Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu is in the forefront of his party ministers, MLAs and MPs, protesting what they call the “raw deal” given to the state in the Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday. But he is unlikely to quit the ruling NDA at the Centre anytime soon, said sources close to the CM.
Naidu spent Thursday and Friday trying to douse the anger of his party leaders who called on him at his official residence at Amaravati and threatened to resign from their seats as a mark of protest against the “injustice” done to AP in the last full-fledged budget of the BJP-led NDA government. He too joined the chorus with them in lashing out at the Centre, but, that was only to buy time to control their anger, said sources.
Ever since the FM concluded his budget speech in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, it was clear that not one of the major demands put forth by the TDP government was considered by the Centre. The demands included a statutory financial package to AP similar to what was given to Bihar earlier, massive grants to Amaravati city and Polavaram project and a railway zone for Visakhapatnam.
The CM presented a 19-page memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 12 January in New Delhi, outlining what he expected from the 2018-19 budget. On the suggestion of the PM, Naidu held a detailed meeting with FM Jaitley a few days later. Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar visited Amaravati last month to discuss AP’s needs.
All this made Naidu confident of securing some major assistance from the Centre in an election year so that he can go to the people showing it as his achievement. Moreover, the CM is under pressure from opposition YSR Congress chief Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who has been saying that the TDP, despite being an NDA partner, couldn’t get anything from the Centre so far. With a budgetary announcement, the TDP supremo wanted to counter the Opposition charge that he had failed to secure a special category status promised to AP in 2014.
Substantial grants for the construction of Amaravati city at around Rs 10,000 crore and Polavaram irrigation across Godavari river at around Rs 25,000 crore, and the creation of a special railway zone at Visakhapatnam were the other major expectations of AP.
Soon after the budget presentation, some TDP MPs called Naidu from New Delhi and offered to quit. Guntur MP Rayapati Sambasiva Rao and Chittoor MP N. Siva Prasad came forward to submit their resignations to the Lok Sabha Speaker on Monday, 5 February but Naidu told them that he would hold an MPs’ meeting at Amaravati on Sunday, 4 February.
Anantapur TDP MP J.C. Diwakar Reddy attacked the budget by saying that it offered nothing to the people of AP. “They (BJP leaders) have a full majority in the Lok Sabha and they know that we cannot achieve anything by withdrawing our support. Our CM has a lot of patience, but his patience too has limits,” Reddy told the media in New Delhi on Thursday.
There are several other ministers, MLAs and MPs who too went on record criticising the budget and hinted at pulling out of the NDA government and cutting electoral ties with the BJP, if the Centre ignored AP’s interests. TDP Rajya Sabha MP T.G. Venkatesh told his supporters on Friday that the BJP had betrayed the people of AP.
Naidu held a TDP senior leaders’ meeting at his residence on Friday and later a Cabinet meeting in which the issue of the budget came up for discussion. Agriculture Minister S. Chandramohan Reddy told this newspaper on phone from Amaravati that the CM might take some drastic decision on continuing in the NDA at the MPs’ meeting on Sunday.
But a senior minister who spoke to The Sunday Guardian preferring not to be quoted said that the CM might not leave the NDA anytime soon. “We will fight with the BJP government on our interests and mount pressure in all available forms within and outside Parliament. We will wait for their response till the end of the budget session and then decide our next course,” said the minister.
The minister, who accompanied the CM to his meetings with the PM and the FM last month, however, made it clear that the TDP wouldn’t keep quiet if the promises made to AP at the time of bifurcation were not fulfilled. “The CM is agitated over the revival of the Congress in Rajasthan (byelections) and doesn’t want to take any chances in our state,” said the AP minister.
Meanwhile, BJP president Amit Shah downplayed the anger within the TDP. Shah, who was closeted with senior party leaders from AP and Telangana in New Delhi on Thursday, said that there would not be any problems in the two parties going together again in 2019. “We will continue to protect AP’s interests and they can come to us with any complaints,” he told the BJP leaders.
BJP MP and AP state unit president K. Haribabu, party leader in the Assembly P. Vishnu Kuamr Raju, former Union minister D. Purandeswari and two other senior leaders were present there. One of them who spoke to this newspaper on Friday pointed out that even after last year’s budget Naidu had threatened to quit the NDA but he did not do so. He expressed the hope that the issues would be settled amicably.