Chandrababu Naidu’s saga of political flip-flops 

For now, he clearly feels it isn’t very difficult to take the clichéd winds out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sails.

WrittenBy:A Saye Sekhar
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Nara Chandrababu Naidu, supremo of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, has done it again. His political heel is flexible enough that it can rotate 360 degrees. His political ideology is malleable and ductile. It takes the shape of the container, at his will.

Naidu’s TDP contested as an alliance partner of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), after breaking ranks with the BJP. Now, it’s clearly drifting towards the Congress. Last week, Naidu was seen rubbing shoulders with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in full public view. His camaraderie with Rahul Gandhi on the dais of HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony in Bengaluru on Wednesday is an attempt to impress upon the Congress bosses that he could be the binding glue for all anti-BJP forces.

Naidu’s political sensory organs are usually sharp, and he can sense which way the winds are blowing. For now, he clearly feels it isn’t very difficult to take the clichéd winds out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sails. He believes Modi’s dispensation has to face huge anti-incumbency in the next elections, what with the “not-so-popular”—if not controversial—demonetisation, implementation of GST, and spiralling petroleum prices.

Special category status to AP

More than anything else, Naidu is of the firm opinion that he was coerced into playing second fiddle to the BJP when the latter remained adamant on the Special Category Status (SCS), promised by Manmohan Singh in his capacity as Prime Minister on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, to truncated Andhra Pradesh. Naidu, who demanded SCS for the state, had to beat retreat and sing paeans to the “special package” offered by the Centre with a promise that it could accrue benefits to the state equivalent to those forming part of the Special Category Status.

However, since the main Opposition in AP, the YSR Congress led by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, stayed glued to its demand of SCS, the TDP was forced to retract its stand that the package was better than the status. Subsequently, it began echoing the same sentiment as the Opposition. It resulted in the Opposition setting the agenda to the ruling dispensation. This was an embarrassment of sorts to Naidu, a leader who had played a pivotal role in national politics more than two decades ago.

Naidu was cut up with the BJP for not meeting the demands of AP. However, the newly-appointed state BJP president Kanna Lakshminarayana hauled Naidu over the coals, saying the Chief Minister never pressed for the demands of the State. Instead, in his “29 visits to Delhi”, he had always insisted on arresting Jagan Mohan Reddy and increasing the number of Assembly constituencies from 175 to 225, as he had encouraged floor-crossing of 22 MLAs and three MPs into the TDP from the YSR Congress. The demands were not entertained by the Centre as the BJP, for reasons best known to itself, began keeping Naidu at bay for quite some time.

Naidu sees Modi magic missing

Apart from believing that Narendra Modi has lost his magic, Naidu did not take kindly to the BJP’s trickery, albeit behind the scenes, in engineering a wide rift between the TDP and actor Pawan Kalyan’s political party, Jana Sena. Jagan’s padayatra across the State is also obviously increasing anti-Naidu heat among electors.

Angered by this, Naidu moved swiftly. In March, he pulled out two of his party members—P Ashok Gajapathi Raju and YS Chowdary—from the Modi Cabinet, and eventually quit the NDA with which the TDP had a pre-poll pact.  He managed to ascribe all this to the denial of SCS to the state.

As if to test the waters, Naidu moved closer to the anti-Modi flock of politicians, including the Congress, soon after the Karnataka Assembly elections.

Congress connections

Naidu’s politics had an umbilical cord connection with the Congress from the beginning. He began his political journey with the Congress in 1978, and then jumped into his father-in-law’s TDP soon after he and his party had taken a drubbing in the 1983 Assembly elections.

In 1995, after Naidu dethroned NT Rama Rao from TDP’s helm and usurped the Chief Minister’s saddle, he announced that he had 30 per cent of Congress blood flowing in his body. The remark was made out to be a jocular observation, but it wasn’t made without intent. His genuineness in acknowledging his Congress moorings was witnessed just eight months later.

In his capacity as the convener of the United Front, Naidu had enthroned Deve Gowda as Prime Minister with the support of the Congress. When then Congress president Sitaram Kesri was “unhappy” with Gowda and withdrew support to the United Front, it was again Naidu who used his Congress connections to make sure IK Gujral replaced Deve Gowda, and the United Front regime continued in office for some more time.

After the United Front lost power, Naidu did not make any bones in joining hands with the BJP in a post-poll alliance. He had his party’s nominee GMC Balayogi as the Speaker of Lok Sabha, soon after the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. By the time the BJP had to seek a fresh mandate from the people in 1999, Naidu forgot his past and conveniently joined the NDA bandwagon before the elections itself, and benefited.

The alliance with the BJP would see him fight huge anti-incumbency and win hands-down in the state and also in the Lok Sabha elections.

Humiliating defeat

Naidu went to polls in 2004 along with the BJP as part of the NDA. He faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Congress, led by YS Rajasekhara Reddy, in undivided AP. Naidu held the BJP responsible for the defeat of his party and snapped connections.

Naidu had been a staunch votary of a united Andhra Pradesh. However, in the 2009 Assembly elections, he pivoted and joined hands with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi as part of a “grand alliance”. But that did not help his party wrest power from the Congress.

Soon after the demise of YS Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash, fissures began surfacing between the late leader’s son YS Jagan, who had nursed ambitions of becoming Chief Minister but was denied the opportunity by Sonia Gandhi.

After Jagan left the Congress, Naidu’s TDP impleaded itself as a party to corruption cases filed against Jagan in the High Court by Congress MLA Shankar Rao, at the behest of the oblique instructions from Sonia Gandhi. Ever since, Naidu’s surreptitious relations with the Congress have continued. The Congress lost its relevance in truncated Andhra Pradesh in 2014 elections. After falling apart with the BJP, Naidu once more is dabbling with the Congress.

In fact, he derided YSR Congress and the Congress as “pilla Congress – thalli Congress” (child Congress-mother Congress) during the 2014 elections. Now, his behind-the-scenes relationship with the Congress has come into a full public glare, evoking criticism from the YSR Congress and the BJP that it is the TDP that is actually the “pilla Congress”.  

Though Naidu is trying the wangle invites to lead the anti-Modi political conglomerate, they seem to recognise the importance of staying aligned with the Congress too, but at an arm’s length. However, if Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, who is portraying himself as the poster boy for a non-Congress and non-BJP Federal front, vies with Naidu, an old guard, would the latter lose his fizz? That’s the million-dollar question.


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