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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Can TDP survive its existential crisis?

For the first time after the massive drubbing in the assembly polls where his party won a mere 23 of the 175 seats and just three of the 25 parliamentary seats, Naidu has admitted that it was a mistake to leave the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold.

opinion Updated: Oct 21, 2019 14:10 IST
Venkatesha Babu
Venkatesha Babu
Hindustan Times
The BJP knows that the TDP is on the ropes and has been trying to hammer home its advantage.
The BJP knows that the TDP is on the ropes and has been trying to hammer home its advantage.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
         

Ever since losing power in Andhra Pradesh to the YS Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in the state polls and nearly getting wiped out in the Lok Sabha elections to become an inconsequential player, Chandrababu Naidu has been struggling to keep his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) together.

The perils of fighting a two-front war, of taking on both his principal opponent in the state and antagonising the Centre at the same time, have dawned on Naidu, except it may be too late. While in politics it is foolish to write off any player, this time the TDP seems to be struggling to survive.

For the first time after the massive drubbing in the assembly polls where his party won a mere 23 of the 175 seats and just three of the 25 parliamentary seats, Naidu has admitted that it was a mistake to leave the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold. A little over a week ago, while speaking to the party cadre, he admitted that it was an error to sever ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that tying up with Congress in Telangana was a disaster.

With more than 151 seats in the assembly, a triumphant YSRCP has been making life miserable for the TDP leadership and its workers across the state as indicated by the numerous clashes between the two. The YSRCP with 21 MP’s in the Lok Sabha, is the fourth largest party in the lower house and Jagan has been able to parley that strength into getting funds released for numerous projects of the state, which were struck with the Centre due to Naidu’s antagonistic relationship.

The BJP knows that the TDP is on the ropes and has been trying to hammer home its advantage. The BJP’s national general secretary in-charge of Andhra Pradesh, Sunil Deodhar, has asserted that the doors were shut for the TDP even if it wants to come back to the NDA fold.

The saffron party’s Rajya Sabha MP GVL Narasimha Rao has said that while there was no question of any alliance with Naidu, the BJP was open if he wanted to merge the TDP into his party. Even before Naidu’s mea culpa, four of the six Rajya Sabha MPs of the party had seen the writing on the wall and switched over to the BJP, to protect their ‘interests.’ In days to come, one wouldn’t be surprised if some of the TDP legislators also see merit in switching camps either to the YSRCP or the BJP.

For Naidu, who at one time fancied himself as a national player, all these developments in the recent past could not have been easy. After all, he ruled the united Andhra for a decade and the truncated part for another five years. Naidu also came close to the highest office in the land during the United Front experiments in the mid-1990s, though he got pipped first by Deve Gowda and then by IK Gujral. During the 2019 polls, he gambled with all the political capital he had that the BJP would not come to back to power. We all know how that turned out.

Having lost heavily, Naidu is now trying to fight a rearguard action, so as to ensure his political survival that he can live to fight another day. This is the reason for his first public overtures to the BJP. He has also been cosying upto Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena in the hope that the ‘enemy’s enemy is my friend’.

There are still a few positives for Naidu. For all the severe drubbing he received in the polls, the TDP still got about 40% of the votes. However, in a first past the post system, the YSRCP which got about 48% of the votes walked away with all the power and honours. Naidu has also been relentlessly travelling the state to keep the morale of party cadre up.

But there are quite a few challenges for Naidu and the TDP. First, age is not on his side. While Jagan is just 46 years old, Naidu is approaching 70. By the time the next assembly polls come around, he would be 74. Also, the succession plan for his son didn’t go off as smoothly as he had hoped. Nara Lokesh the presumed heir to his political legacy lost his own assembly seat and he does not command the same respect or loyalty from party seniors and workers as Naidu does inspite of having served as a minister in his father’s cabinet. Jagan has launched a series of inquiries into various schemes to investigate ‘corruption’ during Naidu’s regime.

The BJP, which won less than 1% of votes in Andhra, is no mood to forgive or forget the ‘betrayal’ of Naidu. It sees a golden opportunity to lure away local TDP satraps who could help it in its ambition to emerge as one of the political poles in Andhra.

With opponents besieging him all around, it remains to be seen whether Naidu can ensure that the TDP will survive its existential crisis?