In Andhra Pradesh, 2018 is for the BJP what 2014 was for the Congress
The BJP did not learn from the Congress’ mistakes in 2014. It treated Chandrababu Naidu the way the Congress treated Jagan; it under-assessed the popular connect with special status for residual Andhra in the manner the Congress under-read the Telugu sense of loss of Hyderabad.
There are three dimensions to realpolitik: preventive, corrective and competitive. In one word, they can be described as opportunistic. But categorisation facilitates a better understanding of the dynamics that dictate political actions without regard for morality or ideology. For instance, the overt Congress outreach to Hindus is corrective, bordering on opportunism, to contest the BJP’s monopoly of the majority space. The saffron party had resorted to similar rearguard action after bitterly opposing the implementation of the Mandal report by the VP Singh regime.
The short-lived VP government is long gone, but Mandal remains. Most of the original opponents of Other Backward Classes (OBC) quotas, including the Left, have since gone the extra mile to woo them. In limbo since the days of Indira Gandhi, the Mandal formula that awakened and empowered subaltern castes in the countryside, was culled out, dusted and actualised to counter the rebellious Devi Lal’s blockade of Delhi to create a village-city divide.
Mandal was in that sense a preventive-competitive or opportunistic step. The correctives it stimulated were dictated by social alliances it set in motion, altering beyond recognition the Indian political landscape. A major casualty in the resultant socio-political upheaval was the Congress’s primacy.
New forces emerged under new leaders across key northern states. The Congress was stupefied, but the BJP responded with alacrity. Its Ram Temple movement aimed at filling with the Hindutva glue the caste fissures accentuated by Mandal.
Fast forward from the political churnings of the early nineties to recent developments in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Chief minister Siddaramaiah’s pro-activism in according minority status to the largely pro-BJP Lingayats is nothing but competitive politics. His political cunning has some basis. The former socialist is being lambasted for dividing the Hindu community by people who have a history of backing the Lingayat demand.
Bipartisan support for recognising the influential community as a separate religion was evident in memoranda the state leadership submitted to the Centre in the past. In this season of elections, the Congress-BJP tussle isn’t about principles. It’s a manifestation of interests competing to secure the Lingayat vote.
Andhra Pradesh by contrast is a different case study. The regime the Congress led at the Centre for a decade wouldn’t have been possible without the 29 and 33 Lok Sabha seats it won in 2004 and 2009 in the state. The manner in which the party handled the state’s bifurcation in 2014 turned it into a cipher in Andhra Pradesh and a loser in Telangana.
The Congress was seen as pro-Telangana in Andhra Pradesh and anti-Telangana in the new state. It made a parody of itself with its then chief minister Kiran Reddy campaigning against Hyderabad going to Telangana. Another reason for its dissipation was the breakaway YSR Congress of YS Jaganmohan Reddy. He stole the Congress cadre the way Mamata Banerjee did in West Bengal.
The late YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s ambitious son had broken away for not being made CM. The party couldn’t recover from the double whammy—and still hasn’t .
After the Congress’s burial in its erstwhile citadel and the otherwise popular Jagan’s vulnerabilities in graft cases, the ground was ready for the BJP to make a bigger imprint in the state. The scenario meshed with its plans to expand its base beyond Karnataka in the south.
But the BJP did not learn from the Congress’s mistakes. It treated Chandrababu Naidu the way the Congress treated Jagan; it under-assessed the popular connect with special status for residual Andhra in the manner the Congress under-read the Telugu sense of loss of Hyderabad.
A potential BJP ally, Jagan has gone into corrective mode. So has Pawan Kalyan, film actor and Kapu community leader. He continues to admire Narendra Modi, but isn’t sure about the BJP’s relevance in the state. After Naidu’s rebellion, his has been a neat U-turn, underscoring how unpopular the saffron party has become in Andhra.
Together with Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, Jagan and Pawan would fight a triangular battle with little or no room for the two national parties. It’s difficult to predict winners; the obvious losers are the BJP and the Congress. “The BJP has burnt its boats. Godawari is in spate and they’re crying for help with nobody to respond,” a veteran Andhra watcher told me. “The Congress is still a zero but the BJP’s worse, if there’s a berth lower than being a cipher.”
In sum, 2018 is for the saffron party what 2014 was for the Congress in Andhra. In being competitive, it lost track of the preventive and corrective.