Since his party’s break-up with the NDA, Naidu has been sending out signals that seem to dilute the anti-Congress philosophy of the party founder.

Backing Congress in RS deputy chairman polls Naidu pursuing politics of conveniencePTI photo
news Politics Friday, August 10, 2018 - 17:28

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N Chandrababu Naidu, when he succeeded his mentor and party founder NT Rama Rao after the August 1995 coup, was quite often heard repeating the famous phrase popularised by former Chinese President Deng Xiaoping: ‘It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice’. This seemed to be an attempt to shift from welfare raj to reforms during his initial days as chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh. It was Deng’s favourite phrase since he was not worried about ideological purity, but only about results.

Naidu’s acumen and pragmatism seem to be driving him to a paradigm shift in his party’s political direction, determined by the matinee idol NTR at the time of TDP’s launch way back in 1982, apparently in keeping with the spirit of the same phrase. He keeps sending out such signals since his party’s break-up with the NDA. His party’s support for the Congress nominee BK Hariprasad for the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman post in Thursday’s election is just a tip of the iceberg. And, in the process, Naidu giving precedence to the politics of convenience and compulsion shows scant regard for his critics over the alleged dilution of the anti-Congress philosophy of the party founder.

Naidu’s newfound love for the Congress was apparent during the show of unity by opposition parties at the swearing-in of JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy as Karnataka Chief Minister. Right under the glare of media, Naidu affectionately threw his arms around Congress President Rahul Gandhi and patted him.

Later, the TDP-Congress bonhomie was extended to the no-trust motion moved by Naidu’s party against the Narendra Modi government on the question of special category status (SCS) for Andhra, with Rahul Gandhi backing the protesting TDP members. Subsequently, the Congress Working Committee with Rahul in the chair adopted a resolution to realise the TDP’s demand for SCS if voted to power in the 2019 elections. In contrast, Narendra Modi categorically declined the TDP’s demand.

What is Naidu’s compulsion?

Naidu has managed to survive in AP politics for four decades, weathering many a hiccup in the process, his success attributed to his ability to perceive which side the wind is blowing and sailing accordingly. His adversaries, however, say this is nothing but rank opportunism.

The election in 2019 is crucial for Naidu who helped his party get out of a 10-year long political hibernation and come to power in 2014. He can’t afford to let his party suffer another bout of defeat since it is craving a smooth transition of power in favour of Naidu’s son Lokesh, that too when it is in power, before age becomes a constraint for the party chief who is close to 70.

Politically, the government under his leadership is weathering a sweeping anti-incumbency sentiment fuelled by its various omissions and commissions in the four years of its rule. As if adding fuel to fire, the opposition leader, YS Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSRCP, grows stronger. Therefore, Naidu with all his art of politicking began building a narrative – the Congress did injustice to the Andhra people while the NDA led by PM Narendra Modi betrayed them – surrounding the state bifurcation. As if giving Naidu some excuse to shed his anti-Congress vibes and condone it for the bifurcation sins, the Congress leadership empathised with him on bifurcation issues.

In a national setting with bipolar politics in existence, TDP, after its divorce from the BJP, is left with no option but to find recourse in the Congress for certain issues to be resolved by a party in power at the Centre. Sensing the probability of NDA’s poor show in the coming elections, Naidu allowed his party to change its policy direction accordingly. To quote TDP senior leader and diehard NTR loyalist Gorantla Buchchaiah Chowdary, the Congress, even if someone calls it evil, is inevitable for the TDP in the present political context.

Multi-lateral strategy

The TDP is understood to have evolved a policy vis-a-vis the Congress that varies at the national and the state level. Chowdary said the TDP has taken upon itself the responsibility of uniting all the anti-NDA forces at the national level to defend secular values and federal interests. This could mean that the TDP will either extend support to the Congress-led arrangement from outside or become an active partner.

At the same time, it cannot be construed that the TDP will not allow any alliance with the Congress on its home turf, i.e., Andhra Pradesh. In Telangana, the party, facing existential issues, is in desperate need of a potential ally to lean on and it could be the Congress. The situation warrants the two non-BJP parties to strike a deal to stall the TRS chief, K Chandrasekhar Rao, who proved to be a friend of the NDA from the outside at the expense of his federal front agenda even in the latest election for the RS deputy chairman.

As a section in the Telangana TDP and even the Congress is pitching for a pre-poll alliance, it is viewed as win-win for both. The TDP enjoys pan-Telangana cadre base with numerically dominant backward classes and Andhra settlers as its vote bank. The Congress in turn hopes to capitalise on the TDP’s strengths to come to power by unseating the TRS.

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