Two leaders, two parties and two completely different political strategies are underway in the Telugu states. While Chandrababu Naidu is on a hectic mission to rally all the anti-BJP forces across the nation by even embracing his arch rival Congress, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP chooses to remain equidistant from the two national parties despite facing allegations of arriving at a tacit deal with the BJP.
Naidu believes that placing TDP in an appropriate national political contest helped it in 2014 and will do so in 2019 too. On the contrary, Jagan expects to benefit from a strategy of regional confinement.
Writing in the Economic and Political Weekly (July 12, 2014), this author explains how the national factor helped Naidu in the last general elections: “The sense of helplessness strongly instilled in the Seemandhra electorate in turn also generated a feeling that the residual state of Andhra Pradesh desperately needed help from the central government. Jagan Mohan Reddy failed to acknowledge this new sentiment among the people. In fact, Jagan Mohan Reddy was also one among the leaders who were responsible for creating such a sense of helplessness. Chandrababu Naidu demonstrated consummate political skills by arriving at an early understanding with the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and converted the threat into an opportunity. The strong Modi sentiment evident across the country convinced the average voter in the Seemandhra region that Chandrababu Naidu could form part of a winning combination at the Centre and could deliver for the truncated state without a capital...
While Chandrababu Naidu could successfully locate himself in a national political context that was considered so crucial for Seemandhra in the wake of bifurcation, Jagan Mohan Reddy demonstrated an utter lack of strategy. He even sent signals of extending support to the much discredited United Progressive Alliance which proved to be costly to his electoral prospects. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s stand of supporting any possible formation at the Centre for the benefit of the state failed to convince the electorate. This is because of the discernible political trend in favour of the NDA.”
The TDP leadership believes that PM Narendra Modi’s image is now on the decline, evident from the results of the series of bye-elections held across the nation, and captured in many opinion surveys too. Added to this, there is a simmering discontent against the Modi regime for the manner in which Andhra Pradesh was treated, especially the denial of Special Category Status (SCS) to the state. Any alliance with the BJP would prove to be costly for the TDP given the antipathy towards the NDA-led central government. All the political parties, including the opposition YSRCP, have been fighting for SCS, in the background of growing resentment against the Centre for the denial of such a status for the newly carved state of Andhra Pradesh as per the then Prime Minister’s assurance in the Rajya Sabha.
Given this context, the TDP has chosen to distance itself from the BJP. Pawan Kalyan has already deserted Naidu. The TDP won with a slender, mere 2% margin in 2014. The loss of BJP and Pawan Kalyan would certainly hurt the TDP in terms of electoral arithmetic. The party expects to make up for this loss by allying with the Congress. But given the anti-Congress narrative over the bifurcation promoted by the TDP itself, Naidu found it difficult to sell his idea of joining hands with the villain of bifurcation. Thus, he is now cleverly couching his new-found love for the Congress in the perspective of national politics. The BJP has already denied special status and the Congress promises to deliver it. Thus, Naidu finally bid goodbye to the BJP to embrace the Congress, yet again appropriately locating himself in a national context. But the difference this time as compared to 2014 is that the Congress does not seem poised to make a comeback.
Taking the same stand, Jagan said that his party would support any government at the Centre if it delivers special status to the state. Such a stand is insipid given the fact that the BJP has already denied SCS and the Congress not only authored it but now promises to offer such a status to Andhra Pradesh. Thus, the politics of equidistance at the national level may not yield any additional dividend for the YSRCP.
Early elections in Telangana, delinked from general and Andhra assembly polls due to the premature dissolution of the state assembly by KCR, comes in handy for Naidu to pre-test his electoral strategy in the neighbouring state, though the electoral terrain is completely different there.
While Naidu’s TDP joins the opposition conglomeration to challenge KCR head on braving the accusation of being an Andhra party, Jagan decides to stay away from Telangana elections despite his father YS Rajasekhar Reddy enjoying huge sympathy in that state too.
In fact, Jagan had toyed with the idea of keeping his party active in Telangana too. There were even reports that his sister, Sharmila, would be fielded in the state politics. However, nothing of that sort has happened and the YSRCP is almost extinct post-bifurcation despite winning one Lok Sabha and three Assembly seats here in 2014.
As Jagan refrains from the dust and din of Telangana polls, Naidu’s TDP wants to benefit from the anti-TRS rhetoric even in his state. Any positive mandate for the opposition-led Mahakutami would further benefit Naidu in Andhra Pradesh too. On the contrary, Jagan is not only lukewarm towards the BJP but has not spoken against KCR even as the TRS and TDP engage in daily verbal conflicts.
Thus, Chandrababu Naidu wants to benefit from his anti-TRS and anti-BJP tirade while Jagan Mohan Reddy seems to be unconcerned with the developments in Telangana or elsewhere in the country and confines himself to challenging Naidu in the state itself. Such a strategy did not help Jagan in 2014. Will it prove to be costlier this time or not depends on a host of factors that define the electoral mandate.
Professor K Nageshwar is a senior journalist and former Member of Legislative Council from Telangana