The 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi, or Vinayaka Chavithi, festival started on Friday in Andhra Pradesh, playing out a tug of war between the TDP and the BJP. The two opposition parties are out to use the Hindu festival as an instrument for political and social mobilisation by targeting Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, accusing his government of creating obstacles for the ‘God of Obstacles’. It is not uncommon for the BJP to use every opportunity for religious polarisation across the country. But the TDP’s N. Chandrababu Naidu speaking in the BJP’s idiom at festival time raises eyebrows.
Hindus celebrate the Ganesh festival with the belief that the deity descends on earth from Kailash Parvat with his mother Parvati on the auspicious day. The festival is celebrated by installing clay idols of Ganesha. This is done either in private homes or public spaces by making pandals or stages. On the last day of the festival the idols are immersed in water bodies.
But the YSRC (Yuvajana Sramika Rytu Congress) government in the state, citing the pandemic, imposed restrictions on the celebrations.
A Chance for Political Mobilisation
Naidu is competing with the BJP to cross swords with Jagan Reddy, saying his government is hurting Hindu sentiments by not allowing Hindus to celebrate the festival, even though Christians are allowed to observe their holy days, like Good Friday. Jagan is known for his religious faith in Christianity. Both the parties substantiate their charge by alluding to the death anniversary of Jagan’s father, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, which was observed at his samadhi at Idupulapaya on September 2 without any COVID restrictions.
Vinayaka Chaturthi comes in handy for the TDP and the BJP for political mobilisation, as veteran freedom fighter Lokamanya Tilak did during the British rule in Maharashtra.
Does Naidu’s pro-Hindutva rhetoric signal the prospect of a renewed partnership with the BJP? He broke ties with the NDA before the 2019 elections.
After the elections, Naidu immediately attributed his humiliating defeat at the hands of Jagan Reddy to his party’s breakup with the Narendra Modi-led NDA. Subsequently, he joined state BJP leaders in criticising a spree of attacks on Hindu temples and burning of a chariot at Antarvedi in East Godavari district, linking them to Jagan’s Christian affiliations.
Politics Behind the Hindu Card
“It is true our leader was in a mood to realign with the BJP then, as he was desperate after he lost power to the YSRC. But he has dropped that idea now after witnessing a surge of anti-incumbency against Jagan’s rule,” a TDP insider told The Federal.
Then why is he playing the Hindu card? Naidu apparently sees the possible mobilisation of the majority Hindus against Jagan’s “Christianisation” of the administration. If the BJP can take advantage of that, it may make a dent in his electoral base.
Jagan has Christian and Muslim minorities and Dalits as captive vote bank. But it is not so with the case of the TDP. The sections aligning with the TDP, such as Brahmins, Vysas, Kshatriyas and Kammas, swing between Naidu’s party and the BJP. The 1998 general election is a classic case. The BJP, a non-existent party till then, bagged 14 per cent vote share, winning two MP seats in Andhra region. In that election Kammas, a financially rich community, and the backbone of the TDP, swung to the BJP in the coastal districts. The shift was partly a result of rising anti-incumbency against the Naidu government. In a desperate bid to check the erosion of his party’s base, Naidu stitched up an alliance with the BJP and staged a comeback in the next elections, in 1999.
The Pawan Factor
After falling out with his mentor N.T. Rama Rao, Naidu emerged as a strong leader partly thanks to actor and Jana Sena Party founder Pawan Kalyan, winning two elections — 1999 and 2014.
He scraped through the 2014 election with a slender margin of swing votes garnered by Kalyan from his fans and his upwardly mobile Kapu community. The margin between the TDP and Jagan’s party in that election was just 2 per cent. However, Kalyan broke ties with both the BJP and the TDP and went it alone in the 2019 elections, securing 5.53 per cent vote share. Kalyan could have saved Naidu had he continued his alliance with the TDP. The TDP ended up with 39.99 per cent vote share while Jagan rode to power with 49.95 per cent. Naidu today realises the folly of distancing his allies.
“We won’t allow this to happen again,” Kota Saikrishna, BJP’s spokesperson, told The Federal. “The alliance with the TDP has turned out to be like Dhritarashtra’s embrace for our party. In Naidu’s clutches, the BJP’s growth was stunted all these years.”
Besides the pronounced Hindutva agenda, the saffron party is apparently trying to conduct social engineering with the Kammas, Brahmins, Vysyas, Kshatriyas and Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party. “The Kapu community has been aspiring to usurp power from the dominant Reddys and Kammas. Naidu’s party has depended on these communities for survival all these years. These caste groups together make up around 33 per cent of the state’s electorate. If we achieve our mission, the party certainly becomes a viable alternative to both the YSRC and the TDP,” a BJP leader said.
After Somu Veerraju, a hard-core RSS karyakarta, became the state party president after the last general election, the BJP is trying hard to find space in the state by aggressively pushing the Hindutva agenda. “Hindutva is our agenda. We are striving to build our party as an alternative to the family-centric regional parties of the YSRC and the TDP,” Veerraju told The Federal. He ruled out the prospect of the BJP forging an alliance with Naidu’s party.