The Andhra battle for supremacy between the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress turned a full circle with the TDP, a partner in the NDA, pulling out and deciding to move a separate no-confidence motion against the central government for its alleged failure to grant special status for the state.
The sudden acceleration of tempo in Andhra has snowballed into a major crisis for the Modi government. It is no longer about numbers (it is well-paced to survive a trust vote), it is about a perception quotient which the Prime Minister can afford to ignore only at a bigger political cost. The opposition has seized the opportunity to embarrass Modi, perceiving a weakening of his moral authority which so far has been unassailable even in their wildest dreams. For the NDA, it is time to sit and take a more serious look at why the sheen it has so far exhibited is losing its gloss. For the first time, though mildly, Chandrababu Naidu criticized the PM, saying that he has no time for allies - perhaps an indication that he was still open to negotiation, given a fairer deal for Andhra.
It is not clear why the situation has deteriorated to this level. Economic prudence can be sustained only with a political mandate. It is no longer about the competing economic demands of states. It was so in the beginning. Now it is about the turf war that Modi has to win. The Prime Minister's biggest political capital is his immense capacity to take risks. With stunning self-confidence, he has stayed the course on major economic reforms like demonetisation and GST and come out unscathed. No other Prime Minister would have attempted such huge experiments fearing their political cost.
Special status is a delicate subject. Given Modi's political savvy, he can turn the current challenge to great advantage. Should the desperate opposition be allowed to fish in troubled waters? They have no scope or scheme. Opportunistically, they are trying to dent Modi's invincibility and Teflon image.
Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party has decided to pull out of the BJP-led government at the centre (File photo)
The Congress, Trinamool and Left have assured support to the TDP-YSR no-confidence motions in a spurt of opportunism. They have not strategised. Nor have they calculated the economic implications and practicality in their hurry to attack Modi.
In fact, this is a desperate act of brinkmanship. The TDP, which had only a week earlier asked its ministers to resign from the NDA government on the same issue, was forced to jump the fence by the YSR Congress which first brought the no-trust motion against the centre. So far, it was local politics. Jagan Mohan Reddy's YSR Congress wanted a tie-up with the BJP. The YSR stance actually forced Chandrababu Naidu's hand in finally exiting the NDA as it would have been difficult for him either to support the YSR Congress motion or oppose it, siding with the NDA. The no-trust motion will not set the Ganga on fire, but it will add fuel to the fire on the Krishna. The political temperature in the state is rising by the day and each party in the state is playing the game of one-upmanship.
It is the national parties like the BJP and the Congress who have to carefully manoeuvre as they have to factor in repercussions elsewhere. There is no threat to the Modi government from the no-trust motion. But it will be interesting to watch what stand each party takes next week when the motion comes up for consideration. Even to get it admitted, the combined strength of TDP and YSR Congress is not sufficient. It needs the support of 50 members to get the motion admitted for discussion. That will not be a problem with the opposition entering the fray. The Congress stand is foxing. The Congress would like to embarrass the BJP, but so far, it has not weighed the impact of a special package for Andhra in Telangana, where it has higher stakes.
The BJP has to keenly watch the stand of the Shiva Sena and AIADMK and other regional parties who are desirous of raising similar regional issues basically as a bargaining chip in the run-up to 2019 general election. At least two regional parties, AIADMK and Shiv Sena, are in a state of turmoil and want to cover up by taking an aggressive stance against the centre. There are parties like the CPM, SP, BSP and CPI who will support the motion, but their numbers in the Lok Sabha are negligible or nil. It finally boils down to NDA partners who are sparring with the BJP, or the Congress, to see that the motion gets admitted.
YSR Congress president YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has given a notice for a no-trust vote against the central government
As of now, the BJP is not worried about the fate of the motion. This, however, does not conceal the political challenge the BJP has to fathom. In recent months, the party has made big gains and added more regional parties to its fold. Its clout in the Northeast has surged, but the trouble from the south cannot be ignored. With each party trying to gain brownie points, the BJP has to be nimble to keep the apple cart intact.
Too many allies getting recalcitrant is not a good sign. Chandrababu Naidu is a valuable ally. Perhaps the most credible and trustworthy regional leader with an overarching national persona, his leaving the NDA is a bad omen. The BJP, as early as January 2016, offered a special package to Andhra. Then Chandrababu had no quarrel with it. Perhaps the growing threat from YSR Congress has painted Naidu into a corner. He has regained his lost initiative by acting smart on special status, but at the core is the issue of retaining Andhra. He cannot win Andhra without BJP support. And Jagan Mohan of the YSRC is only too willing to take the TDP slot in the NDA. His no-trust motion is only a facade to drive out the TDP. Within the TDP, there is resentment at the manner in which Naidu hastened the process of separation. He looks like he has caved into the YSRC's gimmicks.
Narendra Modi has always been known to take a tough line. He does not bow down before prophets of doom. He has proved repeatedly that he is one up on his detractors. The mirth in the opposition's ranks will turn to melancholy once Modi starts his swift political correction which will be a clever and unanticipated stratagem.(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.