The fall of Chandrababu Naidu: From inventing solutions to finding excuses
In the mid 1980s, Chandrababu Naidu was seen as a troubleshooter and crisis manager, especially for the legendary actor-turned-politician, late NT Rama Rao, founder of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
In the mid 1980s, Chandrababu Naidu was seen as a troubleshooter and crisis manager, especially for the legendary actor-turned-politician, late NT Rama Rao, founder of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). From 1996 to 2004, he earned the image of an efficient administrator with great vision for development. Seen roaming around countries and investors seeking to market the state, he was called CEO of Andhra Pradesh. He shared dias with people like Bill Clinton and Bill Gates.
During the same period, he was playing crucial role in the United Front (UF) and NDA, when political stalwarts like Deve Gowda, Jayalalithaa, George Fernandes, LK Advani, and AB Bardhan, were flying down to Hyderabad to attend meetings or be closeted with Naidu at his Jubilee Hills residence. From 2004 to 2009, despite being in the Opposition during the YS Rajasekhara Reddy regime, he continued to be on the national political platform.
But his image began to take a beating from 2013, ever since the Congress and the UPA-2 government headed by Manmohan Singh decided to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh to carve out the Telangana state. His ‘two eyes’ (Telangana one eye and Andhra Pradesh another) approach to the issue disappointed his own party cadre as well as the people of the two regions.
However, after the bifurcation, he looked like some solace for the people of the truncated Andhra Pradesh, who were upset with the raw deal meted out to the state in the process. Naidu’s vision to build an ultra modern capital bigger than Hyderabad and even national capital Delhi brought them new hopes.
They elected him as chief minister. But within months, controversies erupted over the sensational cash-for-vote episode in Telangana Legislative Council elections in May 2015, in which audio tapes revealed his purported telephonic conversation with a nominated MLA over an alleged deal for voting in favour of the TDP candidate. This impacted his political stature and his downfall began. Setting aside his own argument that Hyderabad would be the common capital for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh till 2024, he overnight shifted the administration to Vijayawada inviting criticism that he had run away from Hyderabad, fearing cases.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, once part of TDP think-tank, utilised this episode to force Naidu out of the Telangana political arena.
Series of insults, defeats for Naidu in YS Jagan rule
Variety of insults have come in Naidu’s way in the last 22 months. Gates of his house at Vundavalli in Amaravati were tied with ropes by the police, when he had planned to visit the Palnadu region in Guntur district to question the alleged suppression of his party’s supporters by the police.
When he wanted to visit Visakhapatnam, the police permitted but detained him at the airport after some YSR Congress workers stormed the area to resist Naidu’s entry in the coastal town. However, DGP Gautam Sawang faced legal consequences for this and was sent back to Hyderabad.
Earlier this month, he went to Tirupati to lead a protest against the alleged intimidation of his party candidates in the civic polls. But he wasn’t allowed to leave the Renigunta airport due to fears over the law and order situation. Naidu squatted on the floor as a mark of protest and was sent back to Hyderabad at night, after nine long hours.
According to noted political analyst Telakapalli Ravi, Naidu was not getting sympathies or support from the people as he had heaped abuses on the chief minister and faulted the people for voting for the YSRCP.
“It is not only repeated defeats but the redoubled defeats in local polls. One can’t say where a big percentage of votes of TDP has gone. Naidu never reviewed the Assembly debacle seriously and reoriented the organisation,” Ravi analysed.
He said Naidu called Jagan Mohan Reddy a fake CM and went on heaping abuses and hyperboles of anarchic rule on him.
“Some issues of high-handedness may be there but he painted an entire election as a farce. He is still blaming people for voting for YSRCP en masse as a ‘mania’. All these failed to convince people to recoup TDP and even rally his own colleagues in the party.”
“Naidu lost badly even in his hometown and the three capitals. It’s crisis of confidence and lopsided personal attack that cost the TDP a bigger defeat. Otherwise, TDP is still a force,” Ravi added.
Chandrababu Naidu often claims that Jagan Reddy is younger than his political career, which makes it even more embarrassing for him to lose three elections in the hands of the 48-year-old YSRCP politician.
Jagan led his YSRCP to a thunderous victory in assembly elections, by winning 151 out of 175 total seats. In the recently held panchayat elections, the YSRCP claims to have bagged more than 82 per cent of the village panchayats. In municipalities and municipal corporations elections, the gap in vote share between YSRCP and TDP is 22% (YSRCP secured 52.63% while TDP got only 30.73%). The YSRCP bagged all the municipalities and municipal corporations.
Except for basking in past glory, Naidu could not offer anything new to the voters, which his archrival Jagan successfully did. To cover up his electoral losses, he found excuses in EVM tampering in the 2019 general election to alleged threatening of the electorate in the just-held civic polls. He banked on the three issues of making Amaravati the capital, opposing steel plant privatisation and the alleged religious conversions during the YSRCP regime. But, the results displayed that they are non -issues for the electorate.
Attitude change creates gap with people
People did not even like Naidu staying in a ₹5-crore bulletproof bus for several days to monitor the administration after hurriedly relocating to Amaravati in 2015. There are excellent guesthouses in Vijayawada and Guntur, besides many star hotels. He could have chosen any of these facilities and operated from there.
“In doing so, he was looking at the credit for having created a great capital from scratch. But, it indeed hurt the people who were already depressed about the raw deal meted out to the state in the bifurcation process,” admitted a senior TDP leader.
Naidu’s claims of what he had done during his stay in power and his political seniority were not what the people were looking for from him. “In fact, we and the people should be talking and hailing his seniority, achievements and capabilities. He himself doing it has not gone down well with the people,” agreed a senior leader.
What people don’t like to hear from him is the list of things he has done for Hyderabad, which was ultimately a disappointment for him too. He was shunted out from there. Even staying in Hyderabad during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic had earned him criticism. YSRCP leaders ridiculed him for staying home and holding zoom conferences.
Contrary to his image of a crisis manager, he completely stayed away from the ground and confined himself to criticising the government on poor testing, tracing and treatment during the pandemic. “He missed a nature-sent opportunity to re-establish his image as a crisis manager,” said M Yugandhar Reddy, an analyst.
However, proving his innovative thinking, Naidu adopted a unique land pooling scheme, which lured over 24,000 farmers in 29 villages under the Amaravati capital region to part with their 33,000 acres of highly fertile lands for the capital, on a win-win formula. But Naidu could not give them the confidence when Jagan proposed to shift a crucial part of the capital out of this place in the name of creating three capitals.
Senior bureaucrats still remember Naidu as a taskmaster. In 1998, after the Pokhran tests, India faced sanctions. In such a situation, he had sent then finance secretary IV Subba Rao to the World Bank to somehow get funding for a project in the state. “He gave Subba Rao all powers. Rao finally returned with success, which resulted in the state hitting national headlines,” recalled a retired bureaucrat, adding that “the work between 1996 and 2004 was really thrilling.”
People who moved very closely with Naidu say he used to look at national and international image for the state and for himself besides the zeal to grow stronger from the south in national politics. This, according to them, lacked when he became the first CM of the truncated AP in 2014.
People started seeing him as more compromising with political interests in mind. Party insiders say Naidu ignored recommendations to replace 60 sitting MLAs in the 2019 elections. “His decisions were influenced by those financing the party rather than the feedback from the grassroots,” said a leader.
Caught between caste and religion
Chandrababu Naidu seems to be confused about his way forward. Unusually, he picked up a pro-Hindu stand, trying to be ahead of the BJP in cashing in on the Hindu vote bank by cornering Jagan over his Chirstian faith and the attacks on Hindu temples and religious beliefs at several places in the state.
The YSRC leadership described it as Naidu’s strategy to get back into the BJP fold. Though the BJP too joined the protests to not miss the opportunity, what neutralised the allegations was the support from seers like Swamy Swaroopanandendra Saraswati of Visakha Sri Sarada Peetham and the refusal of others to be dragged into the mire.
When Jagan’s father YS Rajasekhara Reddy was the CM, the fight looked like between Kamma and Reddy castes. But Naidu took it to a religious level, while also calling the CM ‘Jagan Reddy’.
The son factor
Another serious concern for the party’s second rung leadership is that Chandrababu Naidu, 70, is promoting his son Lokesh as his political heir. Lokesh was brought through the Legislative Council and was made the IT minister in 2015. In the 2019 elections, he lost from Mangalagiri constituency. Trying to promote Lokesh despite a lack of people’s support has left the senior leaders red-faced.
Senior journalist Kollu Anka Babu says, “Leadership failure, financial crunch, poor coordination, failure to give confidence to the cadre and poor selection of candidates are the reasons for the TDP’s rout in the rural and urban local body polls”.
For YSRCP, the village volunteers strategically recruited by the YS Jagan government immediately after coming to power in May 2019, had worked like loyalists. The opposition cried foul that the volunteers had campaigned that welfare would be discontinued if the YSRC is not supported. Welfare schemes had a positive impact.
However, TDP MP from Srikakulam, K Rammohan Naidu, stressed that the defeat in the local polls would not demoralise the party leaders and cadre. “Defeats are not new. But the present results are out of the coercive politics of the ruling party. We will bounce back,” he asserted.