Hyderabad: Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, 72, who is desperately looking to revive the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), has brushed aside concerns about his age and said that he will now be more visible on the ground as his party aims to dethrone the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in the 2024 state assembly elections.
“Nothing to worry about my age. Our prime minister Narendra Modi is also of the same age. What matters is performance. We’re working better than anybody, 30-year-olds cannot work as much as I can,” Naidu, who has organised several padayatras (mega walkathons) before elections in the past, told ThePrint in an interview.
After almost two years of virtual meetings and limited interactions with cadres, the TDP chief participated in the party’s two-day annual conclave ‘Mahanadu’ in Ongole last Friday, which, according to party leaders, was attended by at least two lakh members.
Raising the slogan ‘Quit Jagan, Save Andhra Pradesh’, Naidu instructed party leaders to be on the ground, interacting with the public, in what is being seen as a clarion call to start preparing for 2024.
Party leaders had previously told ThePrint that their troubles — including a scattered cadre, top faces having gone silent and internal issues among leaders and Naidu himself — began with the humiliating defeat in the 2019 assembly elections, when the TDP won just 23 seats. The YSRCP, led by Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, won 151 of the 175 assembly seats.
“We want to save Andhra Pradesh, for that our slogan is ‘Quit Jagan, save Andhra Pradesh’. In three years of rule in Andhra Pradesh, he [Jagan] destroyed all institutions. There is no democracy, people are suffering due to high taxation,” Naidu told ThePrint.
“He [Jagan] says DBT (direct benefit transfer) and all. These programmes have been structured in such a way that there is no transparency. He is not accountable to CAG (comptroller and auditor general), government of India or courts or assembly — that is how he is doing it,” he added.
In his three years of rule, YS Jagan has doled out several direct benefit transfer (DBT) schemes, which entailed transferring funds directly into people’s bank accounts. In 2021, the CM had said that his government spent Rs 1.16 lakh crore on such schemes in past 30 months.
Naidu claimed that Jagan is “creating fear” in Andhra Pradesh.
“Suppose someone complains about injustice, the police file cases on them, rowdies go and beat them up. With that fear, there is suffering and finally there is frustration among people. It is our duty to take these (concerns) to the people,” he said.
The ex-CM also spoke on matters of legacy, whether his party plans to take the help of political consultants while plotting its strategy for 2024, and if it may re-ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the state polls.
‘Legacy alone cannot help anyone, one has to work hard’
Asked how soon his son, former cabinet minister Nara Lokesh, would take over the party reins from him, Naidu said, “Legacies alone cannot help anyone, one has to work hard for it.”
The former CM said that in a democracy, “no one can impose anything on anyone”.
“It [TDP] is a 40-year-old party. We’re not restricting anyone. In any field, legacies cannot alone help them, I am very clear about it. What legacy do I have? My father was not a politician. I became an MLA and then I built myself. Opportunities are available in any field. Anybody who wants to survive, has to utilise (chances), work hard and achieve it,” he added.
‘Consultants can only guide, can’t depend solely on them’
Naidu said that if the situation demands, the party would work with a political strategy team, but added that consultants can only offer guidance and it is ultimately the politicians who will have to take the lead.
“Today so many IIT guys are coming. Some of them are doing good work and some of them are not. Ultimately, politicians have to rule. Consultants can guide them to an extent but what will happen post that? This is exactly the situation in Andhra Pradesh today,” he said.
“If it is suitable to the situation, we may work (with consultants). Ultimately, leaders have to lead. If there is (states’) dependence solely on consultants, the situation will become like Andhra Pradesh and that is how Jagan Mohan Reddy cheated the state,” Naidu added.
The TDP leader appeared to be referring to CM Jagan Mohan Reddy having taken the help of political strategist Prashant Kishor to unseat him in 2019.
‘Alliance with BJP will be decided at time of elections’
Confident that people want a “change” from the Jagan-led government, Naidu said that TDP is a “reliable brand” and will decide on any kind of alliance with the BJP or actor-turned politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena at the time of elections.
“Alliance means both parties willing to work together. We had so many alliances in the past and all other parties like Congress and all had alliances (sic). At the time of elections, we will decide. If people are with you, everybody will work with you,” he said when asked whether TDP will ally with BJP or Jana Sena.
He also alleged that all political parties are “being harassed by the Jagan government”.
Asked if he would agree to be part of the efforts to create an “anti-BJP front”, which does not include the Congress, led by Telangana Chief Minister K.Chandrasekhar Rao Naidu, Naidu said that his focus is now on building Andhra Pradesh and he has his “own agenda”.
“Like I built Hyderabad, I have another responsibility to build Andhra Pradesh. TDP is a reliable brand. Sometimes, there are ups and downs. People will listen to you if you have credibility. We have history, we have done extremely well, people benefitted from it,” he added.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)