Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N Chandrababu Naidu is often viewed as a shrewd social engineer and an expert at sensing which way the wind is blowing.
In 2014, he managed to garner swing votes and come to power with a slender vote margin of 5 lakh. Observers said that it was his promise of granting the Deputy Chief Minister post to someone from the Kapu community and the Backward Class (BC) community, which kept the conflicting dominant social groups on his side. This was considered a master stroke against his bête noire Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Of course, it is a different matter that Revenue Minister K E Krishnamurthy representing the BCs and Home Minister N Chinarajappa, a Kapu, who subsequently became Deputy CMs in the Naidu cabinet in line with the TDP’s election promise, were reduced to mere figureheads.
Cut to the election in 2019 and Naidu has doled out a promise for the Deputy Chief Minister post again -- this time for Muslims, at an election rally at Ponnur in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district just hours after the release of his party’s election manifesto on Saturday.
Muslims, spread over 50 to 60 Assembly segments across the state with around 10 percent vote share, are crucial for the TDP leader to take on the resurgent YSRCP and come back to power. A major chunk of Muslims, considered a close-knitted community with an en bloc voting behaviour, sided with Jagan in 2014, as Naidu was in an alliance with the BJP.
Besides, Jagan’s father and former Chief Minister late Y S Rajasekhar Reddy was endeared by Muslims for realising 4 percent quota for them that immensely helped the YSRCP enlist their support.
In 2014, Naidu had the BJP’s Narendra Modi and actor and Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan on his side, which helped him come to power after a decade-long hibernation.
The election in 2019 is different from the previous election. With no allies around, Naidu is now waging a lone battle, facing increasing anti-incumbency and a belligerent rival in Jagan Mohan Reddy. The support of Backward Classes and Kapus is not intact for him as it was in 2014, thanks to Pawan who has charted his own course as a contender for the CM’s post and the Kapu-BC conflict over the former’s demand for reservation.
Pre-poll surveys suggest a possible dent Pawan and Jagan may make in the TDP’s vote bank. Kapus account for 18 percent while BCs are close to 50 percent of the state’s 3.92 crore voters.
BCs with around 140 sub-castes have been traditionally identified with the TDP since its inception in 1983. Also, Kapus with unpredictable mood swings massively voted for the TDP in 2014, helping it win a majority in 35 to 40 Assembly constituencies where they are a decisive force by virtue of their numerical strength.
Faced with hostile BCs and Kapus, the TDP seems to be banking on the Muslim community heavily this time.
Naidu is understandably sparing no efforts to use his ‘martyr’ image, which he acquired after breaking away with the NDA in March 2018, to his advantage. He is projecting himself as a saviour of Muslim minorities from the onslaught of Hindutva forces led by BJP’s Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine.
To reinforce his pro-secular credentials, the TDP chief roped in former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to campaign in Muslim-dominated Assembly segments in Rayalaseema in the last week of March and got him to launch a tirade against Jagan Reddy. During his speeches, Abdullah said that it was a historical necessity for Muslims to vote for Naidu this time.
The TDP hopes to offset the losses caused by Pawan and the BC-Kapu divide with the help of the Muslim community.
The Telangana-based All India Majlis-e- Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), led by Asaduddin Owaisi, announced his party’s entry in the electoral politics in the neighbouring state but backed out later realising that Andhra Pradesh doesn’t harbour politics of communal divide.