On two occasions, the TDP has chosen to submit itself to simultaneous elections. On both occasions, the party lost power.

TDP twice bitten by simultaneous polls but its now politics dictating Naidus standCourtesy: PTI
Voices Opinion Saturday, July 14, 2018 - 16:45

The meeting of the Law Commission of India with political parties over simultaneous elections to the Parliament and the state Assemblies a few days back has triggered a flurry of political activity in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. And while the ruling parties of the two states have been adopting conflicting positions over the Centre’s proposal – history shows that Chandrababu Naidu’s ‘stand’ on the issue has always been opportunistic.

Curiously enough, while the TDP has been twice bitten by simultaneous polls in the past, it isn’t memory that seems guiding the Andhra Chief Minister’s current stand, but rather, politics.

On two occasions, the TDP has chosen to submit itself to simultaneous elections. Once, under the leadership of its founder NT Rama Rao in 1989; and again, under Chandrababu Naidu’s stewardship in 2004.

On both occasions, the party lost power.

Leading an anti-Congress front at the national level, Rama Rao was very much hopeful of retaining power. Naidu, who survived a deadly attack orchestrated by the outlawed Maoists in Tirupati in the run up to 2004 elections, too, hoped to capitalise on public sympathy, and went for early elections – clubbed with Parliamentary polls that year.

The experiment did not work for the party. In fact, it ended up helping the Congress, led by YS Rajasekhar Reddy, get out of a 10-year long hibernation to unseat TDP from power.

But regardless of the bitter experience with simultaneous elections, Chandrababu Naidu had backed the idea when he aligned with the BJP – and was a vocal votary of the move. In public forums, he tried to build a strong case for simultaneous polls, which – he used to say – would help parties in power focus more on development and less on politics.

Which is exactly what his Telangana counterpart, KCR, is saying now.

But for Chandrababu Naidu, times have changed and so have political alignments. With BJP no longer an ally, the Andhra Chief Minister has jumped ship on the simultaneous polls issue: he now says simultaneous elections are detrimental to the federal spirit and the regional interests.

Politics, not policy

However, it’s political expediencies rather than a policy perspective that has shifted TDP’s stand on the issue.

Immediately after his breakup with the national party, Naidu has stepped up his anti-BJP campaign. He spares no effort to establish an “unholy alliance” between state rival Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP and the BJP. Jagan’s support for simultaneous elections has come in handy.

Also, the reading of the current political situation by analysts is that any move to hold Assembly elections before the stipulated time in Andhra will prove detrimental to the interests of the TDP.

Most of the major promises made by the TDP in 2014 remain not fully fulfilled – including, allowance for unemployed youths, and the Polavaram project and capital building in Amaravati.

The promise relating to allowance for unemployed youths is still in a nascent stage for want of funds. There appears to be no tangible progress in capital building, barring an interim government complex housing the secretariat and the Assembly, in the last four years. The Polavaram project is unlikely to go forward before the end of 2018.

Naidu may have reasons to blame Prime Minister Narendra Modi government over the lack of progress in his two flagship projects; yet, he is unlikely to face the voters in 2019 without showing concrete results on these two projects.

Prof K Nageshwar, a political analyst, tells TNM that holding elections for Parliament and state Assemblies together means eclipsing the agendas of regional parties. “Such an occasion will only provide an opportunity to the national parties to showcase their manifestoes and highlight national issues such as Kashmir at the expense of regional issues,” he says.

And the TDP is clearly getting ready to face the election by playing up regional sentiment, highlighting the bruised face of the successor state.

KCR election ready     

In neighbouring Telangana however, the political situation presents a contrasting picture. Speculations are ripe suggesting dissolution of the Telangana Assembly in December this year, making way for an early election. Lending credence to the grapevine, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao supported simultaneous elections, hoping to come back to power.

The visit of the BJP national president Amit Shah in Telangana, holding a meeting with booth committee members, signals the mood of the NDA government in favour of early and simultaneous elections.

By supporting the move, KCR has demonstrated his pro-BJP overtures once again, since his main rival is Congress in his home state. His preparedness for elections can be perceived from his recent populist schemes like Rythu Bandhu scheme for farmers – which receives Rs 12,000 crore annually from the state budget; Shadi Mubarak for Muslim newly weds; Kalyana Lakshmi; and KCR kit for newborns. Mission Bhagiratha, Mission Kakatiya and Kaleswaram drinking and irrigation projects are KCR’s other trump cards.

Views expressed are the author's own.