Chandrababu Naidu’s 1998 alliance with the NDA was gravitated by a discernible pro-Vajpayee wave in his strongholds of coastal Andhra. It made sense for him to pick up equity in the BJP PM hopeful’s popularity in the state to remain relevant in national politics.
“I’d be a restraining influence on the BJP-led NDA,” he had told this writer after severing ties with the loosely woven United Front he held together as its convener from 1996-98. The TDP chief kept his word as Vajpayee’s outside supporter until Gujarat 2002.
Naidu’s failure to withdraw support from the NDA regime after the riots was a major factor in his defeat in the 2004 polls. His one-time-friend-turned-foe, the Congress’s YS Rajasekhar Reddy swept the elections to the state assembly and the Lok Sabha.
The wheel has since come a full circle. YSR is no more but his son Jaganmohan is the TDP’s main challenger in the Andhra-Rayalaseema (Seemandhra) region of the state that’s emotionally and psychologically truncated in anticipation of a separate Telangana the Congress has promised.
The ground reality isn’t lost on Naidu.
His tilt towards the Narendra Modi-led BJP would be a political somersault. But that’s the risk he perhaps has to take to prevent the 2014 campaign from revolving around an individual and an issue — Jagan Reddy and the Congress-sponsored Telangana! If the state’s indeed bifurcated, he’d have to face three elections in one go: to the Lok Sabha, Seemandhra and Telangana.
Naidu’s entente with the BJP could position Modi against Jagan, showing the latter as Congress’s post-poll ally amid Telugu translations of the Gujarat CM’s call for “Congress-mukt Bharat”. But impartial observers insist the TDP-BJP tie up wouldn’t be a game-changer.
“Modi isn’t a factor in Telangana or Seemandhra, where the TDP could trail the YSR Congress,” said Zaheeruddin Khan of the Urdu daily Siasat. He said Jagan’s “united Andhra” cry would resonate better in coastal Andhra in contrast to Naidu’s ambivalence on Telangana.
Ensuring Jagan’s continued incarceration in graft cases was Naidu’s best chance in Seemandhra. But the YSR Congress-mascot got bail the day the TDP chief walked out of the National Integration Council meeting in Delhi on being disallowed to raise Andhra’s proposed bifurcation.
“It confirms the secret deal between Jagan and the Congress that’s diluting cases against him,” fumed Naidu.
Even if it’s of little electoral consequence, the TDP’s endorsement would be a huge psychological boost for Modi. Karnataka’s Yeddyurappa and Haryana’s OP Chautala are a tainted twosome. They lack the credibility and the gravitas Naidu retains without being at the pinnacle of Andhra politics. He must drive home the point while setting up talks with the saffron party.