Jolt to TDP as four Rajya Sabha members switch to BJP
Four of the six Rajya Sabha members of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) defected to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday in a fresh setback to party chief N Chandrababu Naidu, already reeling from last month’s loss of power in Andhra Pradesh to his main rival, who also scored big in Lok Sabha polls in the state.
The induction gives the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance a boost in the Upper House, though it will need to wait till next year to clinch the majority from the opposition.
YS Chowdary, TG Venkatesh, CM Ramesh and Garikapati Mohan Rao quit the TDP and said they would join the BJP, making the announcement at a time Naidu is on a family holiday in Europe. Chowdary, Venkatesh, and Ramesh are from Andhra Pradesh while Rao belongs to Telangana.
The four met vice president and Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, and handed him a letter requesting him to recognise them as a separate group in Parliament’s upper house to be merged with the BJP. The number is sufficient for them to avoid disqualification under the anti-defection law, which requires at least two-thirds of a legislative group to form a new political group or merge with another party.
Venkatesh said they had defected considering the mandate — 303 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha — the BJP received in the April-May general election.
“I am joining the BJP for the development of [Andhra Pradesh’s] Rayalaseema region,’’ he said. He added that he had been an active worker of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the students’ wing of the BJP’s ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, during his college days. “…so, I am not new to the BJP. I feel very comfortable in the party.”
The defections follow a string of electoral reverses for Naidu, 69, who pulled the TDP out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in March 2018 over the Centre’s denial of a special category status to Andhra Pradesh that would have qualified it for special central funds.
In an alliance with the Congress, the TDP suffered a humiliating loss in assembly elections in December in Telangana, where the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) led by K Chandrasekhar Rao, a former associate of Naidu, won a landslide.
In the Andhra Pradesh elections, held simultaneously with the April-May Lok Sabha polls, the TDP lost power to the YSR Congress Party led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, which won 151 out of the 175 assembly seats. The YSR Congress also won 22 of the state’s 25 Lok Sabha seats.
Naidu’s efforts to forge an anti-NDA front centred on the Congress party, which also suffered a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, ended in failure.
Venkatesh said the four TDP Rajya Sabha members met Naidu a week ago and explained their situation. “He requested us not to desert the TDP in this hour of crisis, but we told him we have our own compulsions.”
Chowdary, who said the MPs will soon join the BJP in the presence of the ruling party’s chief Amit Shah, was a minister of state in the NDA government until the TDP quit the ruling coalition. In a recent interview to a Telugu news channel, he criticised Naidu’s move to quit the NDA.
Interestingly, the four MPs are all industrialists. The Central Bureau of Investigation, Income Tax department, and Enforcement Directorate carried out raids on Chowdary and Ramesh’s premises over allegations of financial irregularities involving their companies.
Chowdary’s Sujana Group then accused the agencies of carrying out a“malicious campaign” against the MP. Ramesh had said the raids were a “political, vindictive” move by the federal government after the TDP left the NDA.
TDP leader Kala Venkat Rao said Naidu had condemned the BJP leadership for luring the four. “Such crisis situations are not new to the TDP. He [Chandrababu Naidu] asked the party leaders and cadre not to worry,” said Rao, whom Naidu called after the news of the defection broke.
Naidu is scheduled to return home on June 26.
Political analyst and author Sriram Karri said the defections would leave the TDP in the doldrums. “The trouble in the TDP began after Naidu ignored the advice of leaders like Chowdary and quit the NDA…”
He said it was time Naidu resigned as party chief and handed over the TDP’s reins to someone who is not from his Kamma caste. “Otherwise, the TDP is in its final phases of political relevance and existence,” he said.
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