- Is Naidu capable of rejuvenating party?
- What are the prospects of the party founded by NTR?
Is Telugu Desam Party, 40, in existential crisis? Is its leader Nara Chandrababu Naidu bereft of ideas to refurbish and rejuvenate the party? Is the apparent successor Lokesh is not capable of running the party? Is the party established by the great Telugu icon N.T. Rama Rao in 1982 and the party which was in power for more than half of the time doomed to fail and fold up?
TDP has a hoary history. It took Andhra Pradesh by storm in 1982. NTR was the national leader of a regional party. He brought all the opposition leaders together to form National Front which made VP Singh the prime minister. NTR was the president of the NF. TDP was the first regional party to become the main opposition in Lok Sabha from 1984 to 1989 after withstanding Congress party’s sympathy wave in the wake of Indira Gandhi assassination winning majority of the 42 seats from AP. Naidu himself had a role in making Deve Gowda and IK Gujral the prime ministers. Is such a historic party on its way out?
Naidu, who turns 71 on 20 April 2021, is fighting fit physically. He is working hard within the limitations of being confined to his Hyderabad residence most of the time during 2020 and the first few months of 2021 due to Covid-19. He did go to Andhra Pradesh on certain occasions when he felt he had to make a point. He survived a string of defeats since 2019 general elections in which he was reduced to three MPs and 23 MLAs out of 25 MPs and 175 MLAs from the State. In the municipal elections following that of panchayats the results have proved to be more disastrous for the TDP limiting it to one municipality in Anantapur district.
Not the leader who gives up
However, Naidu is not one who gives up easily. He declared on March 29, the TDP formation day function at Mangalagiri, that he would bring in a series of reforms in the party which would remain strong for coming thirty years. “In the next three years, we will usher in changes in such a way that the party will be vibrant for the next 30 years,” he said. He asserted that no one can wipe out his party. He exhorted activists to rededicate themselves to the party and promised to encourage the young.
A strong leadership
The TDP had run on its own steam so far due to the strong leadership provided Naidu. He is a 24X7 politician. Shrewd, capable and clever if not principled. He withstood the onslaught of the Congress under the leadership of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. He somehow managed to keep the party unaffected during the separate Telangana State movement saying vaguely that both the regions are like two eyes for him and not taking any decision favouring any region was a choice deliberately made. He had managed to make the people in Andhra Pradesh believe that he was for united Andhra Pradesh. The people of Telangana did not trust him though he was catering to their sentiment also in his own way. In 2014 elections he came up with the right combination by allying with BJP and Jana Sena.
Becomes CM for third time
The TDP won and Naidu became chief minister for the third time in his life. Being a chief minister for 14 years is a remarkable thing in itself. But the whole tenure of five years from 2014 to 2019 were wasted in dreams and travels around the world in the name of Amaravati. Obsessed with making Amaravati a world level capital city, he became blind to reality and lost touch with the ground situation. He could not do anything solid although he borrowed from a number institutions to the tune of Rs. 1.5 lakh crore. At the end of the term he had nothing to show to the people and ask for their votes.
Nothing to show to the people
Polavaram was not completed. Even the flyover before Durga temple at the entrance of Vijayawada city remained incomplete. Unnecessary lift irrigation projects to lift water from Godavari in spate to the ayacut of Krishna when in spate was not a very good idea. He spent a lot of money on those two projects. As a consequence, he lost the 2019 elections miserably. Then he appeared to have lost track of politics not able to digest the defeat and the fact that a junior leader, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, scored an unprecedented victory. He could not get out of the humiliation he felt and inferiority complex he pushed himself in. Calling the chief minister names, talking about the cases faced by the CM and not taking cognizance of the good work done by the government has steadily pushed him into a corner.
Attacking Modi ferociously
The most bizarre way he behaved in the run up to the general elections in 2019 trying to take on Modi forgetting that he was chief minister of a truncated State (half of the united Andhra Pradesh which he ruled till 2004), he took it upon himself to criticize and oppose prime minister Narendra Modi. He went to the extent of attending the all-opposition party meeting in Kolkota and travelled to Lucknow to meet Mayawati and Bengaluru to discuss with Deve Gowda. He positioned himself as the national leader opposing Narendra Modi. All this exercise proved to be futile and counterproductive. Moreover, the attitude of Naidu over the years proved beyond doubt that he was an unprincipled practitioner of politics. How?
Snatches power from NTR’s fragile hands
In 1995, whatever the mistakes of Lakshmi Parvati, Naidu should not have snatched power from the old and fragile NTR who was his father-in-law and who gave him place in the party after he was defeated in 1983 elections in Chandragiri constituency by an unknown candidate fielded by the TDP. It was NTR who gave him primacy in the party sideling Upendra and Dr. Daggubati Venkateswara Rao, his elder son-in-law. Even in 1994, after returning to power after winning a historic win, NTR gave two hefty portfolios of finance and revenue to his younger son-in-law reposing faith in the latter’s administrative capabilities. Naidu had chosen to ditch such a loving and trusting father-in-law. He trounced Lakhsmi Parvati’s NTR TDP in 1996 Lok Sabha elections and her party could not survive thereafter. Naidu replaced NTR as the leader of united front also.
As its convener, Naidu ditches United Front
But come 1999 elections, being the convener of the united front, he ditched the leaders who were confabulating at Andhra Bhavan and joins hands with the BJP which is deadly opposed to the united front. The leaders of the front came to know about Naidu’s u-turn through the media. In 2004 he forced his veteran ally Vajapayee to go for early elections believing that there was a huge sympathy wave in his favour after the Alipiri blast which he survived by the grace of Lord Balaji. Soon after losing 2004 elections, he detached himself from the BJP. He said he would never join hands with the saffron party.
Back to Left parties
Naidu had gone back to the Left parties, whom he ditched in 1999, and allied with them in 2009 elections. He also had the temerity to join hands with Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) whose sole aim was to achieve a separate statehood. To justify that decision, he got the TDP polit bureau to pass a resolution supporting the cause of separate Telangana statehood. A letter to that effect was also sent to Pranab Kumar Mukherjee committee. He also instituted a committee, made it go around the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema districts in the name of getting to know the opinion of the people of the region. The party committee gave the report the chief wanted. He declared that the people of Seemandhra regions were not opposed to separate Telangana State.
While the Andhra Pradesh Bifurcation Bill, 2014 was being passed in Parliament, the TDP members indulged in meaningless shouting and sloganeering doing nothing constructive such as demanding more facilities for Seemandhra in case the State were to be divided. After the Bill was passed, the general elections had to be fought. Naidu ditched the Communists for the second time (In 1999 and 2014) and went on to have alliance with BJP which was castigated by him during 2009 elections. He included Pawan Kalyan, a hero of substance but a politician without substance, for effect. The combination had won by a wafer thin margin of votes but considerable number of seats. Once in power, Naidu forgets everything. He ruled for five years but he had a feeling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not responding to his requests for appointment when he went to Delhi.
Modi won’t forget or forgive
Modi is a politician who never forgets or forgives anything or anybody. He could not forget how Naidu had treated him when he was chief minister and convener of the united front and Modi was the chief minister being criticized for his role in Gujarat riots. Modi vividly remembers that Naidu made his Hyderabad city police commissioner to announce at a press conference that Modi would be thrown out of the city if he ventures to arrive in Hyderabad for a campaign in a by-election. Modi also could not forget the insult in Delhi’s Andhra Bhavan where he was, as a chief minister of Gujarat, made to wait for hours for an appointment with Naidu whom he could not ultimately meet.
Turning against Modi
Realising that Modi is no mood to forget or forgive and also wrongly calculating that BJP was going to lose the 2019 elections due to anti-incumbency sentiment, Naidu went to Delhi all the way to make friends with Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Congress which was starved of funds since 2014. Naidu offered to take care of election expenses to some extent and mobilize opposition leaders in order to defeat the BJP. The shameless Left parties joined hands with Naidu again. He criticized Narendra Modi for his lackluster performance as prime minister and also commented on his relationship with his estranged wife. One who could not manage his wife cannot manage the country’s affairs, Naidu theorized.
Gutsy Naidu takes on Modi
That was the limit Naidu dared to cross during the 2019 campaign. It was a great risk for any politician heading a sub-regional party, although calling itself a national party, to go whole hog in opposing an incumbent prime minister. One has to appreciate the guts exhibited by Naidu in opposing Modi and Amit Shah by all means during 2018-2019.
Modi not eager to shake hands with Naidu
In spite of all that happened in 2019 campaign, Naidu was prepared to have a friendly relationship with Modi. But the prime minister was not that eager. Naidu had taken all the twists and turns that are possible for a politician to take in the given circumstances. But no one, especially the media which supports him, pointed to him the most unprincipled politics he had practised as the chief of the regional party, TDP. No other regional party in the country had made so many somersaults. Yet, nobody from the party, no leader of any standing, had found fault with Naidu’s behavior. That is the strength and also the weakness of the party.
Lokesh can be made chief without any problem
Lokesh, whatever may be his limitations, can be thrust upon the TDP as its ‘national’ leader and nobody would question Naidu for doing so. There is no alternative to the TDP in Andhra Pradesh. If and when YS Jagan Mohan Reddy lost his sheen and popular support it will be the TDP which would be looked upon by the people as an alternative party, not the BJP nor the Jana Sena nor both put together. Naidu is capable of keeping the party going.
TDP-BJP-Jana Sena alliance again?
Naidu may even clinch the support of the BJP by the time of next elections in 2024 and rebuild an alliance of TDP,BJP and Jana Sena as he did in 2014 and challenge the ruling YRSRCP. The strength of Naidu lies in the fact that he never gives up. He does not remember what he said or did in the past. He expects others also to forget his past utterances and rivalries. Others would oblige whenever it suits them. The BJP will have no alternative except having a tie-up with the TDP again in 2024. Naidu will wait patiently till such time when the BJP would be ready to have an alliance with him. Pawan Kalyan will be busy with films and would do whatever is suggested by Naidu in 2024. Those who think and hope that the TDP would go away from the scene are living in a fools’ paradise.