorial choices or oratorial flourish. His son-in-law and chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is not a patch on NTR in the acting department, but he certainly knows the value of working diligently on the script.
What played out Sunday in Vijayawada was a well-rehearsed script. At the heart of the Desam sob story is a tale of being ignored and humiliated. The MPs played their part, positioning themselves as the sole protectors of Andhra interests with the vernacular and national media providing the political potboiler with the oxygen of airtime.
The TDP’s official line of not hankering after power and willingness to quit the NDA was aimed at giving it the halo of being a martyr for the cause of Andhra Pradesh.
The inner circle around Naidu keeps using two words to describe his mood these days: “upset”’ and “angry”. They pooh-pooh Modi’s talk of ‘Team India’ and ‘cooperative federalism’ as empty slogans.
“It is not about BJP and TDP. It is also about Government of India and Government of Andhra Pradesh. The Centre has a responsibility towards a state that has lost a lot because of forced bifurcation,” said a leader whose counsel Naidu seeks on matters concerning the Union government.
Nearly four years after the TDP-BJP alliance won the elections to the Andhra Pradesh assembly and 17 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats from the state, the friendship has soured. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is accused of paying no heed to Andhra’s wishlist. The Union Budget completely ignoring the state is apparently the last straw.
From the TDP’s point of view, it has given the BJP a long rope. It had made several representations to everyone who mattered in the Union government, underlining that the bifurcated state needed more hand-holding. Of the Rs 10,000 crore needed for construction of phase one of capital Amaravati, the Centre has released just 25 per cent of the money. Polavaram irrigation project that Naidu sees as his passport to a second term in office, has seen Andhra spending over Rs 7,400 crore while receiving only Rs 4,300 crore from New Delhi. Officials claim work has almost come to a standstill in the past three months for want of funds. Andhra inherited a Rs 16,000 crore revenue deficit at the time of division in 2014 and has got only Rs, 4,100 crore from the Centre so far.
On 1 February, Naidu was glued to the television, watching Arun Jaitley’s Budget speech. By the time it ended, he was extremely angry, said a leader who met him soon after. Naidu went into a huddle, consulting senior party leaders and MPs via video conference.
“This marriage is not going to last, it is just a matter of time,” one of his close aides told me, emerging out of the meeting.
A video conference with TDP district presidents the following day, reaffirmed the mood within the party. They say that while the Congress divided united Andhra Pradesh in 2014 and delivered a body blow, the BJP has suffocated the residuary state of Andhra for funds, leading it to a slow death. Anonymous banners in TDP’s yellow colour, have sprung up in Guntur asking Naidu not to continue ties with the BJP.
The heat generated in Vijayawada, it seems, melted the frost of Delhi to an extent. The TDP voices crying foul in public had embarrassed the BJP. Rajnath Singh called Naidu in the middle of the meeting, softening the TDP supremo’s belligerent position. So for now, the TDP has decided to agitate inside Parliament to let the world know what it is up to. Simultaneously, they will work behind the scenes to secure concessions to Andhra.
But the TDP is not willing to say all is well. At least, not yet. The decision on whether to stay or pull out of the NDA may be gift wrapped as one taken in Andhra’s interest, the real reason will be political. For the past one year, TDP-BJP relations have been anything but smooth. State BJP leaders have thrown frequent barbs at the Naidu government and the TDP is convinced they have New Delhi’s approval.
The TDP gave a sense of its displeasure when it went with the opposition on the triple talaq bill in Parliament. And last week, Naidu said he is willing to walk out of the alliance, if the state BJP leaders were not reined in.
“Because of coalition dharma, we are keeping quiet. If they don’t want us, we will do ‘namaskaram’ and chart our own course,”’ said Naidu.
The political calculation is that just as attacking the Congress for unilaterally dividing the state helped the TDP win in 2014, making a villain out of the BJP and highlighting Telugu pride will help it win a second term next year. Naidu wants to convince the aggrieved Telugu that he tried his best but the BJP played spoilsport.
What helps him is YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy’s position. Jagan has attacked the TDP for its inability to get what is due to the state but refrained from criticising the BJP. That has led to suspicion that he is willing to do business with the BJP, after the elections.
As far as BJP is concerned, it would ideally not like to lose Naidu. Losing two allies — Shiv Sena and TDP — would earn it the tag of being a big bully that does not care for its coalition partners. But will the BJP lose sleep if Naidu chooses to cycle away? It does have Jagan, as a political stepney.
T.S. Sudhir is a freelance journalist and commentator who writes on the southern states.