Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has only partially lifted the curtains on the ‘will-he-won’t-he’ suspense around his “break-up” with the BJP. On Wednesday, he announced his separation from the BJP – a separation and not a divorce. Known for his wait and watch attitude, Naidu simply announced that his party’s ministers at the Centre – Ashok Gajapathi Raju and YS Chowdary – will resign, and was careful not to mention anything about leaving the NDA itself.
And in doing so, he has bought some more time before deciding on whether he wants to break away from his alliance partner.
So why did Naidu take the decision to stop sharing power with the NDA government now? The Chief Minister was left with no option, at a time when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pushed him to the wall by reiterating the NDA government’s denial of special category status to the truncated AP. In fact, Jaitley’s statements on Wednesday rubbed salt in the wounds of the striking TDP MPs in the Parliament, and precipitated the crisis.
In addition, Naidu is under pressure to prove he is the champion of home state Andhra, as his rival and leader of YSRCP Jagan Mohan Reddy is making all the noises to appease the voters. Jagan has tried to corner TDP by telling the people of Andhra that he cares more – he has asked his MPs to resign from Parliament if the Centre doesn’t give an assurance by April 6, and has even claimed he will move a no-confidence motion against the government.
Jagan has even dared Naidu to prove his commitment to the state’s interests by joining hand with him – pushing the Chief Minister between the devil and the deep sea. Naidu can neither support his rival, nor dismiss him.
Political expediency warrants that Naidu act swiftly to gain an upper hand in the game of one-upmanship in Andhra by becoming a ‘martyr’. Still, Naidu does not want to snap ties with the BJP. Such a move will in no way pose any threat to the Modi government at the Centre – and if he calls it a day with so much time to go for the elections, Naidu will only be giving more time to the BJP to find a pre-poll alliance partner, and gather ammunition to strike back.
In such a case, the BJP would only be totally equipped with its organisation resources for a full-blown electoral battle in the state – and against Naidu – as they were in UP and Tripura. Under Amit Shah’s leadership, RSS shakhas were activated in Tripura and massive manpower was deployed in UP, that helped BJP script their victory on hostile terrain.
At the same time, Naidu has been under tremendous pressure from various people within his own party to break his silence on the treatment meted out to the party and the state by the BJP-led central government. They sounded a warning that any inaction at this crucial juncture will prove suicidal in the upcoming election. The feedback he got from his party machinery suggested that the people of Andhra are deeply hurt by the NDA government riding roughshod over their pride and sentiment. Continued inaction would raise serious doubts over Naidu’s capabilities in defending the interests of the people of Andhra.
Chandrababu Naidu also faced criticism from Jana Sena leader Pawan Kalyan for his inaction. Around the same time, Congress president Rahul Gandhi walked up to the TDP protesters outside Parliament with the promise that if he came to power, he would definitely extend the Special Category Status (SCS) to Andhra.
But if Naidu breaks away from the NDA right now, it is unlikely that he can sustain the heat until the elections. Therefore, he seems to have settled on allowing functional relations with the BJP to go on for some more time.
The BJP, though, is playing a shrewd game. By dismissing the TDP’s demand for SCS, and being flippant about other issues of central assistance, the party has made their intentions rather clear: They want to capture power in Andhra Pradesh by all means. The BJP’s juggernaut, rolled into the north east just days back, and the party believes that if it works hard enough, Andhra may not be far away.
So far, the BJP has been handicapped in Andhra with the weak cadre and organisational structure in the state. The party has been depending on turncoats like former Congresswoman and minister Daggubati Purandhareswari – NTR’s daughter – to leave the grand old party and join the BJP to fill their leadership gap. With Venkaiah Naidu now having taken over the role of Vice President – and having moved away from active politics – BJP has more of a chance to scout for leaders from other parties, like the Congress, to strengthen their base. After eating into the vitals of the Congress in Tripura, the BJP has its confidence emboldened.
Another way in which the BJP wants to stay relevant in Andhra is by appealing to the Reddys. The community is seemingly disenchanted by Jagan, who has a poor election track record. In fact, many Reddy leaders buried the hatchet with the TDP and crossed camps for survival. And major sections of the community are still on the lookout for more powerful shelters – like the BJP, if an assurance is given that their distinct identity will be respected and protected in the new space.
Jagan though, is jubilant with the TDP coming out of the NDA government. He believes he’s just a step away from the CM’s post.
So which of them will realise their dream? We’ll just have to wait and watch.
Views expressed are the author's own.