The sand issue has possibly brought about a possible realignment in Andhra’s politics.

Not permanent foes Naidu who renounced BJP inches back towards them
news Analysis Monday, November 11, 2019 - 09:20

The sand shortage is rattling the five-month old Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh. But it seemingly brought about the possible realignment of friends-turned foes—Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena and the BJP.

Pawan Kalyan called a ‘long march’ in Visakhapatnam on November 4 on the sand issue, enlisting support from opposition parties. To sustain the heat, Naidu is also scheduled to hold a dawn-to-dusk protest in Vijayawada on November 14.

It was Chandrababu Naidu, who was quick to back Pawan and asked his party’s former ministers K Achchennaidu and Ayyannapatrudu to take part in the long march. The BJP extended “outside” support, avoiding a direct participation. Accused of harbouring sand mafia during his regime, Naidu may not have the moral ground to pick holes in Jagan’s sand policy, which is why the TDP chief chose to shoot from his rival Pawan’s shoulders.

Although Pawan was part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2014 and helped Naidu and BJP’s Narendra Modi come to power in the Andhra Assembly and Parliament elections respectively, he parted ways and chose to fight alone in 2019.   

All the three former partners bit the dust. The TDP suffered a humiliating defeat with its vote share dipping to 39.2%. Although Pawan failed to win either the Bhimavaram or Gajuwaka Assembly segments from where he contested, his party secured 6.78 % while BJP performed dismally, securing a vote share of just 0.84%.

The wounds inflicted by the electoral reversal has forced Naidu to do some soul searching, whether his decision to fight alone in Andhra was the cause for his defeat. In a recent media interaction in Visakhapatnam after a party review meeting, Chandrababu Naidu went on record saying he stretched his fight against the NDA government over the Special Category Status beyond a point and, in turn, his party failed to receive the expected poll dividend. Political analysts interpreted his outburst as part of Naidu’s attempts to make peace with the BJP. In this backdrop, Telangana Today on November 4 carried a report stating Naidu had met RSS chief Mohan Madhukar Bhagwat in Nagpur, requesting for his intervention in building bridges between his party and the BJP.

Why is Naidu inching towards the BJP, Pawan?    

There are no permanent friends or foes in politics. But why is Naidu inching closer to the BJP and Pawan Kalyan within a span of hardly six months post the elections? Naidu’s track record since 1995 reveals that his fortunes are better only when in the company allies. 

His bitter experience in the 2019 elections is a grim pointer to this ground reality. A dominant view prevailing in the TDP suggests the party would not have fared so badly (23 Assembly and three Lok Sabha seats) had Pawan’s JSP been on its side in the recent elections. Citing JSP’s vote share, a source in the TDP not wishing to be quoted said, “Our seat strength in the Assembly would have definitely doubled or been more if we had aligned with the actor”.   

Again, waging a lone battle against the hawkish Jagan Mohan Reddy government after the elections also becomes a daunting task for Naidu. The alleged vindictive politics pursued by the ruling YSRCP has left the TDP’s rank and file nervous especially after the suicide of former Assembly Speaker Kodela Sivaprasada Rao, and the arrest of former whip Chintamaneni Prabhakar for allegedly attacking Dalits. While the TDP alleged that Kodela was harassed by the ruling party, they also claimed the arrest of Prabhakar was for politically motivated.  

A sizeable number of leaders in the TDP, beginning with four Rajya Sabha members, have defected to the BJP hoping to get safe shelter.      

Left distances from Pawan

The Power Star, as Pawan is fondly called by his fans, hit the road on the sand issue, countering the criticism that he, like his brother and Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) founder Chiranjeevi, pursues politics during intervals between film shootings.

That Pawan likes to display his bond with Narendra Modi at the long march even after his fall out with the BJP, did not go unnoticed. “I will go to Delhi and seek the Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s intervention for a course correction in Andhra Pradesh for the sand scarcity,” said Pawan.   

In an interaction during the election campaign in Rajahmundry this year, Pawan told this writer that Amit Shah had asked him to join the BJP by merging his party. The long march had earned him monikers such as “B-team” and foster son of Chandrababu Naidu. Asked why the Left parties, which were Jana Sena’s allies in 2019, stayed away from the long march, CPI state secretary K Ramakrishna said they received feedback about Pawan getting close to the BJP.

Gigantic task for BJP

The BJP’s plans to eat into the TDP’s base and fill the opposition’s space in Andhra Pradesh looks ambitious and something near-impossible, in the face of public anger that it faced during the elections over denial of Special Category Status. The vote share of 0.84%, the saffron party polled in the elections is an all-time low regardless of the Modi wave on which it rode to power elsewhere.

Vikram Poola, a political commentator, told TNM that it’s a herculean task for the BJP with a meagre vote share to counter its ideological rival Jagan Mohan Reddy. Although during the elections Amit Shah had stated that the BJP had permanently shut doors on the TDP, however some sections within the party view Naidu as a partner they can go do business with and it should have the party back on board. 

Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states.


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