With 4 Rajya Sabha MPs joining the BJP and a strong CM in Jaganmohan Reddy, the TDP chief barely clutches at survival
It is only now that the implications of a mammoth verdict for the Narendra Modi-led government are unravelling in the political domain and resetting its grammar and syntax. In the first wave, its nationalist, majoritarian, centrist and populist stance completely swamped the seemingly secular, minority-pleasing and liberal discourse of the Congress, sending that party and its president Rahul Gandhi into post-electoral trauma. In the second wave, now that the new Government has got down to the business of governance and is reworking Centre-State relations as one of cooperative and not combative federalism, it is but natural that the federal parties do not have the same stand-alone relevance or bargaining positions as they did in the coalition era. So they are being subsumed to the interests of national politics in general and to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in particular. It is no surprise then that unless willing, like Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which has worked out a quid pro quo, running the State in exchange for supporting the BJP at the Centre, federal parties, especially the antagonists, will be subject to poaching and re-engineering of their social bases. On its part, the BJP, which has 303 seats in the Lok Sabha, is keen to make the most of its numerical strength and drive key policy shifts. But with inadequate numbers in the Rajya Sabha, it is looking to win some State elections or finding allies to change its composition and push through the legislative agenda by mid-term. By this logic, it’s understandable why within a day of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu heading to Europe with his family, four of his six Rajya Sabha MPs quit and joined the BJP, hurtling him into a fresh crisis.
For the BJP, this is payback for Naidu, its one-time ally, who not only walked out of the NDA over denial of special status to Andhra Pradesh but was one of the architects of the mahagathbandhan for a non-BJP government at the Centre. The TDP has already suffered a humiliating defeat in both the State and general elections to YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy and is a dot of a presence with just three of the State’s 25 Lok Sabha MPs and 23 of 175 MLAs. The State BJP’s claim that the crisis will worsen before Naidu returns is meant to unsettle him further. The four MPs — Y Sujana Chowdhury, TG Venkatesh, CM Ramesh and Garikapati Rammohan Rao — are all industrialists that Naidu has nurtured over time and have made it very clear that they joined the BJP only because development of the State is possible if they have good relations with the Modi Government. It is also pertinent that two of them are facing heat from the CBI and ED and are trading off support for immunity. And with a comfortable equation between Modi and new Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy, Naidu, who has bounced back before from troughs and has even challenged his mentor and father-in-law NT Rama Rao, may be looking at his swan song. There is no doubt that Naidu has squandered all his political and territorial gains by aligning with the Congress, playing into Reddy’s trap by riling up the BJP over the special status package, turning the party into a family fief, chasing national fortunes and ignoring real issues of his home turf. Reddy may have hired political managers but he did build a door-to-door connect with the people of the State, travelling non-stop. This disconnect happened despite some good work that Naidu did, like getting automobile giant Kia Motors to set up a plant in Anantapur, integrating the Godavari and Krishna to provide water to farmers and launching bicycle ambulances. Of course, Naidu has none of NTR’s charisma or mass appeal and is a more a builder than a communicator. Besides, he had ended up upsetting the Kapus, sensing which the BJP weaned away Congress’ Kapu leader Kanna Laxminarayana, made him the State president and hoped he would lure more of his kind. If Naidu loses the Kapus, as is being speculated, then he would indeed find it difficult to fight back. The BJP, which is heady after verdict 2019, should also remember that swelling its ranks by chipping away at others does not mean an organic extension of the party’s network or ideology to the southern States. Transnational politics is but a short-term conquest and can collapse like a house of cards as the Congress is learning from its alliance with Kumaraswamy in neighbouring Karnataka.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer