‘Naidu made it clear to Opposition leaders that he was not interested in leading the front’.
A spate of income tax (I-T) raids on TDP leaders and the apprehension that Opposition leader Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy might become a formidable force are the major reasons behind Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s sudden visits to Delhi since recently to float a non-BJP political front by the April-May Lok Sabha elections.
Naidu on Thursday called on Congress president Rahul Gandhi and a few other Opposition leaders in Delhi and lobbied hard to float a national level front to take on the BJP in the next general elections. According to some TDP MPs who were present during the meetings, Naidu made it clear to the Opposition leaders that he was not interested in leading the front.
Naidu told Rahul Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh that he would prefer to be confined to Andhra Pradesh as the Chief Minister and it was up to them to select a suitable leader if the parties in the front come to power after elections. Naidu was only interested in “putting up a strong fight against the BJP to see that the party doesn’t come back to power in 2019 elections”.
Naidu told four to five Opposition leaders whom he met in Delhi that the BJP-led Central government had forced the I-T and Enforcement Directorate (ED) conduct raids on at least 200 business houses owned by either supporters or leaders of TDP in Andhra. He submitted them a list of persons who were raided by I-T since August first week. In some cases, CBI, too, summoned some TDP leaders for interrogation.
Naidu was so obsessed with the tax sleuths raids in Andhra that he almost made it a main theme for Opposition unity at the national level and suggested that “stopping misuse of all institutions like I-T, ED and CBI by the Centre to settle political scores with its opponents” should be a prominent point in the common minimum agenda for the proposed front.
Both Sharad Pawar and Mulayam Singh have agreed with Naidu that “I-T, ED and CBI had almost become instruments of harassment of Opposition leaders in the country” and promised to put this in the common agenda which would be finalised soon. The same issue was raised by Naidu when he called on National Conference (NC) leader Farooq Abdullah and former Union minister Arun Shourie.
Naidu was apparently incensed over the tax raids over some of the important leaders of his party like Rajya Sabha MP C.M. Ramesh and former Union minister Sujana Chowdary, who were strong pillars of its finances and fundraisers. The tax notices issued by the officials are expected to shave off their wealth by a whopping amount, according to sources.
BJP general secretary G.V.L. Narasimha Rao and some YSR Congress leaders have termed the protests by the CM and other TDP leaders against the raids as “uncalled for” and “panic”. Narasimha Rao even said that the TDP leaders were shaken as these raids had cut off their illegal sources of election funding through which they wanted to win the next elections. YSR Congress said Ramesh had evaded huge amount of taxes.
Brushing aside these objections, Naidu wanted to make them a political issue and raised the same with the Opposition leaders across the country. He would be sending a dossier on tax raids against his party leaders to Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, Akhilesh Yadav and DMK leader Stalin too this week.
Besides the raids, another issue that played a role in Naidu’s efforts to build an anti-BJP platform was reports about YSR Congress leader Jagan Reddy’s growing popularity in Andhra. Jagan, who is on a Padayatra since last November, has emerged as a strong force in the last one year and there is also a possibility of his joining hands with the BJP in the coming elections.
Jagan Reddy also was a major reason for Naidu pulling out of BJP-led NDA this May. Naidu, who contested the 2014 elections with BJP, apparently wanted the Centre to speed up the trial of corruption cases against Jagan Reddy, but nothing like that happened in the last four years. Moreover, some of the properties attached by the ED before 2014 were released by the courts since recently.
Naidu’s main suspicion was that the BJP leadership in Delhi was cozying up with Jagan Reddy after the latter sent feelers of friendship through extending his support to the president and vice-president candidates of the NDA, besides backing some of its major laws like GST. Naidu was not happy with the frequent meetings of Jagan Reddy’s MPs with the PM and the President in the last two years.
Jagan Reddy has repeatedly made it clear that he would go it alone in the next elections, but Naidu suspects that the former might end up having an alliance with BJP as it suits both electorally. In that case, Naidu wanted to take the help of Congress which is a marginalised force in Andhra.
Already, Naidu’s TDP has joined a Congress led “Maha Kutami” (grand alliance) in neighbouring Telangana for the 7 December Assembly elections. There have been proposals from the Congress high command for a tie-up in Andhra, too, and Naidu is now open to that proposal. On Thursday, Naidu talked of a national level tie up with Congress, implying that he will offer some seats to the party in Andhra Pradesh.
Naidu claimed in Amaravati on Friday that so far he had mustered the support of 15 parties to his national anti-BJP front: Congress, TDP, SP, BSP, RJD, DMK, NCP, JMM, CPI, CPM, Trinamool Congress, JDS, NC, Rashtriya Lok Dal and PDP. Naidu is planning to hold a rally of these parties in Delhi in February after one planned by Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata in January.