The Telugu Desam Party chief and former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh N Chandrababu Naidu finds the going tough in his home turf Kuppam in Chittoor district. His victory graph has shown a slide since the assembly elections in 2014 while the latest elections to rural local bodies (RLBs) have left the chinks in his armour wide open.
Naidu’s party ceded the ground to the ruling YSR Congress party in the RLB polls as it lost all the four Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituencies, ending up with just three out of 66 Mandal Parishad Territorial Constituencies in Kuppam.
Since he moved to Kuppam, considered a backward region, after his defeat in his native constituency Chandragiri some three decades ago, Chandrababu has turned Kuppam into a strong citadel that has helped him win all the elections in succession since 1989. His popularity graph, however, has witnessed a downward trend since 2014.
Although the Congress, then headed by the late YS Rajasekhar Reddy made a clean sweep across the state in the 2004 assembly elections before the state’s division, Naidu had maintained his victory margin at 42.5 per cent in his home constituency. In the next election in 2009, the margin even went up by 4.34 per cent although YSR made a comeback, fighting anti-incumbency and the edifice of Naidu-led Grand Alliance.
Drop in victory margins
Strikingly, Naidu’s victory margin drastically fell to 28.81 per cent in the 2014 assembly elections, although he basked in the glory of being the first chief minister of Andhra Pradesh after its division, as his party made an impressive performance in the election. In 2019, Naidu not only lost the chief minister’s seat to YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, his victory margin also dwindled further to 16.93 per cent.
The questions that linger are – Has the drop in votes has anything to do with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)’s call to boycott the RLB polls? And, will the rising anti-incumbency against the two-and-a-half year rule of Reddy improve Naidu’s fortunes?
“Chandrababu’s downfall hasn’t happened overnight. His long stint as an unbeatable leader in the constituency has also left a feeling of discontentment among different sections over a period of time,” Tirupati-based journalist Kandarapu Murali told The Federal.
“Naidu has been left with fighting anti-incumbency against his own leadership locally,” he added.
Backward Classes, who form 70 per cent of the electorate, are a decisive force in the area followed by SCs and STs. The ingenious move of Jagan Mohan Reddy’s party to handpick Krishna Chandramouli, a retired IAS officer from the BC community to groom against Naidu led to denting the latter’s voter base.
The state of Kuppam
Kuppam is tucked away in the tri-junction of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The area suffers from recurring droughts and resultant crop failures due to lack of permanent irrigation solutions. While the youth is restive for the want of employment, the prospects of industrial growth are dim with no major industries within reach in the region.
Dr Ramesh Kumar, a local physician, who unsuccessfully contested against Naidu on a Congress ticket in 2019, told The Federal, “Around 20,000 people from a cluster of villages in and around Kuppam commute daily to Bangalore in trains to work odd jobs. This speaks volumes of the plight of local jobless youths in the area.”
Chandrababu is criticised by his rivals for failing to keep his two major promises—completing the Palar Dam by resolving inter-state dispute with Tamil Nadu and realizing the Hundri Neeva Sujala Sravanthi (HNSS) by drawing the Krishna waters. “If the two projects are realised, agriculture and floriculture will prosper in the region, creating employment for the local youth,” Dr Ramesh said.
Old feuds at play
Naidu’s old rival of his college days — Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy, currently the Minister for Panchayat Raj and Rural Development — is back into action to settle old feuds.
Reddy and Naidu led caste wars on the SV University campus in the mid-1970s. Reddy, a lawmaker from the neighbouring Punganur and a powerful minister in the Jagan cabinet, has got sufficient ammunition to finish the fight with Naidu.
Naidu built his political career from the university campus as Youth Congress leader and with the blessings of NG Ranga and Paturi Rajagopal Naidu, the then MP of Chittoor. The Congress leadership picked up Naidu from the university campus to field him in the assembly election from his native Chandragiri in 1978. Subsequently, he became a minister in the Anjayya government and continued in the Congress until he married movie mogul NT Rama Rao’s daughter. Ramachandra Reddy however grew as a leader from the Janata Party from the same university campus.
In pursuit of safe haven
Chandrababu, as a minister suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a fledgling TDP in Chandragiri in 1983. With this, he found a safe haven in Kuppam. Except for the defeat in Chandragiri in that election, Chandrababu has maintained an unbreakable record in his four-decades-long illustrious political with no setbacks since 1983.
Disheartened by the rout in the local body elections, local cadres of the TDP, during a visit by Naidu to the region, displayed placards, seeking actor Jr NTR, grandson of party founder NT Rama Rao, to take up the mantle and revive the party. They attributed the drubbing to the leadership crisis in the party which, they feel, could be effectively addressed by the actor with his charisma and as a “true” heir of NTR’s legacy. The pitch obviously is not palatable to Naidu as he is grooming his son Nara Lokesh as his successor. Naidu usurped power from his mentor and father-in-law NT Rama Rao in the August coup in 1995.
In the last two-and-a-half years of the YSR Congress rule, the TDP has suffered an exodus of middle-level leaders, which in turn is said to have weakened the party’s support base in the constituency. Naidu’s rival Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy obviously has taken advantage of the situation and lured into his party a section of TDP’s middle-rung leaders who turned contractors during Naidu government with a promise to clear their bills.
Dr CL Venkata Rao, former chairman of Swatchandra Mission during the TDP regime, said the going for Naidu is likely to be quite tough in the next election. His failure to keep his promises is the main reason why Naidu is fast losing his ground in the constituency.
TDP’s former minister N Amarnath Reddy, however, said that if the YSR Congress leaders think they can script Naidu’s downfall, “it is nothing but a daydream”. “The people in Kuppam badly need Naidu as much as the state needs him,” he told The Federal.