- TDP, Congress are old rivals; Andhra Pradesh splitting strained ties more
- But Chandrababu Naidu says he wants the BJP to lose in 2019
- Has been meeting opposition leaders to forge broader alliance
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Congress president Rahul Gandhi set aside their bitter history for their first proper meeting today in Delhi, after which Mr Naidu declared that it was a "democratic compulsion" to join hands in order to take on the ruling BJP in the 2019 national election. "We have a past," agreed Rahul Gandhi, fielding questions in a joint press meet with Mr Naidu outside his heavily protected Tughlaq Lane home.
"We have decided to put that past behind. The idea is to defeat the BJP. Both of us agreed that we are not going to talk about our past and talk about our future," the Congress president said.
Mr Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has been extremely upset with the 2014 bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh on Congress watch.
But their rivalry dates back to over three decades ago, when the TDP was founded by Mr Naidu's father-in-law NT Rama Rao, one of Andhra's most charismatic politicians, with the single purpose of defeating the Congress. He did achieve that and became the first non-Congress chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 1983.
In the late 1990s, the TDP contested state elections in alliance with Left parties and in 1999, 2004 and 2014, it was the BJP. In 2009, the TDP was with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti against the Congress.
Today, Mr Naidu was seen gifting the Congress president a pink silk stole and a miniature of a Veena.
"We have to save the nation, our democracy. We discussed with Rahulji. We agree in principle. It is a democratic compulsion. We want to organise everybody, have a common platform," Mr Naidu said.
His compulsions are closer home, believe Andhra Pradesh leaders.
Mr Naidu, who quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance three months ago, is joining hands with the Congress for the assembly elections in Telangana.
Since the division of Andhra Pradesh, the TDP is hardly a presence in Telangana - where K Chandrasekhara Rao's Telangana Rashtra Samiti is the ruling party - and the Congress is almost decimated in Andhra. It makes perfect sense for the two parties to come together for mutual benefit.
For the Congress, it is a boost after its failure to seal an alliance with Mayawati in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, even though its Andhra leaders have warned against tying up with the incumbent.
Mr Naidu, who has cast himself in the role of facilitator in opposition unity moves, also met Sharad Pawar and Farooq Abdullah. Recently, the Telugu Desam Party chief was also invited to join the UPA by senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily. In earlier visits, he has met Arvind Kejriwal, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee.