The stage has been set for the induction of Nara Lokesh into the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet led by his father, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. The Cabinet reshuffle is expected to take place by the end of this month or early May. CM Naidu indicated this to his senior Cabinet colleagues this week, according to at least two senior ministers who spoke to The Sunday Guardian.
Naidu briefed senior ministers about his decision during the first birthday celebrations of his grandson (Lokesh’s son) Devansh at a glittering ceremony held in a convention centre in Vijayawada on Friday night, which coincided with the Ugadi festival marking the beginning of the Telugu new year.
Lokesh, the 33-year-old only son of Naidu, was appointed Telugu Desam Party (TDP) national general secretary in October 2015. After his induction into the AP Cabinet, Lokesh is likely to be given key portfolios like Information Technology (IT) and Industrial Promotion, TDP sources told this newpaper. Lokesh is currently not a member of the AP Assembly or the state Council.
Lokesh’s promotion to the Cabinet will formalise his elevation as the No. 2 in the party as well as the government, though currently there are two Deputy Chief Ministers in the state.
Lokesh has been looking after key organisational affairs in the TDP which include running a Rs 60 crore party workers’ welfare trust, membership drive and affiliated wings of youth, students and women.
Initially, Naidu wanted to send his son to New Delhi as a Rajya Sabha member, filling one of the four vacancies next month. Naidu even thought of making Lokesh a Union minister by dropping one of the incumbents, Y.S. Chowdary, who belongs to the same Kamma community as him.
However, Naidu has now decided to train his son on handling government affairs at the state level for the next three years. This has been decided keeping in mind Lokesh’s deep interest in state politics. After becoming the party general secretary, Lokesh began the operation to woo YSR Congress MLAs into the TDP.
Till now, around 10 out of the total 67 MLAs of the YSR Congress have switched over to TDP and a few more may join it soon. The task of contacting and persuading the opposition MLAs to defect into the ruling party has been left to Lokesh. Though Naidu is the CM and party president, he is not interfering in this operation, a senior minister told this paper.
This also suggests changes in Naidu’s plans to project Lokesh as a TDP leader in Telangana where the party is on a weak wicket. In fact, Lokesh, who was born and brought up in Hyderabad, was entrusted with the responsibility of leading the party to victory in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections two months ago. However, TDP got just two out of 150 divisions.
Several senior ministers of the Naidu Cabinet, who got a whiff of the impending elevation of Lokesh, have begun clamouring for the young leader’s entry into the government. Normally reticent higher education minister Ganta Srinivasa Rao, who is considered to be close to Naidu, told this paper that “Lokesh deserves to be made a minister, and we welcome him”.
Another senior minister Devineni Umamaheswara Rao (major irrigation) too batted for Lokesh’s entry into the government. “The timing will be decided by the Chief Minister, but all of us in the party welcome Lokesh into the Cabinet as his services are very useful to the state at this juncture,” Umamaheswara Rao told this newspaper.
Information and Public Relations Minister Palle Raghunatha Reddy went a step further and said that Lokesh has all the qualities to become the Chief Minister of AP in future. “The entire TDP cadre including ministers and legislators want him (Lokesh) to be elevated as a Cabinet minister soon,” Reddy told the media at Anantapur on Thursday.
As the clamour for Lokesh’s inclusion in the Cabinet grew louder, some legislators offered to vacate their seats for his sake. TDP MLA Bode Prasad came forward to vacate his Penamaluru Assembly seat in Krishna district for Lokesh. “Krishna district is the home of our great leader, the late N.T. Rama Rao, and Lokesh, as his grandson, has every right to get elected from here,” said Prasad.
TDP MLC Mandali Buddha Prasad too offered to quit his council seat from local bodies’ constituency so that Lokesh can get elected in a byelection. Another TDP MLC and senior leader Somireddy Chandra Mohan Reddy told this newspaper that Lokesh has popularity across AP and he can get elected to the Assembly from any of the 13 districts.
Lokesh is an MBA from Stanford University in the US and has been active in politics since 2008. He was credited for drafting TDP manifesto’s major promise of cash transfer scheme in the 2009 elections.