Why ‘kingmaker’ Chandrababu Naidu finds it tough to forge an alliance now

A realisation that BJP is the best bet and that he had committed harakiri by taking on Prime Minister Modi in the 2019 elections seems to have dawned upon the TDP supremo

Chandrababu Naidu
Amidst agitations against price rise, Chandrababu Naidu has chosen not to talk against Modi government so as not to send a wrong signal | File Photo: PTI

For the first time in its four-decade-long history, the TDP is unsure of the shape of the political alliance it is expected to be part of in the 2024 elections.

Till a few years ago, the party was at the centre of all important coalitions. both in New Delhi and the state. Between 1985 and 1994, party founder NTR liberally made seat adjustments with anti-Congress parties such as CPI, CPM, BJP and Janata Party. And later, till 2019, Chandrababu Naidu, successor to NTR, called shots and chose friends and foes depending upon his convenience. He jettisoned friends if they did not suit him. He did not hesitate to join hands with even arch-rivals for electoral gains. Now Naidu finds himself in a predicament where he is unable to make a choice as per his whims and fancies.

Apprehensive that he alone can’t take on formidable chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy, Naidu wants all anti-Jagan forces to come together so that the anti-establishment vote does not get divided.

BJP keeps Naidu in dark

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Naidu has been desperate to move closer to the BJP. A realization that BJP is the best bet and he had committed harakiri by taking on Prime Minister Modi in the 2019 elections seems to have dawned upon the TDP supremo.

But Modi has been nonchalant. The result: Naidu, who used to keep his alliance partners on tenterhooks by not revealing his stand on any issue till the last minute, is similarly waiting with bated breath for a positive signal from Modi for three years.

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

While agitations against the rise of petrol, diesel and gas prices rocked the nation, Naidu chose not to talk against Modi government afraid that it would send a wrong signal. His party’s language against price rise is so carefully chosen that it makes chief minister Jagan entirely responsible for it.

His party has been on an aggressive campaign called baadude baadudu (roughly, blow after blow) against the rise of power tariffs, RTC bus fares, etc. “CM Jagan has not only destroyed capital Amaravati but also the state and economy with his anti-people policies and corruption. So, for us defeating YSRCP in the next election is more important than harping on national policies,” Kalva Srinivasulu, former TDP minister and politburo member, told The Federal.

This posture, however, failed to elicit any favourable response from the central BJP. The state leadership was, in fact, quick to reject Naidu’s offer of a grand alliance against Jagan. BJP state party chief Somu Veerraju was categorical in saying there would be no alliance with the TDP. “We want to go with the Janasena Party in 2024 election and Prime Minister Modi’s governance will be our main election plank. ‘Janaalu and Janasena’ is our catchline. We both will form the government in 2024,” Veerraju said.

Curiously, Janasena chief Pawan Kalyan, who formed an alliance with BJP after the 2019 defeat, is negotiating with Naidu for a pre-poll pact. Nobody knows if he would remain with the BJP or break out to be with Naidu. Janasena garnered a vote share of 5.5 per cent in the 2019 election.

TDP thinks BJP as the best bet

Amid the talk of possible early Assembly elections, the state of Andhra Pradesh is witnessing a heated debate on possible alliances. Having experimented with all sorts of alliances, Naidu seems to have been convinced that of all the alliances he had, the one with the BJP was alone durable and dependable despite a setback in 2004.

In 2009, he went to the polls with TRS and the Left, which proved to be a disaster. The Congress under YSR returned to power with a thumping majority. In 2014, he came back into the NDA fold and secured the support of Pawan Kalyan to take on the Congress and then emerging Jaganmohan Reddy. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Modi’s campaign in Andhra, coupled with Pawan’s glamour, worked wonders and brought him back to power after 10 years.

Before that in 1999, BJP played a key role in the re-election of Naidu. According to noted political scientist Prof KC Suri of Hyderabad Central University, the victory of the TDP- BJP alliance then was not “as grand as it made out to be and the defeat of the Congress was not as miserable as it first appears” because the margin between the two was just 10 lakh votes.

Analysing the election outcome in a working paper entitled ‘Democratic Process and Electoral Politics in Andhra Pradesh’, he wrote: “One of the foremost reasons for the victory of the TDP-BJP alliance in this election could be attributed to the TDP-BJP alliance itself.”

However, in 2019, stating that his secular image was being tarnished due to his association with Modi, Naidu quit NDA. He suffered a miserable defeat at the hands Jaganmohan Reddy in the elections.

It is thus not surprising that the party is unanimous in the view that TDP should again revive the Modi-Naidu-Pawan alliance to prevent Jagan from forming the government for the second time in 2024.

Also read: Is Chandrababu Naidu losing ground in home turf Kuppam?

A second consecutive defeat for 72-year-old Naidu would be catastrophic for the TDP. Naidu has to prevent this from happening not only for the survival of the party, but also for the sake of his son Nara Lokesh, who is yet to prove his mettle in politics.

This uncertainty is forcing Naidu to talk of a grand alliance against Jagan. A similar sentiment has been expressed by Pawan as well. The star-turned-politician, despite his huge mass appeal, has not been able to make it to the Assembly even after 10 years in politics. In 2019 he fought the election in the company of the Left and BSP. But he lost in the two seats he contested and his party bagged only one seat.

Immediately after the election, Pawan, forgetting his rabid anti-Modi past, struck a deal with BJP, which in turn floated an idea that he would be made NDA chief ministerial candidate in Andhra Pradesh.

Bid for anti-Jagan front

It is in this backdrop that Naidu announced “he is ready to make sacrifices to bring all parties together in order to unseat the anarchic government of Jaganmohan Reddy in the state.”

Immediately, the ruling YSRC responded with a tricky challenge. “If Naidu wants people to believe him, he should immediately announce the name of Pawan Kalyan as the chief ministerial candidate,” said Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy, party general secretary and Man Friday of Jagan.

Kapus, to which Pawan belongs, are a socially visible and a land-owning community like Reddys and Kammas. But, the caste, unable to vie with these two dominant castes in power stakes, wants backward status. This has enraged other backward classes as the proposal, if agreed to, would tilt the benefits of reservations in Kapus’ favour.

With weak presence in the political spectrum, Kapus’ dream of seeing their man as chief minister has become unrealizable. If he allies with the TDP, Pawan would never become a chief ministerial candidate. So, the reported offer of NDA to make him chief ministerial candidate is more tantalizing than a mere alliance with TDP.

BJP eyes TDP cadre

Interestingly, BJP is harbouring a desire to see the defeat of Naidu in 2024.  In their view, this would force TDP leaders and cadre to migrate to BJP for survival. “Why should we join TDP to make Naidu chief minister again? BJP suffered a lot in his company. He never allowed the party to grow in Andhra Pradesh when we were in alliance with him. So, we won’t join hands with either the ruling YSRC or Opposition TDP. The policy of the party in Telangana and Andhra is to fight for the second position. We no longer want to remain in the third or fourth position. If BJP wants to expand in Andhra Pradesh, the party has to ensure the defeat of TDP, “said Perala Sekhar Rao, BJP former National Executive member and South India Chairman of KVIC.

If this is the intention, how would BJP allow Pawan to quit the alliance to join Naidu? And, how could Pawan afford to ignore the BJP’s offer to project him as a chief ministerial candidate?

But, commentator Gosala Prasad says, this confusion would be cleared once the presidential election is completed. “The chances of BJP joining hands with Naidu and Pawan cannot be ruled out. The BJP is silent because of the Presidential election,” he said.

The important question that begs an answer is would Naidu don the role of  ‘Kingmaker’ again and agree to sacrifice power and project Pawan Kalyan as a chief ministerial candidate to entice the BJP to join in the alliance to defeat Jagan?

Also read: TDP, Cong want Article 360 (financial emergency) clamped in Andhra Pradesh

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