Unity in the air; Opposition in Andhra Pradesh gets a fresh lease of life

(From Left to Right) Chandrababu Naidu, S Shailajanath, Kanna Lakshmi Narayana and Pawan Kalyan.

Nearly nine months after suffering humiliating rout in the general elections, the opposition parties in Andhra Pradesh are now showing signs of revival.

A string of reckless and flawed policy decisions by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government, reflecting political vindictiveness, has provided ammunition for the Opposition to regroup itself and stand up to the ruling YSR Congress Party.

Given the complete political domination of the YSRCP, with 151 out of 175 assembly seats under its belt, the attempts of the opposition revival may appear feeble, tentative and inadequate at this stage but the growing public resentment against the government could boost their efforts in the coming days.

The change of guard in the state Congress, the coming together of actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party and BJP to form an alliance and the churning within the Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party are all pointers to the potential resurrection, though it is a long way to go for the demoralised opposition cadre to emerge as a formidable challenge to the ruling party.

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There are indications that the TDP, which had walked out of the NDA in March 2018 over the Special Category Status issue, will soon return to the NDA fold, a development that could boost the opposition strength ahead of the 2024 elections.

Also Read: Andhra CM Jagan asked to appear before CBI court on Jan 10

In all probability, the three parties—TDP, BJP and JSP—will contest the next elections together while the Congress, whose morale is now at its lowest ebb, is expected to regain strength under the leadership of S Shailajanath, a veteran from Rayalaseema region, who has been appointed the PCC chief replacing N Raghuveera Reddy.

What has changed?

For over a month now, the farmers of Amaravati region in Guntur district have been on a warpath, protesting against the government’s decision to shift the capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam. The intensifying protests have become a rallying point for the Opposition and triggered re-alignment of political forces in the state.

The first sign of this realignment process came on Thursday (January 16) when Jana Sena and BJP announced the formation of an alliance to ‘work together for the people of Andhra Pradesh’.

The two parties unveiled a road map to defeat the YSRCP government in the 2024 elections.

All the opposition parties are on the same page as far as Amaravati issue is concerned. They have thrown their weight behind the agitating farmers from 29 villages who had voluntarily given over 33,000 acres of land for building an ultramodern greenfield capital city at Amaravati as envisioned by former Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

The government’s three-capital plan—Visakhapatnam as executive capital, Amaravati as legislative capital and Kurnool as judicial capital—has not gone down well with the people of the prosperous south and central coastal region. Several urban planning experts and former bureaucrats have also questioned the rationale behind the move and argued in favour of building a large city that can serve as a magnet to attract global investments and emerge, over years, as a competitor to the other metropolitan cities in the country.

Also Read: Amaravati fallout: Pawan Kalyan ties up with BJP, TDP could be next in line

Another key factor that has prompted the opposition parties to get their act together is the growing heat from the YSRCP government which has been targeting the opposition leaders with a streak of ruthlessness that was never seen before.

There is a growing realisation among the opposition camp about the need to put up a joint fight to take on the bullish ruling party.

Despite drawing blank in the last year’s elections, the BJP harbours the hope of emerging as a key player in the next elections. While it sprang a surprise in Telangana by winning four Lok Sabha seats last year, its vote share in AP was just 0.84%, much lower than NOTA (1.28%). The rout was attributed to voters’ anger against the NDA government for going back on its promise of granting special category status to the state.

Repair work in Congress

Nearly eight months after the resignation of N Raghuveera Reddy as the PCC chief, owning moral responsibility for the party’s rout in the general elections, the Congress has appointed S Sailjanath, a dalit leader from Rayalaseema region, as the new president.

A two-time MLA from Singanamala constituency in Anantapur district, Sailajanath had served as government whip during the Y S Rajasekhar Reddy government and was later inducted into the cabinet during the Kiran Kumar Reddy government.

His appointment is expected to energise the cadre in the state. The opposition party also appointed N Tulasi Reddy and Shaikh Mastan Vali as working presidents.

After Raghuveera Reddy put in his papers in May last year, there have been no takers for the post, indicating low morale in the party. This was in sharp contrast to the intense lobbying that used to be the norm in the past. A deep sense of despondency has crept into the state unit. Reddy had written repeated reminders to the central leadership to accept his resignation and later announced that he was taking a sabbatical from politics.

The party high command considered several names to replace him including former chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, six-time MP Chinta Mohan and former Union minister M M Pallam Raju but finally chose Sailajanath. Ever since losing the election in 2014, he has been maintaining a low profile.

Also Read: Politics over Amaravati: New alibis, bizarre reasons for shifting the capital

The big challenge before Sailajanath is to first arrest the desertions from the Congress camp and revitalise the organisation at the grass roots level.

The Congress got 3.68 lakh votes, constituting just 1.17% of the total 3.13 crore votes cast in the state in the last year’s polls. This was worse than its performance in the 2014 polls when it bore the brunt of the public anger over bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to carve out separate Telangana state.

Churning in TDP

After losing power and facing political harassment at the hands of the new government, the TDP is undergoing a churning process with questions being raised over Chandrababu Naidu’s eagerness to promote his son Nara Lokesh at the cost of other more deserving leaders in the party.

Lokesh, the TDP general secretary who is tipped to take over the reins of the regional party, had a disastrous electoral debut when he was defeated in Mangalagiri assembly constituency in the last elections.

A Stanford management graduate, Lokesh, who made a beginning as ‘backroom boy’ in TDP politics a decade ago, is seen as number two in the party but has not made his presence felt on the bigger political stage.

A section of the party leaders feel that Lokesh, though educated abroad and gifted with managerial skills, lacks mass appeal. His corporate style of functioning may not be suited to run a political party, they argue.

There was a flutter in the party recently when posters appeared at some places in Prakasam district, hailing Junior NTR, the grandson of the TDP founder and matinee idol of Telugu cinema N T Rama Rao (NTR).

Some party leaders argue that time was ripe for Junior NTR to enter active politics to “save the sinking TDP”. Some of the posters, put up on the occasion of Pongal festival, hailed the young actor as “future CM of AP”

Also Read: It’s official, end of Amaravati dream for Andhra Pradesh

This is quite embarrassing for Chandrababu Naidu who had taken over the reins of the TDP after dethroning NTR, his father-in-law, in a midnight political coup in August, 1995.
For the present TDP dispensation, it is nothing short of blasphemy to talk about handing over the party’s baton to any other member of NTR’s family.

Junior NTR (37), was, for a long time, disowned by the first family of the TDP. Son of Nandamuri Harikrishna, he was born out of wedlock. He was accepted into the family fold only after he made a mark in the Tollywood. Harikrishna, himself an actor, died in a road accident in August, 2018. He was believed to have pushed for a greater role for his son in the party but his efforts never met with success.

Charismatic campaigner

The only time the TDP utilised the services of Junior NTR was during the 2009 assembly polls in the combined Andhra Pradesh. He was the party’s star campaigner, drawing huge crowds in the coastal region and making an instant connect with the youth. In speeches, gesticulations and in attire, he evoked the memories of NTR’s legendary roadshows that are now part of Andhra’s political folklore.

However, Junior NTR’s electioneering came to an abrupt end after he met with a road accident in the middle of the campaigning and was advised complete rest for a few weeks. In the elections that followed, the Congress returned to power for a second term under the leadership of Y S Rajasekhar Reddy.

Since then, the TDP has virtually ignored Junior NTR.

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