Will Seemandhra be the BJP-NDA’s pedestal to power at the Centre the way undivided Andhra Pradesh was for the Congress-UPA in 2004 and 2009? Interesting question this as clairvoyant pundits focus on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the saffron party has claims to major strides.
The theory needs dilation. Andhra was, before dismemberment — the word is appropriate as the bifurcation left many bleeding hearts and heads in the non-Telangana region — a durable Congress bastion. It stood by the party through thick and thin, be it the post-Emergency 1977 polls or the 1989 election that saw the second non-Congress regime assume power at the Centre.
The main players for the 25 seats up for grabs in Seemandhra are Jaganmohan’s YSR Congress and Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP. Naidu is in an alliance with the BJP and Jagan has ruled out any post-electoral truck with the Congress that’s all but eclipsed in the region.
The possibility of Jagan and Naidu making strange bedfellows hinges on the outcome of the assembly poll, to be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections. A hung House could force the two to work together, raising the chances of them backing the same regime in New Delhi.
The Seemandhra assembly is 175-strong. Jagan’s contesting almost all the seats while the TDP has ceded 13 assembly and four parliamentary slots to the BJP. Andhra’s record of decisive mandates makes the YSR Congress chief hopeful of a majority of his own, given his frontal opposition to the state’s bifurcation in contrast to Naidu’s studied ambivalence.
But the chances of a one-sided verdict appear dim; Naidu’s challenge resting on his reputation as an administrator and the TDP’s organisational base. If that happens, conflicting regional interests might converge with Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambition.
In order not to leave vacant the entire opposition space to the enfeebled Congress, the smaller of the two regional entities in the House could back the bigger winner from outside while exercising the option of sharing power at the Centre. The arrangement in any case will be as complex as it would be nebulous; a replay of sorts of the UPA I experiment that had the Left extending outside support in Delhi while being the Congress’s arch rival in Kerala.
From Modi’s standpoint, the envisioned proximity pact could mean an additional 24 seats Jagan and the TDP-BJP alliance are likely to aggregate. The Congress’s sole chance is in Araku. The north coastal Andhra seat might re-elect the much respected tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo, not as a Congress man but despite being a Congress man.
Ironical though it may sound, Telangana does not hold out much promise for Modi despite the BJP’s support for the new state. The formidable Muslim vote there will keep the TRS out of the saffron reach — not to mention the Seemandhra-type coalition K Chandrasekhara Rao may need with the Congress in a hung assembly.