Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu could be getting ready to part ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA in a couple of months, even as he revives the demand for granting “special category” status to the state, as was promised by the UPA government at the time of the bifurcation of the combined AP four years ago.
Naidu, who had agreed to an economic package in lieu of special status, plans to pose a difficult challenge before the Narendra Modi-led BJP government by resurrecting the earlier demand. The Centre in October 2016 had announced a Rs 2.25 lakh crore package for Andhra Pradesh to make up for the loss of special status which was scrapped for any status in future by the 14th Finance Commission.
But now things appear to be moving towards the parting of ways between the TDP and BJP and the question of Naidu’s two Union ministers—P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju (Civil Aviation) and Sujana Chowdary (Minister of State for Science and Technology)—submitting their resignations, seems like when, if not whether. The Chief Minister will take a decision on this after 6 April, when the budget session concludes.
Similarly, the CM might ask for the resignations of two BJP ministers—Kamineni Srinivas (Medical and Health) and P. Manikyala Rao (Endowments)—from his Cabinet. However, neither the BJP-led Central government nor the TDP-led AP government would be affected by these developments as both parties have comfortable majorities in the Lok Sabha and Assembly, respectively.
Naidu, in a series of meetings with his ministers, party MPs and MLAs, is believed to have told them that he was ready to sever ties with the BJP, in case the Centre failed to come up with a satisfactory economic package for Andhra. He directed his MPs to disrupt proceedings in Parliament and his lawmakers did the job from 5-9 February when the budget session adjourned for a break.
TDP MPs have plans to resume their agitation within and outside Parliament from 5 March when the budget session restarts, and will continue to disrupt proceedings until their demands are met. Until a few days ago, the demands were limited to securing an economic package for AP, a special railway zone for Visakhapatnam and funds for Polavaram irrigation project and Amaravati city construction.
However, early this week, Naidu changed his course and revived the demand for grant of special status as was promised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha in March 2014. BJP leaders in Andhra and Delhi were surprised over Naidu’s U-turn, The demand was more or less forgotten by TDP all these months.
BJP MLC Somu Veerraju told The Sunday Guardian on phone from Vijayawada: “This is political tactics by Chandrababu Naidu as he knows well that special status is not possible in view of the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, which suggested equal status for all states and increased devolution of funds for states too. Asking for special status now is ridiculous.”
CM Naidu’s argument is that the Centre had denied special status to Andhra, on the ground that the Finance Commission abrogated the category for all states, but continued the status to the other states that were enjoying the privilege. “Even in the latest budget for 2018-19, the Centre extended the privilege to several states. What is this injustice?” he asked at a public meeting on Thursday.
Addressing a meeting near Anantapur town where a large number of TDP workers were present on the occasion of the framework installation of Kia Motors, the CM claimed that he would fight to the finish to achieve special status for Andhra. “I went to Delhi 29 times and met the Prime Minister and many Union ministers for assistance to Andhra, but I returned empty handed,” Naidu told the gathering.
Usually polite, Naidu turned aggressive and increased the shrillness in his voice while describing the “unhelpful” attitude of the Centre. TDP seniors who have access to him told this newspaper that the CM has become impatient with the not-so-encouraging attitude of the BJP leaders in the last few weeks. “There is no effort on the part of the BJP top brass to reach out to our CM,” said a TDP Rajya Sabha MP.
The tough posturing by Naidu has more to do with the fast changing ground situation in Andhra, especially on the demand of special status. While YSR Congress leader Jagan Mohan Reddy has been insisting on nothing short of special status, another new player, Jana Sena president and Telugu film star Pawan Kalyan, too has started demanding special status for Andhra as promised by the previous UPA regime.
It has almost became routine in several AP cities and towns for crowds to take out rallies and demonstrations seeking special status and all Opposition parties, including the marginalised Congress and the Left are lapping up the opportunity to join the chorus. In this scenario, Naidu doesn’t want to be seen as the only leader not demanding special status for the state.
The unabated war of words between the TDP and BJP over the last few weeks has further widened the gulf and increased the possibility of both parting ways soon. BJP’s AP unit president and MP K. Haribabu, last week issued a 19-page note containing details of the Centre’s financial assistance to AP in the last three-and-a-half years— an amount of Rs 13,000 crore.
This was promptly rubbished by TDP ministers and legislators who insisted that the state got nothing more than what any other state got in normal course. AP Education Minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao told this newspaper: “There was no special allocation of funds to Andhra, though BJP and TDP are allies in NDA.”
Jagan and Naidu are daring each other to introduce a no-confidence motion against the Central government in the coming Parliament session. Jagan has asked Naidu to table the no trust vote so that his MPs can back it. However, Naidu replied that a no-confidence motion was the last resort for him and dared Jagan and Congress to do the same instead. Meanwhile, the BJP leadership is keenly watching AP developments. There is talk that a former senior NDA minister may be talking to TDP to pacify it.