Eight reasons why Chandrababu Naidu lost in Andhra Pradesh
Voters in Andhra Pradesh have forced the computer-savvy Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu to log off. His bête noire Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, a brash and unconventional politician with no administrative experience, will now get to reboot the system and change the settings of a state struggling with bifurcation blues, poor finances and an elusive dream capital.
Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in an election that was projected as a battle between the forces of development, represented by Naidu with 14 years of experience as Chief Minister and forces of disruption led by Jagan who carries the stigma of illegal assets case against him.
A plethora of factors—growing public resentment over unfulfilled promises, rampant corruption, casteism, unemployment, political flip flops, skewed development priorities and erosion of credibility—has contributed to the downfall of Naidu.
Dreams gone sour
Naidu, widely credited with putting Hyderabad on the global IT map during his long stint as CM of united Andhra Pradesh between 1995 and 2004, is known for his penchant for dreaming big. Taking over the reins of the residual AP post-bifurcation, a restless Naidu sold grandiose dreams to the people who were already seething in anger over the division of the state, particularly the loss of Hyderabad to Telangana.
He made a galore of high-sounding promises—the “world’s best” capital city, “most-favoured global investment destination” and “fastest growing state”. The poll verdict shows that he has swallowed more than what he can chew.
Amaravati, the dream capital city requiring Rs one lakh crore to build, has not taken off. It is bogged down by resource crunch, bureaucratic delays, shoddy implementation, blame-game between the state and the Centre and allegations of cronyism and environmental degradation.
The cash-strapped government found it difficult to mobilise funds for the mammoth project. The confrontation with the Centre, following the TDP’s exit from the BJP-led NDA in March last year, has worsened the woes. Barring an interim government complex at Velagapudi, with a Legislative Assembly and Secretariat, and a network roads under-construction, the main components of works in the core capital area are yet to take off fully. The project is mired in a controversy with the opposition parties alleging that it only benefited the “cronies of Naidu” who purchased vast tracts of lands in and around the capital region and made a real estate killing.
A set of baffling U-turns and flip flops has eroded the credibility of Naidu who was once feted for his astute political strategies. Clearly, his newfound friendship with the Congress, an enemy of TDP since its inception in 1982, has not gone down well with the people of Andhra.
In fact, the voters of Andhra Pradesh have not forgiven the Congress for dividing the state. The grand old party was punished severely in the 2014 elections, so much so that it drew blank both in the assembly and Lok Sabha. A similar humiliation was meted out to the party this time as well.
Naidu failed to convince the people that it was a “historic compulsion” for his party to join hands with the Congress to keep the BJP at bay. For the TDP, founded and nurtured on anti-Congressism, it was a big leap of faith to join hands with the Congress at the national level. The political irony that it presented was too much to digest for Andhra voters.
Moreover, what angered them most was the TDP’s alliance with the Congress in the December 2018 Assembly elections in neighbouring Telangana. The experiment came a cropper in Telangana and further alienated the Andhra voters from TDP.
U-turn on special status
The TDP’s inconstant stand on the emotive issue of special category status has sent wrong signals to the people, prompting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to dub Naidu as “U-turn Babu”.
It has now emerged that Naidu has failed to come up with a cohesive explanation on why it took him four long years to exit the NDA over the special status issue though it was clear from the beginning that the Centre would not concede the demand. At one point, the TDP had agreed for a special package for the residuary state in lieu of the special status and had, in fact, got the assembly pass a resolution thanking the Centre for announcing the package.
However, facing a mounting pressure, particularly from Jagan who appeared to be walking away with all the credit for highlighting the special status issue, the TDP made a volte face and subsequently walked out of the NDA. Finally, Naidu lost out in the battle of perception as the campaign theme was focused on who is more committed to the cause of special status.
The presence of actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party in the electoral fray was expected to benefit the ruling TDP by splitting the votes of kapus, a numerically strong and influential community in the coastal region.
However, the calculation has gone wrong. The maverick star has played a spoilsport and upset the TDP’s apple cart. It now appears that the Backward Classes, who are peeved over the importance being given to kapu community, have consolidated in favour of YSRCP and solidly rallied around Jagan.
Accounting for over 17 per cent of the state’s 5 crore population, the kapu community had overwhelmingly voted for the TDP-BJP combine in the 2014 general elections, for which the actor had campaigned extensively. The presence of Jana Sena Party has resulted in chipping away the TDP’s kapu support base this time.
Too little too late
The skewed development priorities have turned out to be the undoing of the TDP. In the last five years, Naidu focused his entire attention on two of his dream projects—Amaravati and Polavaram irrigation project—while ignoring the other needs of the state. And, both the dream projects are bogged down by resource crunch and delays.
Though the proactive policies of the TDP government helped in attracting certain IT and automobile industries to the state, it has failed to create the kind of employment that the residuary state was desperately looking for.
Facing a more combative opposition, Naidu unveiled a string of sops and doles on the eve of elections for various sections of people. They included a farm investment support scheme of ₹10,000 per year, free smartphones and a dole of ₹10,000 each for 93 lakh DWCRA women, hike in the unemployment dole and old age pensions and allotment of nearly 7 lakh two-bedroom houses to poor beneficiaries in urban and rural areas.
However, the hurried freebies came too late in the day.
Casteism comes to fore
For someone who had promoted far-reaching administrative reforms and corporatisation of governance in his earlier tenures, Naidu suffered a dent in his image following allegations of casteism against his government.
Even for an outside observer, the caste bias was evident in the administration as all key posts were filled with people from kamma community, to which Naidu belongs.
A majority of the contractors bagging the lucrative government projects happen to be from the same community.
Retired chief secretary IYR Krishna Rao, who had a bitter fallout with the Chief Minister, had spoken about the caste bias in the government.
The opposition YSRCP had released a list of businessmen and industrialists close to the TDP who had purchased lands in Vijayawada-Guntur region much before the location of the new capital was announced.
The multi-crore Polavaram is mired in controversies after the contract for some components of the project works was awarded to a company owned by TDP R Sambasiva Rao.
During the election rallies, Modi had often dubbed Polavaram and Amaravati projects as “ATMs” for Naidu, referring to the corruption in awarding the contracts.
The twin charges of casteism and corruption have clearly influenced the voters.
Like most regional parties in the country, Naidu runs the TDP with an iron grip, leaving no scope for nurturing second-rung leadership or rewarding merit. The power structure and decision-making is centralised as Naidu has a highly personalised and self-absorbed style of functioning. All policy decisions, big and small, are announced by him, reducing the ministers to mere dummies.
Naidu’s overexposure to the media and his rambling monologues had created a sense of fatigue among the people.