Even as they speak about ease-of-doing-business and reforms, both Naidu and Modi are now pursuing populist measures.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu is a prototype of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in many ways. He did years ago all that Modi is trying to do now, and succeeded partially. “I was ahead of times,” he said, talking about his first stint as chief minister from 1995 to 2004.
When he assumed office after deposing his father-in-law NTR, Naidu hired American consultants for image-building, a la Modi.
The TDP chief had little going for him when he started his tenure as CM – He had no oratory skills like NTR’s, was not a crowd-puller, had no mass following, and no charisma, nor was he ever known for his administrative qualities as a minister. In fact, he took the CM’s chair saddled with a glaring minus, the tag of traitor and backstabber.
His subsequent transformation was dramatic. Gone was his rustic image, and he sported a goatee to give himself an intellectual look. He marketed himself as the most modern chief minister India had ever produced, and declared he was more like the state’s chief executive officer. He began to be called the “laptop chief minister”, and rubbed shoulders with the rich and mighty.
The next step was to develop contacts in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum to market himself abroad. He fully exploited the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and the Federation of Indian Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and their public relations mechanism. Keen to invite industrialists to the state, he was quick to offer them land and other infrastructure with a promise: “I am only a call away.”
Naidu jumped onto the reform bandwagon after 1991. He also started talking of development, a byword Modi borrowed a decade later. He was the first Indian politician to discover the potential of the IT industry and promoted it as a means to eradicate poverty and create jobs.
Hyderabad, the capital of united Andhra Pradesh, soon emerged as a global IT hotspot. When Bill Gates looked outside the United States to build Microsoft’s first offshore development centre, Naidu offered him Hyderabad, an important milestone in his efforts to build an IT empire in Andhra Pradesh. Other big IT names – Oracle, Dell and later Facebook and Google – followed.
Naidu soon established contact with another Bill – the then US President Bill Clinton – and, through his contacts and salesmanship, convinced him to choose Hyderabad as one of the stops on his visit to India in March 2000.
In terms of striking a strategic alliance with the Centre, his chunk of MPs gave him the strength to bargain with successive governments and even bully them to get what he wanted. During the tenure of the United Front government from 1996-98, he was the kingmaker. From 1998 onwards, he became a key ally of the right-wing BJP. He did not hesitate to oscillate between the Left and the Right.
But all this did not help him electorally, and he retreated to political wilderness for 10 years from 2004. “Now, I balance reforms and welfare, using the systems to help the common man,” he said.
In his second spell in power, Naidu, like Modi, is selling an impossible dream to his people, and has spent the past four years pursuing it. “My objective is to put Amaravati (bifurcated Andhra’s under-construction capital) among the top three cities in the country by 2022 and make it the number one city by 2029,” he said, “By 2050, it is going to be the most preferred destination of the world.” But he is unable to get money from the Centre for his development dreams.
With the next Lok Sabha elections and the assembly polls a year away, Naidu is trying to create a new brand for himself, like Modi. He has introduced 21 welfare schemes named after himself—the ‘Chandranna’ brand.
And even as both Modi and Naidu speak about ease-of-doing-business and reforms, both are pursuing populist measures of old world politics. Probably it is because both will face voters around the same time.