Chandrababu Naidu has asked his party members to resign as ministers after Jaitley rules out special category status for Andhra Pradesh.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), one of the strongest partners of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is pulling out its ministers from the Union council of ministers.
With the tussle over special category status (SCS) for Andhra Pradesh souring ties between the N Chandrababu Naidu-led party and the BJP, Union civil aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju and junior science and technology minister Y S Chowdary have been asked to resign as a “last resort decision”.
The next step could be the TDP’s exit from the coalition itself. For the TDP, which does not share the BJP’s Rightist bent, the latter has just been a political partner.
The SCS promise
When Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014 to carve out Telangana, cash cow Hyderabad went with the new state. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ahead of the passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill in February 2014, said Seemandhra, or the residual AP, would be conferred SCS and compensated for its revenue loss.
In 2014-15, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India estimated Andhra’s revenue deficit at Rs 16,078 crore.
However, finance minister Arun Jaitley cited Tuesday the recommendations of the 14th finance commission to say the Centre could not grant SCS to Andhra.
The 14th finance commission suggested in 2015 that the SCS, so far held by the northeastern and the hill states, could not be extended to any other, but promised compensation to states facing a revenue deficit. The Centre promised Andhra a special package equivalent to the financial benefits received by SCS states (for example, a 90:10 funding arrangement for central schemes in the state’s favour), and briefly Naidu agreed.
Subsequently, the CM said “the SCS is not a panacea” to all the state’s problems, stated it was “a closed chapter”, and created a high-decibel media campaign around the idea that a special package was much better.
Jaitley reiterated this Tuesday, and said the Centre was awaiting a response from the AP government, which was to form a special purpose vehicle to receive funds from the Centre so as to avoid action under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act. However, he emphatically put an end to the SCS discussion, leaving Naidu fuming.
The posturing picture
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Naidu, in a three-hour speech on the floor of the assembly Tuesday, narrated “the injustices meted out to the state by the Centre after the bifurcation”.
At a late-night press conference, he said the TDP had joined hands with the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls because the latter had promised in its manifesto not just SCS, but also liberal financial support to AP and assistance to make it self-reliant. The intent behind joining the Union Cabinet, he added, was to have better bargaining power with the Centre.
Naidu was calm as he talked about pulling out his ministers from the Cabinet, adopting the posture of a plaintiff seeking justice. “Jaitley has not only refused to accord SCS, but insulted the state by implying that we are demanding funds at the cost of the expenditure for defence and national security,” he said.
While Naidu, as is his wont, stretched things thus far before pulling the plug in order to portray himself as a warrior going down fighting, Jaitley spared no efforts either to project the BJP held genuine concern for AP, saying the government was ready to “do everything possible within the framework of the Constitution”.
Naidu largely succeeded in painting a poor picture of the BJP in the state, with even the party’s own leader in the assembly, Vishnukumar Raju, saying he was “constrained to” state he would fight the BJP at the Centre to realise all the promises made to Andhra Pradesh.
A bittersweet relationship
There is nothing new about the TDP’s love-hate relationship with the BJP.
When led by N T Rama Rao, the TDP had sailed with the BJP in the 1984, 1989 and 1991 Lok Sabha elections. However, the parties parted ways later.
Naidu, who staged a coup and usurped the party in 1995, entered the arena of national politics by cobbling together the United Front following the collapse of Atal Bihar Vajpayee’s 13-day government after the Lok Sabha elections in 1996.
Enlisting the support of the Congress, he installed H D Deve Gowda as the Prime Minister. When the then Congress president Sitaram Kesri subsequently withdrew support, Naidu went and met him, and saved the United Front government by making I K Gujral the Prime Minister.
However, Naidu saw popular support tilt towards the BJP during its year-long tenure in 1998-99, and aligned with it, quietly burying the United Front, and made huge political gains in the 1999 elections to the Lok Sabha and Andhra Pradesh assembly.
However, the allies were routed in the 2004 simultaneous polls, and Naidu asserted that he would never ever align with the BJP, citing its “politics of religion”.
By 2014, Naidu had lost power twice in Andhra and the bifurcation was imminent, and political compulsions brought the TDP and the BJP back together.
Biding his time
Now, Naidu clearly sees the popular support to the BJP is waning, at least in Andhra Pradesh. And there is a strong anti-Modi undercurrent over the SCS issue. Naidu, in fact, did not get an audience with the Prime Minister for over 18 months, only succeeding last month.
The TDP is waiting to pull out from the NDA, and it’s only a matter of time before the regional party begins to paint the saffron black.
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