Why BJP is still unable to find its way in Andhra

Himachal, bypolls, BJP, Dharamshala, Pachhad
Like in other southern states where the regional political culture had taken deep roots, Andhra Pradesh continues to remain immune to the influence of the national parties such as the BJP.

Defeat of the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the last Assembly elections has opened up space for the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) in Andhra Pradesh, but the saffron party does not seem to have made much progress so far.

Like in other southern states where the regional political culture had taken deep roots, Andhra Pradesh continues to remain immune to the influence of the national parties such as the BJP.

While the TDP has become weak and vulnerable in the face of vendetta politics being pursued by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government, the BJP has not been able to step into the immediate political vacuum.

Historically, BJP had been at a disadvantage in the combined Andhra Pradesh as TDP had emerged as the alternative to the ruling Congress in the early 80s. The Congress’ demise in the aftermath of bifurcation led to the rise of another regional outfit, YSR Congress Party in the state.

An outlier

Since its inception in 1980, BJP had been an outlier in Andhra Pradesh, relying on the alliance with TDP to make its presence felt. But after TDP’s fall at the recent polls, BJP’s hopes of making its much-delayed foray in Andhra Pradesh received a boost, especially in the afterglow of Narendra Modi’s second innings.

Indeed, a dazed TDP is still recovering from the total rout meted out to the party in the April elections. To add to its woes, the chief minister has been on an overdrive to further demoralise the opposition party by continually harping on Naidu’s alleged acts of omission and commission. The government has ordered probe into key policy decisions of the previous regime, alleging irregularities and corruption. This has led to widespread perception that Jagan is keen on pursuing vindictive politics rather than developing the state reeling under the bifurcation blues.

The ruling YSRCP has been going after TDP leaders by foisting a case after police case and sending them to jail. Several former ministers and former MLAs have been alleging political persecution. The SC and ST Atrocities Act, the TDP says, is being liberally invoked to crush the opposition morale.

Also read: Jagan Mohan Reddy: The enfant terrible of Andhra politics

The senior TDP leader and former assembly speaker K Sivaprasada Rao, known as a tough politician, taking his own life in September last in the aftermath of relentless harassment by the ruling party has sent shock waves across the political spectrum. A sense of desperation enveloped the opposition party.

Migration to BJP

It is in this backdrop that several TDP leaders considered moving base to BJP, largely to escape the Jagan party’s alleged persecution. Days after the humiliating defeat, four of TDP’s six Rajya Sabha MPs – Y Sujana Chowdhury, TG Venkatesh, CM Ramesh and Garikapati Rammohan Rao – quit and joined the BJP.

At the time, BJP spokesperson Vishnuvardhan Reddy claimed that before Naidu returned from his foreign tour, the political scene in Andhra Pradesh would dramatically change, meaning that TDP leaders would queue up to join BJP.

Also read: Raised in feudal politics, why Jagan can’t shake off his vengeance for rivals

Since then, a few leaders like former ministers Adinarayana Reddy, Vakati Narayana Reddy and Sanakkayala Aruna and some former MLAs joined the BJP. In Telangana too, former MLAs E Peddi Reddy, R Prakash Reddy and M Narasimhulu defected to the BJP.

However, the expected influx from the TDP into BJP did not happen.

Also read: 100 days of Jagan: Vindictive, populist politics hinder development

A few leaders such as former MLA Thota Trimurthulu and MLC Jupudi Prabhakara Rao chose to shift loyalties to the ruling YSR Congress Party.

The reasons for BJP not being able to attract many leaders from TDP and make a mark in the state are many. For one, the party’s ideology has never gained traction in a state where communal polarisation is unknown.

It is probably for this reason that BJP had thrown its weight behind the sub-regional movement of Telangana in the hope that weakened states could be won over easily.

Alienation

However, the BJP’s stand alienated the party from the people of coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. After the hurtful bifurcation, the BJP-led central government’s rejection of special category status and indifference towards the implementation of the AP Reorganisation Act caused further resentment.

Also read: Mega projects in Andhra hang fire as Jagan disposes, alters TDP road map

It is for this reason that the party that won four assembly seats and two MP seats in alliance with TDP in 2014 elections, ended up as a big zero in the recent polls.

BJP has always lacked a charismatic leader in Andhra Pradesh. M Venkaiah Naidu did command some following, but his popularity never got many votes in the state. After his elevation to the office of the vice-president, AP is left with no big leader from the BJP.

The fact that its present state unit president K Lakshminarayana came from the Congress Party after 2014 speaks volumes for the quality of its leadership.

Besides, it is not easy to push TDP aside. The current plight of the party notwithstanding, TDP is well entrenched politically in the state. As a regional party committed to the state and with well-oiled organisational machinery spread in every nook and corner of Andhra Pradesh, it is rather ambitious to think of beating TDP into oblivion with one electoral defeat.

The perception that Chandrababu Naidu, who turned 70 a few months back, might not be able to sustain the party given the task ahead has been belied to some extent in the last few months when he has shown his trademark grit and dynamism to lead the party in these trying circumstances.

Politics is second nature for Naidu, who is never tired of the ups and downs of his profession. Even if beaten, he is always looking for ways and means to survive and thrive. He seems to have already made some amends to his political situation by trying to build bridges with the BJP.

Naidu not only expressed regret recently over quitting NDA for special status, but also called up a few days back the number two man in BJP Amit Shah to convey his wishes on the latter’s birthday.

But the BJP leaders from the state are not giving up. The party leader GVL Narasimha Rao recently offered to mediate if Chandrababu Naidu were ready to merge his TDP with the BJP. That was even while invoking the names of P Chidambaram and DK Shiva Kumar who have recently been jailed by the BJP government.

BJP is still hoping that between Jagan, on whose head CBI cases are hanging like Damocles sword, and Chandrababu whose party seems to be on its last legs, it can manoeuvre itself to emerge as a possible alternative in the near future.

But that future seems a long way ahead.

(Ramesh Kandula is a freelance journalist based in Hyderabad)

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