For long, the two parties have played made-for-each-other. Relations soured in recent months mainly for two reasons. First, the TDP's apprehension that the BJP is getting closer to its rival, the YSR Congress, led by Jaganmohan Reddy. And second, because of the centre's refusal to grant special status to Andhra. The real reason, however is elsewhere. Of late, Chandrababu Naidu has been losing the political initiative with Jagan emerging a major challenger to the TDP supremacy in the state.
Withdrawal of ministers by the parties from the cabinets in Delhi and Andhra is only a token protest. What is important is if it will lead to new political alignments and alternative power equations. The TDP has big limitations here. Its existence rests on anti-Congress plank. The Congress is the third major player in the state, though of late, the party has been dormant due to disarray in its ranks. The YSR Congress has largely eaten into its space, and the party cannot afford to tie up with arch-rival TDP. It is the YSR Congress and the Congress that are natural allies. So are the TDP and BJP. The BJP is in the advantageous position of commanding around 10 percent of the vote share, which enables it to tilt the balance to the side of whoever it partners with.
In the last state election in 2014, the TDP could form the government only because of its alliance with the BJP. Otherwise, the wind was blowing the YSR way. Because of corruption cases, it was difficult for the BJP to tie up with Jaganmohan in 2014. Then, and now, his YSRC is making efforts to get closer to the BJP. The three parties in the state, the TDP, YSR and the Congress enjoy an almost similar support base, and it is this that makes the BJP king-maker.
The TDP's sudden decision to precipitate the situation has to be seen in this light. With elections due in 2019, the party is worried about the tumbling popularity graph of its leader. Conversely, Jagan's stock is on the ascent. He has been assiduously wooing the BJP to his fold, though the BJP has so far not made any positive response. For the TDP, which made lavish promises at the time of the 2014 poll, there aren't many achievements to show for its time power. There is growing resentment; corruption has become a central theme in political discourse. The BJP too is concerned about the TDP's falling popularity ratings.
Chandrababu Naidu calculates that by raising the bogey of "Special Status", he will be able to divert public attention from all other issues. If the centre fails to deliver on his demand of massive central funding, the blame for his failures could be placed at the BJP's door. If he is able to pressure the centre, he will still be able to divert public attention, and take the credit for the largesse that will flow in.
Intriguingly, all political parties in the state are demanding special status for Andhra. The BJP too at the time of the division of the state and the creation of Telangana as a new state demanded special benefits for Andhra from the then UPA government. The pressure from the BJP played a major role in forcing Dr. Manmohan Singh to announce special concessions and large central aid to Andhra. The BJP says the centre has given huge development aid and the cost of building the new state capital, Amaravati, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So there was great camaraderie and bonhomie between the PM and Naidu. And Naidu is still hopeful of persuading the PM into agreeing to his demands; they spoke on the phone today.
Naidu was one of the early allies of the BJP in 2014 when parties in the opposition were urged him to stay away from a Modi-led alliance. The tie-up proved a hit in Andhra and deprived Jaganmohan of his pre-eminent position. Naidu has no other option than going it alone, which can only lead to disaster.
For the BJP, the road is wide open. But the party will not like to be seen as ignoring the aspirations of Andhraites. The centre will have to assuage the popular mood for extra largesse for the state, though similar demands, as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pointed out on Wednesday, are pending from backward states like Odisha, Bihar and Bengal. All parties in Andhra, except the BJP, were opposed to the bifurcation of the state because the revenue from the rich IT hub of Hyderabad would accrue largely to Telangana.
Now, the YSRC and Congress are demanding special status as well. As before the 2014 election, in the run up to the 2019 election, Andhra is promising to hog centre stage. The mistake the Congress committed in rushing to create a state should prove a good lesson for the incumbent governments both at the state and the centre.
The South has always provided acid tests for political formations. Narasimha Rao paid a heavy price in 1996 when Moopanar deserted him. The Vajpayee government lost the 2004 election after the DMK left the NDA. The Congress lost in 2014 when it lost Andhra in its bifurcation misadventure. The NDA has to be careful in dealing with the Special Status issue, and the timing is crucial.
(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.)
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