Amit Shah and Narendra Modi
BJP President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi | @BJP/Twitter
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BJP unlikely to tie-up with Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress, believes it should build on Narendra Modi’s popularity for growth and expansion.

New Delhi: The BJP’s southern ambition has taken flight with the recent Karnataka assembly election re-validating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sway over voters even south of the Vindhyas.

The BJP emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka elections, but couldn’t retain power beyond 55 hours as the Congress and the JD(S) joined hands to dislodge it.

Confident of its prospects in the south after a creditable show in Karnataka — or the gateway to the south as BJP president Amit Shah described it — the party has decided not to have any tie-up with the YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh.

It was exploring the option of an alliance with the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led party but has abandoned the idea, a senior BJP functionary involved in the decision-making process told ThePrint.

“The TDP (Telugu Desam Party) was the real gainer of Modiji’s popularity in Andhra Pradesh in 2014,” said the BJP strategist. “Now that the TDP has left the NDA (in March this year, over special category status to the state), why should the BJP not try to build on his (Modi’s) popularity for its own growth and expansion?” he asked.

TDP-BJP alliance

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won two parliamentary seats and came second in two others, securing 7.2 per cent of the votes polled in Andhra Pradesh (post-bifurcation). Its alliance partner, TDP, won 15 of the 25 seats.

The BJP-TDP combine won the assembly elections, too, with the BJP getting four seats and the TDP 102 in the 175-member assembly.

These numbers may not look impressive, but given the BJP’s limited influence in the south, they indicate the party’s foot-in-the-door presence — a beginning that the party has often used to eventually throw out the incumbents in many states.

The BJP had tied up with the TDP in 2014, ignoring overtures from Reddy, who has been under investigation by central agencies for an alleged quid pro quo investment of Rs 63 crore into his firms by companies that allegedly got undue favours from the state government when his father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was chief minister.

After YSR’s death in 2009, the Congress refused to appoint Jagan as his successor in the government. He quit and floated the YSR Congress in 2011.

Seen as a chief ministerial favourite in the run-up to the last assembly elections, Jagan had offered an olive branch to the BJP, saying in November 2013 that the latter was “not untouchable” and he was ready to do business with Modi. The BJP, however, chose to ally with the TDP.

During the Lok Sabha campaign, Modi attacked Jagan, telling voters: “It is in your hands whether you want Seemandhra or Scamandhra.”

Once the elections were over, the BJP kept its channels open with Jagan, who was feeling the CBI’s heat.

Modi-Jagan bonhomie?

In May last year, the Prime Minister caused heartburns in the TDP when he chose to grant Jagan an audience for about half-an-hour. The BJP was obviously keeping its options open even as TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu was weighing his options outside the NDA as his continuance in it would expose him to double anti-incumbency in 2019 Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

There are several factors behind the BJP’s decision to go it alone in Andhra. The party’s plan to expand when the going is so good under Modi is, of course, factor no. 1. But there are many others.

The BJP could always count on the support of the TDP or the YSR Congress if it lacks the numbers to reach the majority mark in the Lok Sabha in 2019; the two regional parties have no real ideological hang-ups.

Corruption charges against opposition leaders are set to be a major poll plank of the BJP in 2019; an alliance with the YSR Congress would take the sting out of it. It was Reddy’s agitation demanding special category status to Andhra that had forced the TDP to quit the NDA in a politics of symbolism and brinkmanship.

Reddy has already made it clear that he is willing to join hands with any party that will grant this status. The Centre’s unambiguous stance on this issue makes this alliance a non-starter.

“You people (media) are wrong again. We don’t take decisions like this — that Jagan wants special status and so we won’t have any tie-up with him. Our strategy is based on long-term trends and analysis,” said a senior BJP leader.

“Even before Naidu left (NDA), we were building our organisation. We have our committees ready in over 39,000 of the 41,000 booths in the state,” the BJP leader added, exuding confidence that the media will “again and as usual” be in for a surprise about the BJP in Andhra Pradesh in 2019.

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