Political pundits may be making a colossal mistake if they were to dismiss Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo, Chandrababu Naidu’s decision as a pressure ploy to extract benefits for the state by pulling out ministers from the Narendra Modi-led NDA government. In fact, tension has been brewing within the NDA, where several parties, including the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiv Sena have accused the BJP of not adhering to the coalition dharma by neither consulting them nor appointing their representatives to gubernatorial or other positions.
The BJP, on its part, has been content with its electoral or government formation successes. Therefore, it seems in no hurry to pacify its partners, who should have known that their role would be marginalised after Modi had enabled his party to secure a simple majority on its own while leading the alliance to a massive victory in the 2014 Parliamentary polls. It is a fact that the BJP did include nominees of its partners in the Central government, yet made no effort and showed no inclination to accord them relevant importance, given the elevated political status the Prime Minister had acquired with his phenomenal poll triumphs.
In Andhra Pradesh, Naidu has been compelled to take a rigid position after his chief rival, Jagan Mohan Reddy, head of the YSR Congress has repeatedly been attacking him for doing precious little for the people of the state. Jagan is a combative leader, who had lost out narrowly in the last elections, and thus is determined to wrest power from the TDP in the same manner as in 2004 his late father, Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy had done. Naidu, who for nearly four years was in control of absolute dominance and authority, has now comprehended that his fortunes would be irretrievable if he continued his alliance with the NDA, and therefore, had to been seen as an independent entity who was not controlled by politicians waving their batons from New Delhi.
In political circles there is widespread speculation that Naidu has opened backchannel communication with senior Congress leaders, and was thereby exploring the possibility of forming an alliance in the next elections with the grand old party. Clearly it is evident to him that the Congress and the YSR Congress could never be on the same side since they had a bitter parting after Jagan was treated harshly by Sonia Gandhi following his father’s sudden demise in a helicopter crash. In the TDP leader’s estimation, continuation with the BJP would be suicidal and the only way the party stood a chance was to befriend new partners or at least keep a safe distance from the saffron brigade.
It is another story, the primary reason for Atal Behari Vajpayee losing power at the Centre in 2004 was his government’s decision to hold early elections for Lok Sabha so as to coincide with the polls in Andhra Pradesh. This had been carried out after an insecure Naidu had convinced the late Pramod Mahajan and an impatient L.K. Advani that an early poll would ensure the return of NDA to power. Advani was hoping that once the NDA had the numbers, it would be he, and not Vajpayee, who would head the government.
In that period, when he was a valuable alliance partner of the NDA, Naidu had extracted more than his financial share from the Centre’s coffers; the facts came to light when the then Rural Development Minister, Shanta Kumar brought this to the notice of Vajpayee and Advani that in place of the Rs 90 crore that were sanctioned annually to Andhra, the state had withdrawn an unrestrained, inordinate sum of additional Rs 100 crore for three consecutive years. Political naivety cost Shanta Kumar his Cabinet berth, since the two top leaders paid no heed to his startling disclosure and for reasons of political expediency dropped him from the government.
Naidu has also taken a cue from fellow Telugu politician and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who has already given a call for the formation of a third front, thereby making it apparently noticeable that he would form no alliance with either the Congress or the BJP. In all probability, the evaluation cum calculation of both these Chief Ministers is that it would be prudent to continue their political sojourn without the BJP. Both are perceptive and insightful leaders who recognise ground reality and thus perhaps can foresee prospects of a political situation where they could secure greater relevance than they currently enjoy.
The Akalis, too, have made it abundantly clear that the Centre has done little for Punjab except for giving a raw deal to its allies. In fact, in no uncertain terms, the message that is being sent out to the BJP is that there was total uncertainty so far as the 2019 elections were concerned and therefore being in government in more than 20 states was not sufficient enough to help it retain power at the Centre. The underlining point is that the BJP must honour the commitment it made to its allies or else be prepared to face the electoral battle solo. Effectively this would denote that the BJP would have to repeat its feat of securing a simple majority on its own steam. However it may be of little amazement, with Modi as the leader, the BJP may upstage its current partners, and attain the requisite numbers. Between us.