Congress retains its traditional vote bank of 1,000 to 5,000 votes in all Assembly segments, which can serve as an incremental benefit for Naidu.

Andhra CM Naidus change in stance Congress blood or shrewd strategyPTI file photo
news Politics Sunday, May 27, 2018 - 12:36

“30% of Congress blood flows in me,” TDP leader and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu had once said. Although Naidu made this confession during a wordy duel with his bête noir then and former CM YS Rajasekhar Reddy a long time ago while in the opposition, the political discourse revolves around this statement in the backdrop of TDP’s annual jamboree called Mahanadu scheduled to take place in Vijayawada for three days from Sunday.

Chandrababu’s open jubilation over the coalition government in Karnataka, in which the Congress is a junior partner, has become the trigger for the current debate over the “Congress blood” within him. BJP senior leader Somu Veerraju racked up the debate saying “Congress blood” was flowing in Naidu, taunting him for backing the JD(S)-Congress government.

BJP’s political strategist Ram Madhav at a function in Guntur in connection with Kanna Lakshminarayana taking charge as the party state president on Saturday accused Chandrababu of watering down his mentor NT Rama Rao’s anti-Congress philosophy. It may be recalled that the TDP was founded by matinee idol and Naidu’s father-in-law Rama Rao aka NTR on March 29, 1982 on the plank of anti-Congress ideology and stormed to power within nine months of its formation.

In turn, TDP MLC and former minister Dokka Manikya Varaprasad criticised the BJP saying the party too was not a holy cow with respect to import of Congress culture. To drive his point home, he cited the ‘fact’ that the new BJP state president Kanna himself was once in the Congress.

In fact, Chandrababu had fought his father-law on a Congress ticket and lost the election in his native Chandragiri in 1983. Subsequently, he defected to the TDP to grow as a backroom protégé of his father-in-law. Even after parting ways with his mentor and splitting the party in 1995 during the August crisis, he helped the TDP survive with the same anti-Congress narrative until the state bifurcation in 2014.  

Shift in TDP’s policy?

The relevance of the TDP’s profound anti-Congress philosophy comes under question after its disintegration into the successor state of Andhra Pradesh and Naidu’s break-up with the BJP. Unlike the times when the TDP was floated, the Congress is currently failing to enjoy monopoly over the country’s political landscape on account of the waning popularity of the Nehru family. The party lost deposits in all the 225 Assembly segments and 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 in the state. Yet it retains its traditional vote bank, ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 votes in all Assembly segments, which is enough to serve as an incremental benefit for Naidu in return for his soft-pedalling.

This is crucial for the TDP to survive in 2019 at a time when it has antagonised old friends such as actor Pawan Kalyan, considering the fact that the margin of votes that saved Naidu in 2014 was just 2%. Instead, the current political situation warrants Naidu to adopt a hawkish anti-BJP stance in order to lend more credence to his claims as a crusader of state interests. Incidentally, state interests and its regional aspirations seem to have come under serious threat from the Centre during the Modi regime.

To quote an anonymous political analyst, NTR’s anti-Congress narrative was only notional as his ideology was basically rooted in federal politics aimed against the authoritarian Centre.

“Had NTR been alive today, he would have certainly crusaded against the BJP in the same way he had against the Congress during those times,” he observed.

“After all, politics is dynamic. Nothing is permanent and policy framing also needs to be dynamic in accordance with the changing times,” he added.

TDP in search of friends in need

At the national level, Naidu appears to have come to grips with the ground reality that any anti-BJP platform by keeping the Congress out is unlikely to be viable. Hence, a post-poll alliance with the Congress, just like the Karnataka model, cannot be ruled out, according to a senior legislator from the TDP.

However, party insiders told TNM that the prospects of Mahanadu debating the policy shift and projecting Naidu as either a king or kingmaker in national politics appear to be dim.

“Showcasing Naidu as a PM in the making will obviously trigger a comparison between his son and heir apparent Nara Lokesh and opposition leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy. If that happens, it will be suicidal for Lokesh,” a senior leader said.

The party’s conclave lets the rank and file brood over the changes within the TDP since the transition of power from its founder NTR to his son-in-law Naidu. NTR, driven by impulsive decisions, was a greenhorn in politics. In contrast, his successor is a shrewd and pragmatic leader to the core driven by the principle of decimating rivals and holding on to power by all means. In the process of betting on the winning horses by Naidu led the party to lose its basic character associated with its patriarch.

As a result, critics from within and outside his party target Naidu for import of Congress culture, in the form of massive defections, introduction of corporate honchos into the party and the increasing role of money during polls, when compared to NTR’s times. Now, of course, spending money has become a common feature in every party.

Also read: Hyderabad pilots eco-friendly building made of recycled plastic and bamboo, at a park

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