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Naidu, once the darling of the media and political parties across the nation, has few friends now | File photo

Why Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest has made little political noise

It's a pitiable condition for a man who was once the darling of media, corporate world, and political parties

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It has been more than a week since Nara Chandrababu Naidu, former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, was put behind bars at Rajahmundry Central Jail. Outside the sprawling former Dutch fort that was converted into a central prison by the East India Company government in 1870, there has been very little noise, much less a political commotion.

It is a pitiable condition for a man who was once the darling of the national and international media, the corporate world, and political parties across the nation. Naidu, the most recognizable political face in the country, was arrested by the police in the early hours of September 9, 2023, in connection with an alleged fraud of Rs 371 crore in the implementation of a programme meant to develop job-oriented skills among the youth.

But there have been no protests commensurate with his national stature. There is no political party in India that did not have a friendly bond with Naidu at one point in time or the other. Still, everybody seems to have ignored him, barring West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, who showered a few words of sympathy.

No leader from outside Andhra Pradesh has visited the prison to express solidarity with him despite the fact that he was responsible for the formation of the United Front government in 1996, and the Vajpayee-led NDA government owed its survival to Naidu’s support.

No central BJP leader or minister has spoken to him even though he was part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government between 2014 and 2018. Congress has also maintained a stoic silence, though he was its ally in 2019. According to media reports, Naidu’s son Lokesh, who is the general secretary of the party, is not able to secure an appointment with Home Minister Amith Shah in New Delhi.

For the first time, a major existential crisis is staring the Telugu Desam Party in the eye. Why?

A party used to crises

It’s all Naidu’s own making, says political commentator T Narasimha Rao from Vijayawada. “The Opposition INDIA is quite convinced that Naidu is BJP’s friend at heart. After losing the 2019 election, he openly admitted that aligning with the Congress-led Opposition was wrong. So, it is difficult for INDIA to extend solidarity with Naidu. As for BJP, the saffron party appears to be favouring the more dependable Jagan than the fickle Naidu at the moment. The result is Naidu’s current predicament,” Rao told The Federal.

Crises are not new to the TDP. The party has survived major critical moments in the past. In 1984, TDP founder and chief minister NT Rama Rao’s government was dismissed by Governor Rama Lal who installed a rebel minister, Nadendla Bhaskar Rao, as chief minister. The entire nation stood by Ramarao, who was recuperating from a bypass surgery. All national parties gave a call to “Save Democracy”. Shaken by the avalanche of protests, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to force Ramlal to restore NTR’s government. The TDP emerged stronger from the crisis.

Again, in 1994, the party faced a second coup. This time, it was staged by none other than Chandrababu Naidu against NTR. The party favoured Naidu who jettisoned NTR as chief minister and took control of the party. The reason for TDP’s success was the weak and faction-ridden Opposition Congress and TDP’s consistent anti-Congress plank. It was the time; no charge of corruption stuck against all-powerful Naidu.

Now these two factors are no longer at play. Congress was replaced by a strong YSR Congress and Naidu diluted his anti-Congress stand.

How Naidu lost both sides

“Had Naidu remained with the Opposition, the INDIA alliance would have made his arrest a national issue. Naidu had joined the Opposition in 1998 by slamming Prime Minister Modi as the Nation’s enemy. After the 1999 poll debacle, Naidu opportunistically started bending over backwards to placate Modi. But Modi looks more comfortable with YS Jaganmohan Reddy than Naidu. That way, Naidu lost both sides,” said K Ramakrishna, secretary of AP CPI. “The CPI has condemned his arrest just because it had violated basic human and civil rights,” Ramakrishna said.

Similarly, the CPM, Congress, and the BJP also condemned the arrest. Beyond lip service, no party is ready to act proactively and hit the streets to oppose the arrest or meet the government with a memorandum. In fact, over the week, the debate on the arrest and the intensity of the unrest in the public has died down. The din is confined to social media alone and the TDP.

Sporadic pujas and yagnas were organized in temples by TDP workers seeking early release of Naidu. TDP leaders sat on dikshas here and there, expressing anguish over their leader’s arrest in a “false case”. The bandh call given by TDP against the arrest fizzled out with a poor response. The only major programme was the candlelight vigil organized at Rajahmundry, in which Naidu’s wife Bhuwaneswari and daughter-in-law Brahmani participated.

Fearing arrest and a possible threat of foisting cases, none of the TDP leaders are ready to hit the street in protest. Though TDP is one of the strongest regional parties in India, its current predicament is that it looks like an entire party is confined to house arrest.

The social media managers of TDP are trying to amplify the protest of IT employees in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. But, YSR Congress has rubbished all protests as Kamma caste-driven programmes.

Pawan Kalyan to the rescue?

Against this backdrop, Naidu’s son Lokesh looks too young to inspire confidence among senior leaders in the party, and none of NTR’s family members are unlikely to take up the mantle. A section of analysts has argued that in the light of the talks that the arrest of Naidu, who is under NSG security cover, could not have been done without the knowledge of the Union home ministry, the 73-year-old Naidu might be weighed down by the arrest, even if he is out on bail.

However, Srikakulam TDP MP Kinjarapu Rammohan Naidu expressed confidence that there would be a movement by democratic forces against Naidu’s arrest, and the “illegal arrest” would enhance public faith in Naidu’s leadership.

Now, Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan, who announced the alliance immediately after a mulakat with Naidu in jail on September 14, looks like a saviour. Pawan appears to be more than happy to lead the TDP and Jana Sena alliance in the absence of Naidu.
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