Until last month, Andhra Pradesh’s mainstream media sustained a positive image of Narendra Modi, while occasionally defending his policies. But as soon as AP’s CM, N Chandrababu Naidu, decided to withdraw his support from NDA, the Telugu press turned against Modi. The most scathing critiques against Modi came from the ABN group, which is owned by Vemuri Radhakrishna, who is from the same caste as Naidu – Kamma caste – and is close to the CM.
"It's an identity disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder,” C Narasimha Rao, a political analyst and personality development expert, said while he dissected Modi’s personality on ABN TV on April 1. He was elaborating on his critique of Modi that had appeared in ABN group’s Andhrajyothi newspaper that morning.
Rao explained the reasons behind Modi’s hostility towards Advani, and claimed that Modi is not capable of forming associations with people, ‘not even with his mother.’
Rao also said that Modi can’t love anyone, and criticised his policies, while the anchor endlessly agreed and asked questions that helped Rao clarify his points further.
Before moving into the next segment, the anchor announced, “Let us look in depth at the relationship between Hitler and Goebbels, and the relationship between Modi and Shah.”
In another ABN TV segment titled “Unknown truths about Modi”, an anchor explained Modi’s “dual personality”: “For example, Modi will repeat again and again the story of his rise to the Prime Minister’s chair from being a tea seller. But no one knew about Modi’s marriage for a long time.”
Drawing parallel between Modi and Hitler like her colleague did earlier, she said: “Hitler used to describe himself as a great painter. But everybody used to say that his paintings used to be base and at an elementary level. And Modi writes poetry in Gujarati. The poems have even been translated into English. But those poems are at an elementary level.”
On the second day of ABN’s exclusive, the subheadings in Andhrajyothi newspaper read: “Doesn't have any aim/Beats everyone in gossip/12 years of timepass (as CM)/ Gujarat lags behind during Modi's rule/Relationships meagre/Century old (outdated) teachings/Tomorrow: On self-admiring.”
ABN’s coverage of Modi has, predictably, agitated Andhra’s BJP, which is not a major political force in the state: Some of its spokespersons appear on TV wearing a BJP banner to identify themselves.
The president of BJYM, BJP’s youth wing, Vishnuvardhan Reddy, was on phone during the program with Rao to express his dissent. Reddy said he had been an admirer of Rao’s previous work and that this latest critique has turned him against Rao.
Reddy was encouraged to express his negative opinions about Rao’s critique of Modi, and the channel used the opportunity to elaborate Rao’s arguments and criticise Reddy. “Should these people (BJP members) defend Modi? Should these people defend Modi’s mistakes? If Modi commits a crime, should they defend that as well? Why has your fate made you worship his feet? When will you grow up to tell truth as truth and untruth as untruth?”
The heat of TDP’s wrath against Modi is coming off in waves, and it’s clear that the state government is using the media to propagate their point of view. However, the national media has sometimes diluted, or even misrepresented this anger.
On April 2, ANI tweeted a picture of the Dalit TDP MP N Sivaprasad (who was dressed in saffron cloth, fake beard, a bow and an arrow). The tweet said that he was “dressed up as ‘Parashurama’ (an avatar of Lord Vishnu).”
The MP was in fact dressed up as the great freedom fighter, Alluri Seetharamaraju, trying to force an association between TDP’s struggle against Modi to India’s struggle against British. The MP sang his version of “Telugu Veera Levara” (Rise, O Telugu Warrior) an anti-colonialist song written by the popular communist Telugu poet, Sreerangam Sreenivasarao.
But despite these misrepresentations, to a person sitting in Andhra one thing is clear: The TDP’s struggles in Delhi are also its struggles to retain power in the state after 2019 elections.
Chandrababu Naidu’s main opponent in the state right now is YS Jaganmohan Reddy – a man who has rallied for the cause of Special Status for Andhra ever since Naidu came to power in the state in 2014. Recently Jagan even kicked off a yatra – a political campaign trip – across the state, with a rally cry for Special Status.
Naidu has seen such yatras before, to his detriment. In 2003, when Jagan’s father, YS Rajasekhar Reddy, did a Padayatra in which he walked across the state, he eventually replaced Naidu as the CM.
In 2011, Jagan’s Odarpu yatra made everybody speculate about the chances of his victory in the next election, after Congress took his father’s CM seat away from him.
Meanwhile, Naidu’s other opponent, Pawan Kalyan, who is gaining momentum in the political landscape of AP, was the first to speak of a no-confidence motion that might help AP get Special Status.
The political parties opposing the TDP in Andhra have always used Special Category Status as an important rallying point, especially now in the run up to the 2019 elections.
But Naidu was not always a champion of the Special Status. In fact, the Chief Minister had settled for the Special Package announced by then-ally BJP-led Centre earlier. But now, he has suddenly become a champion – even a martyr, in some sense – amidst allegations that Jagan is trying to move close to Modi to escape the CBI case against him. In the news channels, TDP and YSRCP have started accusing each other of siding with Modi.
Naidu was clearly unhappy with the Centre’s contribution to Amaravati, the new capital that he is building. And so, the man who had tweeted a total of five times about Special Status for Andhra between 2014 and last month, has already tweeted about the issue four times since March 28!
To increase his chances of winning the 2019 election, Naidu needs to delegitimise the cause of Jagan and his other opponents. And in a way he has done that, by changing the discourse in AP, and forcing the media to show Modi and BJP as primary enemies of the state.
While the anti-BJP rhetoric plays out on the TV screens, in Anantapur, where I live, something else unfolded on the backs of auto rickshaws. From around February, the backs of autos were covered with the posters of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), with images of Modi and Naidu on them. “We were paid Rs 20-30 each after they pasted these posters,” an auto driver told me in February.
Around mid-March, after Naidu pulled out of NDA, these posters started disappearing. In their place, there are now posters of state government’s advocacy programs.
Views expressed are the author's own.