Telangana 2018
By fielding Nandamuri Suhasini, Chandrababu Naidu shows it’s not merely a choice but a well thought out strategy for the Telangana elections.

Andhra Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N Chandrababu Naidu is fielding NT Rama Rao's granddaughter Nandamuri Suhasini as a party nominee from the Kukatpally Assembly constituency of Hyderabad city in the upcoming Telangana Assembly elections. Suhasini is the daughter of N Harikrishna, who passed away recently in a road accident.

Naidu's decision is not a mere choice, but a well thought out strategy of the TDP leadership, by which Chandrababu Naidu wishes to accomplish several political objectives.

Ready for the long haul

By fielding someone from his immediate family, Naidu sends a clear signal to his political adversaries in Telangana that he is ready for the long haul, despite the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) calling him an Andhra leader and the TDP an Andhra party. The TRS, including its president and caretaker Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrasekhar Rao has been lamenting that Chandrababu Naidu should be confined to the 175 seats in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, and that he has no role to play in Telangana’s politics post-bifurcation. The basis for this argument, as KCR has said in his address in a series of public meetings, is that the very movement for a separate Telangana state was launched and achieved to liberate the region from Andhra’s political dominance. However, undeterred by the vehement political onslaught, Naidu wants to send a message by fielding Suhasini that his party TDP, founded by NT Rama Rao, stands for the unity and progress of all Telugus, whether in Andhra Pradesh or Telangana.  

Morale booster

Suhasini's entry is expected not only to enthuse the party’s rank and file in Telangana but also instil confidence in the Seemandhra natives who live in Telangana and have a decisive vote share in several constituencies, especially in Hyderabad city.

In fact, post the bifurcation of the state in 2014 and later, Naidu continued to play an active role in Telangana politics and led the TDP in its anti-KCR fight, which resulted in handsome electoral gains for the party in the 2014 elections. The TDP won 15 seats and its electoral ally, BJP, won five seats. The combine stood second in many constituencies. This is certainly impressive when compared to the performance of the Congress, which delivered Telangana, the long cherished dream of the people of this region. But then, the cash-for-vote scam broke out, in which Naidu was allegedly heard conspiring to lure a nominated MLA to vote for the TDP in the Legislative Council elections by offering a cash bribe. The Telangana Anti-Corruption Bureau is currently investigating the scam.

Subsequently, Naidu stopped playing an active role in Telangana politics, and confined himself to the role of a mentor. This demoralised the Telangana TDP (T-TDP) and made the party rudderless. Meanwhile, thanks to the political management of the TRS, many TDP legislators defected to the ruling TRS, further demoralising the T-TDP. There is even speculation in political circles that KCR and Naidu had an unwritten understanding, by which Naidu confines himself to Amaravati and in return, the investigation in the cash-for-vote scam is diluted. One may or may not believe this theory, but the fact remains that Naidu has been inactive in Telangana politics.

At one point in time, the T-TDP even requested Naidu to send his son, Nara Lokesh, to the state party. Naidu remained silent, and subsequently, Lokesh was inducted into the Andhra Pradesh state cabinet and he was elected to the Andhra Legislative Council, shattering the hopes of the T-TDP.

Using NTR legacy to checkmate rivals

However, the TRS may not be too far behind, as it is concentrating its attack only on Naidu, while holding NT Rama Rao in high regard. Naidu's decision would checkmate critics who lament that the TDP’s alliance with Congress is a betrayal of NTR's political legacy.

This is a clever move by the TRS to satisfy the Seemandhra electorate in Telangana and convince them that TRS is not against them, but only oppose Naidu. In fact, Telangana IT minister and KCR's son KT Rama Rao said this in his address to people from Seemandhra as part of his election-eve reachout exercise. KCR has continued to have good relations with NTR's family, and was even present at the film commencement event of Gautamiputra Satakarni featuring NTR's son and TDP MLA Nandamuri Balakrishna. KCR has even promised a memorial for Nandamuri Harikrishna, despite criticism from Telangana loyalists.

Perhaps, Naidu calculated that it will be difficult for the TRS to attack NTR's granddaughter, although she is TDP’s nominee. Naidu would like to tell the world that NTR's granddaughter is now contesting, with the support of even Congress.

With the decision to bring in Suhasini, Naidu may wish to fulfil the request of the T-TDP to provide someone from the first family of the party.

Appealing to Seemandhra voters in Telangana

YS Jaganmohan Reddy also, at a point in time, toyed with the idea of continuing in Telangana politics. There was also speculation in YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) circles that Jagan would field his sister, Sharmila, in Telangana. Sharmila undertook the padayatra on behalf of Jagan when he was in jail for his alleged corruption deals, which are being investigated by CBI. However, since then, Sharmila has remained passive. The YSRCP won three Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seats in 2014. But somehow, Jagan decided to withdraw from Telangana politics and recently, chose not to contest in the upcoming elections.

There are lakhs of people from Seemandhra in the Telangana region. The TDP or YSRCP would emotionally appeal to the electorate of Andhra Pradesh too if they remain in Telangana politics, given the presence of Seemandhra natives in Telangana. Thus, Naidu would like to score over YS Jagan by taking an anti-TRS position in Telangana politics. The presence of his own family members would bolster this strategy.

Cementing ties between families

There has been a chequered political relationship between the Nara and Nandamuri families. N Hari Krishna even split from Naidu and floated his own party, only to return to TDP’s fold. NTR's daughter D Purandareshwari joined the Congress and later defected to the BJP. NTR's son, actor Balakrishna — whose daughter is married to Lokesh — is now the TDP MLA from Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh. Given this complex political relationship between Nara and Nandamuri families, Naidu would like to cement these relations by fielding Harikrishna's daughter in Telangana politics, which will not, in any way, hurt his political succession plans in Andhra Pradesh.

Professor K Nageshwar is a senior journalist and former Member of Legislative Council from Telangana