HYDERABAD: Former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu has, for the first time, regretted his decision to quit the BJP-led NDA government a year before the general elections. He openly admitted that his decision to pull out of the Narendra Modi-led government in May 2018 dealt a body blow to his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections this year.

Naidu was reviewing the disastrous performance of the TDP in the elections with senior leaders and active members in Visakhapatnam on Friday evening. The party which ruled Andhra Pradesh for five years ended up with just 23 out of the 175 seats in the Assembly and three out of 25 MPs. Naidu said that he never imagined that his party would fare so poorly.

“We have pulled out of the BJP-led government on the issue of special category status for Andhra, but the decision has cost us dearly; not only did we lose economically because of subsequent non-cooperation from the Centre, but also politically as the TDP lost power and finished badly,” said Naidu, who commissioned a series of surveys on the reasons for the poor electoral show of his party.

Naidu’s latest remarks indicate a deeper churning within him for the last few months, over brainstorming sessions to introspect the reasons for losing power. Until now, there were only hints that he was wondering about his decision to walk of the alliance with the BJP, but this was the first time that he openly shared his views with his party leaders on an open forum.

Naidu not just pulled out of the NDA government, but also took a strident stance against the BJP by aligning with the Congress. TDP’s move to go with the Congress-led “Mahakutami” in the December Assembly elections in Telangana gave him a jolt as the experiment flopped and TRS came back to power with an enhanced majority.

Naidu, after quitting the BJP government at the Centre, canvassed against the party across the country and joined hands with several regional leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, H.D. Kumaraswamy and Arvind Kejriwal, among others. There was a section within TDP which was wary of his moves and felt that his sudden somersault from the saffron camp to Congress might not go down well with the public.

However, this section, including former ministers Yanamala Ramakrishnudu, Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Sujana Chowdary, couldn’t openly express their views as Naidu was keen on “teaching the BJP a lesson” for ignoring him and going soft on his bête noir YSR Congress leader Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. Naidu estimated that he could whip up passions among people on the special status issue.

Keeping that in mind, Naidu as Chief Minister addressed a series of meetings across the state in the name of “Dharma Porata Deekshalu” (protest meetings for justice). The Opposition YSR Congress alleged that the Chief Minister was wasting public money to mount a campaign against the Centre. At these meetings, Naidu made people take a pledge that they would teach the BJP-led Centre a lesson.

As Jagan too was fighting for the cause of special status for Andhra Pradesh, Naidu thought that he would be ahead of the Opposition leader in this game by going aggressively against the Centre, ruled by the BJP, but little did he realise that people might not trust him as TDP shared power with BJP for four years and pulled out months before the elections.

The section which silently differed with Naidu on pulling out of NDA had quit the TDP weeks after the election results were out and joined the BJP. Prominent in this section are: four Rajya Sabha members Sujana Chowdary, C.M. Ramesh, T.G. Venkatesh and Garikapati Rammohan. They were followed by dozens of second rung leaders. The exodus from TDP to BJP appears unabated in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Naidu’s open regret over quitting the BJP-led NDA hints at a possible realignment of political forces in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Sources close to Naidu didn’t rule out the chances of TDP again joining hands with the BJP in the months to come. This is one of the reasons he is keeping quiet even as several of his party leaders have made a beeline for BJP in the last few weeks, sources say.