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HindustanTimes Thu,28 Aug 2014

TDP-BJP pact: Naidu’s tricky tango with Modi

Vinod Sharma, Political Editor , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 10, 2014
First Published: 00:40 IST(10/4/2014) | Last Updated: 00:42 IST(10/4/2014)

Not as much Chandrababu Naidu, but the BJP has reasons to celebrate its tie-up with the Telugu Desam Party in a bifurcated Andhra Pradesh. In one stroke, the state that twice catapulted the UPA to power at the Centre has become the saffron party’s best hope in the south after Karnataka.

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A contingency for Naidu, who is struggling to reclaim hold over the region he once ruled, the alliance is for the BJP a long-awaited opportunity to demonstrate that its PM-hopeful Narendra Modi wasn’t politically untouchable.

For Naidu, the alliance’s revival after a decade in separation could be a double-edged weapon. There’s evidence of a Modi buzz in segregated parts of the state. But the partnership has as much potential to hurt as to help the TDP in Seemandhra and the BJP in Telangana. The saffron party was upfront about its support for Telangana while the TDP prevaricated.

The expectation that guided the rapprochement is that the TDP would offset the anti-BJP sentiment in Seemandhra; the latter a possible antidote for Naidu in Telangana.

But would the alliance’s rivals let that happen?

Regardless of the recent dip in its brand value, Jaganmohan’s YSR Congress is relatively stronger than the TDP in Seemandhra; the Congress and the TRS are as much capable of exploiting the dichotomous alliance in the proposed new state.

The odds also seem against Naidu in terms of what he has had to forsake. He has already conceded 62 of united Andhra’s 294 assembly seats to the BJP. The number will touch 100 after accommodating defectors from the Congress.

That means only 194 authentic TDP people would get to contest for the prospective 175-member Seemandhra and 119-member Telangana assemblies. Veteran TDP observers believe that Naidu has staked his future and that of his party’s in teaming up with the BJP: “He’ll sink if the alliance fails to click.”

The TDP chief’s consolation might be that he is better ranked than Jaganmohan to build Seemandhra into a modern state. But for that to happen, he’d have to beat back the YSR Congress assault for partnering with the BJP that backed the bifurcation the Congress planned and executed. The emotive value of any such slogan can overwhelm Modi’s approval ratings Naidu hopes to encash.

In 1999, a pragmatic Naidu had tied up with AB Vajpayee’s BJP to partake of local sentiments favouring him as PM. “I cannot be relevant in Delhi without being relevant in my home state,” he had reasoned with this writer. But his tango with the BJP of Modi is a gamble in which the winner wouldn’t take all!

Naidu’s failure to withdraw support to the Vajpayee regime after the 2002 Gujarat riots was, by his own admission, a reason behind his 2004 defeat.

It’s anybody’s guess as to where the alliance leaves him in Telangana with its sizeable Muslim population and BJP candidatures in eight of the 17 Lok Sabha and 47 of the 119 assembly seats.

Given the TDP’s strong organisational reach that will benefit the BJP, the accord appears negotiated from a position of weakness — not strength.


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