There are three chief ministers currently who must be living in denial — Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, Andhra Pradesh’s Jagan Mohan Reddy, and Telangana’s K. Chandrashekar Rao. They can’t acknowledge their inevitable nemesis, the BJP.
In their show of loyalty to the BJP-led government at the Centre, these three can outmatch many NDA chief ministers such as Bihar’s Nitish Kumar or Meghalaya’s Conrad Sangma. Only last week, they were instrumental in the passage of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha — arguably the first time the NDA could steamroll such a highly controversial and contentious legislation in the Upper House of Parliament.
Yet, the writing on the wall is clear. Congress’ Kamal Nath, TMC’s Mamata Banerjee, and CPI(M)’s Pinarayi Vijayan may be getting saffron nightmares, but the trio of Patnaik, Reddy, and KCR have no less reason to worry.
BJP eyes three states
The BJP is keenly watching Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana as it draws up its expansion plan. A day before Jagan’s YSR Congress Party voted for the RTI (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav was in East Godavari district, castigating the YSRCP and declaring the BJP as the “future” of Andhra.
With the Congress votebank subsumed by the YSRCP, the BJP is looking to dislodge the TDP as the principal opposition party. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has long predicted the expansion of the BJP in Telangana. And Odisha was there for the BJP to take in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, if it wasn’t for Patnaik’s dexterous moves and BJP pointsman Dharmendra Pradhan’s mishandling of the state unit and questionable candidate selection.
Though the BJP drew a blank in Andhra in the Lok Sabha election, it won 4 of the 17 seats (as against the Congress’ 3) in Telangana and 8 of the 21 in Odisha. These states, with 63 Lok Sabha seats, offer the best opportunities — along with West Bengal— for the BJP’s expansion. In all these states, the Congress has ceded its space (and traditional vote bank) to regional parties. The political vacuum is waiting to be filled by the BJP that is already in power in 16 states.
Odisha roadmap clear
Patnaik recently gifted away a Rajya Sabha seat to the BJP by supporting ex-IAS officer Ashiwini Vaishnav’s candidature. Vaishnav had approached the BJP seeking a Rajya Sabha berth with the assurance of the BJD’s support. The ex-bureaucrat enjoys a good rapport with V.K. Pandian, private secretary to the chief minister, who is de facto No 2.
Yet, say BJP insiders, the party high command has a clear roadmap for Odisha. They claim that the BJP had gone slow in the state from July-August 2018 following “feelers” from Patnaik about a pre-poll alliance. Though going strong in the state, the BJP was ready to grab any chance to ensure its return for a second term in Delhi. So, it waited for six months for Patnaik to take things further, but in vain. It was only after his writer sister, Gita Mehta, declined the Padma Shri award in January that a bitter BJP swung into action again.
The BJP is now keenly and curiously watching developments in Odisha where an ailing chief minister has left the government and the party to be run by his private secretary Pandian, who has got an able ally in officer on special duty (OSD) Dhirendra Sambhaji Kutey, an IPS officer. BJD legislators and other leaders are uncared-for and fidgety.
High Andhra, Telangana hopes
Ram Madhav has good reasons to project the BJP as Andhra Pradesh’s future even though it sounds a tad ambitious for a party that drew a blank in the state in the Lok Sabha elections. There is no Congress worth the name in the state and the Telugu Desam Party is staring at an existential crisis.
In Telangana, the Congress remains the principal opposition party but the BJP’s vote bank has seen a three-fold rise from assembly election last December to the Lok Sabha election — from 7 per cent to 20 per cent. The BJP has already declared that party president Amit Shah will tour Telangana every month as part of its ‘Mission 2023’.
Naveen Patnaik, Jagan Reddy and KCR must be feeling the BJP breathing down their necks. But can they stop sleeping with the enemy? Very unlikely. Splurging money on populist schemes and programmes, they must indulge the Centre for funds’ transfer, be it in the form of tax devolution or grants in aid or special assistance. Equally importantly, no one wants the parrots to be released from the cage by their masters in Delhi.