Presidential poll: YSRC, TDP must act together to safeguard Andhra’s interests

Presidential poll: YSRC, TDP must act together to safeguard Andhra’s interests

With the presidential elections just a couple of months away, all eyes are on Andhra Pradesh’s two main parties – the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rytu Congress or YSRC headed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and the opposition Telugu Desam Party of N Chandrababu Naidu. Andhra Pradesh, with a combined strength of 175 Assembly seats, 25 Lok Sabha seats and 11 Rajya Sabha seats, will play a crucial role in the elections of India’s next President and the question is whether the two rivals will put their differences apart and vote together to safeguard Andhra’s interests.

The five-year term of the incumbent President Ramnath Kovind is scheduled to expire in July and that of Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu in August, and the notification for elections is expected shortly.

Since 2014, when Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated to form Telangana, the two leaders have dominated the political scene in the state. The perception is that the two regional players with their sectarian approach have failed to keep the interests of the state foremost. Since 2014, Andhra Pradesh has been seeking what it was promised by the Centre at the time of bifurcation. But it has not found much success. Instead, the regional satraps have been vying with each other to befriend powers-that-be at the Centre.

Andhra failing to get its due

When Naidu’s party, following the mitra dharma, supported BJP’s candidates, Kovind as President and Venkaiah Naidu as Vice-President, YSR Congress, which was at loggerheads with the TDP in the state, too backed the BJP in the elections last time.

Also read: Telangana minister KTR under fire for remarks on Andhra’s ‘bad roads’

But the state failed to get its pound of flesh from the ruling dispensation at the Centre. Under the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, the NDA regime is in a bind over as many as 19 bifurcation-related assurances given to Andhra Pradesh. They include, deficit financing; assistance for capital city; Polavaram irrigation project; delimitation of Assembly segments; special package for the development of seven backward districts; special railway zone at Visakhapatnam; and, distribution of assets and institutions.

The TDP under Naidu’s leadership shared power with the BJP-led NDA government for four years from 2014 till it pulled out of the ruling coalition in 2018. The TDP’s exit became inevitable as the NDA categorically stated that the issue of special status is a “closed chapter” and that it could not be delivered to Andhra.

The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, under the UPA dispensation, had delivered the promise of special category status to Andhra Pradesh on the floor of Parliament while piloting the bifurcation process. In a bid to exert pressure on Naidu’s party, Jagan Mohan Reddy got all his party MPs to resign from their posts and moved a no-trust motion against the NDA government even as Naidu just walked into Jagan’s trap. During the election campaign trail in 2019, Jagan predicted a hung Lok Sabha at the Centre and said he would use the demand of special status as a bargaining chip to extend his support to any group. But he too kept quiet after coming to power.

Jagan turns submissive

Three years on, Jagan continues to maintain a stoic silence for his own reasons. He is compelled to be on the NDA’s good books as he desperately needs relief from money laundering cases haunting him. Besides, the CBI is tightening the noose around his cousin and party MP Avinash Reddy’s neck in the murder of his uncle YS Vivekananda Reddy, based on the statement of the victim’s daughter YS Sunitha Reddy. Moreover, his high-cost welfare programmes under the Navaratnalu scheme have taken a heavy toll on the state’s exchequer and he has no option but to curry favour from the BJP-led NDA government.

In view of his compulsions, Jagan, though he claims to be maintaining equidistance with the BJP and the Congress, remains a friend in need of the Narendra Modi government, backing even controversial bills like the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).

Naidu’s blues

With his worst-ever electoral reverse in Andhra Pradesh and after losing relevance in national politics, Chandrababu Naidu is facing an existential threat in his career.

Naidu is widely seen as an off-the-centre leader, shifting from the left to the right like a swinging pendulum in his four-decade-long career. In the previous election, he explored even the last option — aligning with the Congress as a last resort when his chips were down. But even such an extreme step failed to work in his favour.

Also read: Cabinet rejig triggers rebellion in YSRC, ex-Home Minister resigns as MLA

After the rout, Naidu publicly repented that his party had to pay a heavy price for working against the Modi government, letting his party meekly support the NDA government 2.0 on every contentious bill, including the farm bills and the electricity amendment bill.

These compulsions apart, it is unlikely that Andhra leaders will take a leaf out of the book of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The issues relating to sharing Cauvery River waters and Amatti and Babli irrigation projects are a case in point suggesting how the leaders of the opposition and the ruling party in these two states demonstrated how to work jointly in defence of the rights of their respective states.

Adinarayana, a Bangalore-based senior journalist working for a vernacular daily Prajavani with roots in Andhra, told The Federal, “Nela, jala, bhashe, meaning land, water and language in Kannada, carries a lot of emotional attachment that brought political parties across the spectrum together in Karnataka unlike anywhere in the country.”

Regional parties to the fore

At a time when the BJP’s graph is seen declining and the regional parties are expected to be having a big say in the presidential elections, it is time for the regional satraps in Andhra to turn the tables on the NDA dispensation.

The combined strength of all Opposition parties in Parliament and the Assemblies together makes up 51.1 per cent of the total points against the BJP’s 48.9 per cent in the electoral college. That means the NDA has 2.2 per cent points less than the entire opposition.

In 2017, when the NDA fielded Kovind, the BJP was at its peak. The NDA was governing 21 states, covering 70 per cent of the country’s population and 76 per cent territory. Riding on this massive NDA’s expanding base, Kovind won with 65.65 per cent votes of the electoral college. The opposition’s Meira Kumar trailed way behind with only 34.35 per cent votes.

But in 2022, the picture is different. Post-March 10, the BJP-led NDA governs 17 states, covering 44 per cent of India’s territory and 49.6 per cent of its population. The BJP and its allies have lost big states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan and smaller ones like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

It has lost allies like the TDP, Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal. Given this change in dynamics, Andhra Pradesh, with a combined strength of 175 Assembly seats, 25 Lok Sabha seats and 11 Rajya Sabha seats, will play a crucial role in the presidential elections. But, will Jagan and Naidu rise to the occasion and act jointly in the larger interests of the state? Hopes are, however, bleak.

Also read: Andhra opposition slams government’s ‘cash in lieu of rice’ scheme

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