Analysis: Out On Bail, Chandrababu Naidu's Moves On Political Chessboard

With elections just six months away, Chandrababu Naidu needs to keep his leaders and party workers enthused, motivated, energised, with the confidence that victory is just a political fight away

Analysis: Out On Bail, Chandrababu Naidu's Moves On Political Chessboard

Chandrababu Naidu has been released on interim bail

Hyderabad:

It was as though Diwali came a full 12 days ahead to Andhra Pradesh, at least for supporters of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and admirers of former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu. They burst firecrackers and distributed sweets to celebrate the return of their leader, after 53 days of being detained by the police.

As soon as the news broke, scenes of celebrations on the streets across Andhra Pradesh came on TV, mostly on those channels seen as pro-Naidu.

Till late night when Mr Naidu undertook that road journey from Rajahmundry Central Jail to his home in Guntur's Undavalli, big crowds were gathered all along to get a glimpse of their leader, greet him and show support.

You could dismiss the show of solidarity and support as appropriate political optics created by a party with a well-organised cadre, just about six months before the state election. Something that they perhaps failed to do to the same scale when Mr Naidu was sent to jail. Perhaps, TDP leaders and the party workers were at that time too shocked in disbelief that this could happen to their leader.

Mr Naidu knows only too well that it is a temporary reprieve that he has got from the courts. A four-week conditional interim bail on medical grounds doesn't mean much in terms of clearing his name or giving him a moral high ground. He has been asked to "surrender" to the jail superintendent before 5 pm on November 28.

Besides, the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is ready with at least three more cases of alleged corruption, Fibrenet case, Inner Ring Road case and the latest liquor licence case, in which Mr Naidu has been named as an accused and the prosecution is pushing to get him arrested. Mr Naidu appears to have been pushed into a tight corner.

But he comes with years of political experience. After joining student politics at Sri Venkateswara University in his early 20s, Youth Congress in 1975, becoming the youngest MLA at 28, minister at 30, and then Chief Minister at 45, playing a national role as United Front Convenor, lending support to the NDA as the fourth-largest party in the country, facing a crushing defeat in 2004, becoming the Chief Minister of a bifurcated state in 2014 and again losing power in 2018, Mr Naidu's political graph has seen several ups and downs. He is a master of the art of political survival.

As a seasoned politician, he knows he has to play the game by its rules. At 73, age is no longer on his side, and he has to make the most of every little window of opportunity. Because his best chance in this latest battle is to make a political comeback in 2024 by winning Andhra Pradesh.

So even though Mr Naidu was released on conditional bail, with the government trying to ensure that restrictions were placed on his political activity, the veteran politician used the opportunity to pitch himself in the best manner possible.

The optics were right, with supporters euphoric about the return of their leader. The endearing visual of a senior politician visibly joyful at meeting his only grandson was a bonus that added a personalised human element to the occasion.

Given the conditions imposed by the court and the multiple, repeated attempts after which Mr Naidu got bail, there was some doubt if he would risk making a political speech. But the politician made a speech, driving home his message, while steering clear of legal controversy.

While on the face of it, it appeared like a speech to thank those who had come to greet him, it was a politically loaded speech, that Mr Naidu used to tell people he has been a man of integrity, respected and loved by people for his work, has friends across the political spectrum, is supported and well-regarded by political peers, with a stature far beyond the politics of the state. That is what Mr Naidu sought to convey.

"In my 45 years of political life, I have done no wrong and I do not allow others to do wrong either," he said.

"No politician in his lifetime can experience this. I am grateful that people remember me for the development work that I have done, for instance, for building Hitech City in Hyderabad 25 years ago."

"Am grateful for the overwhelming support of people not just in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, but across India and worldwide too," Mr Naudi said. "Jana Sena came out and openly supported us. We also got support from the BJP, BRS, CPI and even the Congress."

Apparently cold-shouldered by the BJP in his attempts to cosy up to the NDA in the preceding months, Mr Naidu wanted to convey that his political options were open and he has friends in places that matter and count.

With elections just six months away, Mr Naidu needs to keep his leaders and party workers enthused, motivated, energised, with the confidence that victory is just a political fight away.

That is why, in his absence, Mr Naidu got his wife Bhuvaneswari and daughter-in-law Brahmani, both of whom have never been in the political limelight, to take the centre-stage and keep the party's political activity buzzing.

It's another matter that Ms Bhuvaneswari's 'Nijam Gelavali' (truth must win or prevail) yatra seems eerily like the 'Odarpu Yatra'. As part of Nijam Gelavali, Ms Bhuvaneswari meets about 150 families who lost a family member because of the shock of Mr Naidu going to jail.

After the death of YS Rajasekhar Reddy in 2009, YS Jagan Reddy had started 'Odarpu Yatra' to console those who lost a family member because of the shock of the sudden death of YSR.

The TDP obviously saw the value of political mobilisation, appealing to personal emotions and linking them to the leader and the political party, so people see value beyond mere votes and politics in the association.

Beyond the meetings with the families, a public meeting and interaction became experience-gaining public platforms for a political novice like Ms Bhuvaneswari. The curiosity factor is an added attraction for the party cadre and others, who saw it's their responsibility to keep the party in the public domain as a relevant and viable political option.

The Telugu Desam and Jana Sena were appearing visibly together in these political activities, telling people that the chemistry works, with each bringing their strengths to the table.

After a "thanksgiving" visit to Tirumala-Tirupati, Mr Naidu is expected to spend time away from Andhra Pradesh, in Hyderabad, getting operated for cataract at LV Prasad Eye Hospital.

So he stays away from the prying eyes of the intelligence establishment in Andhra Pradesh while he sets his eyes and keeps his vision focussed on the target: the 2024 assembly and parliament elections in Andhra Pradesh.

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