In light of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s continued prison term and the sunken morale of the cadre, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) will not contest the Telangana elections in November. The Quint has exclusive information about the party national general secretary Nara Lokesh’s confirmation of this decision to his party men late last evening. “Ring-fencing Andhra Pradesh is now our utmost priority. We are fighting several issues on the ground as well as legally. So, when we are in battle mode, we do not want to stretch ourselves too thin,” senior leader Pattabhi spoke to TQ from Vijayawada.
This move could also create more room for TDP’s ally Jana Sena Party (JSP) to corner a larger number of votes from the Kamma and Kapu communities - the traditional vote bank of the Telugu Desam party. In August, the Telugu Desam party had declared its intent to go alone in the Telangana state elections stating that it would contest 89 seats.
However, after Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest in September and his subsequent jailing, the party’s leaders have regrouped several times to strategise how they can encash the swelling sympathy electorally.
“Hyderabad is what it is today because of his presence. What can we do in his absence now?” TDP spokesperson Susanta Subudhi’s question is what many are asking too. The party’s strongholds are in at least 15 -20 constituencies in the Greater Hyderabad region where there are many settlers from Andhra Pradesh. In the districts bordering Andhra Pradesh, the TDP has greater influence. In 2018, the party had secured 3.5% votes in spite of the BRS (then TRS) pro-Telangana wave.
With Naidu’s wife Nara Bhuvaneswari championing the ‘Nijam Gelavali’ (The Trust Shall Prevail) campaign across Andhra Pradesh, the TDP is looking to benefit from the potential sway of a sympathy wave, making it a pivotal factor in the Andhra election contest next year. Naidu’s otherwise reticent wife spoke at an impressive public rally last week in Chandragiri, her husband’s constituency, asking for people's support in voting Naidu back to power in 2024.
Jana Sena Party: The Collateral Beneficiary?
The visible reason for the TDP not contesting in Telangana is definitely Naidu’s inability to extricate himself and his party men from the three cases he is fighting. However, political pundits and Naidu’s former colleagues who are now with the Congress augur there is more than what meets the eye.
“We do not want to trouble other parties. That is another reason,” the senior TDP leader told TQ as part of the conversation. While the Jana Sena Party is certainly going to be the obvious beneficiary of Naidu’s retreat, many see this move of retreating as conceding space to Jana Sena, the NDA ally and Pawan Kalyan, the BJP’s confidant.
“Pawan Kalyan is a highly acceptable icon among the Kammas. For the Kammas and Kapus who have been treated below par when compared to the Reddys, Jana Sena Party is the alternative they are looking for,” said Dr Pulla Rao, Columnist and Activist who has keenly followed the evolution of the smaller parties in the Telugu-speaking states.
With Jana Sena expected to contest about 10-12 seats, Pawan Kalyan will look to corner the OBC seats as well with the Congress and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi sacrificing many OBC seats for the Reddys. Pawan Kalyan is a Munnuru Kapu, an influential backward class sect that accounts for an effective 6% population among the other 18 classified OBCs in the state. Jana Sena’s impressive performance in the Telangana election could mean a greater possibility of a hung assembly. The two parties would have to poll more than 15% of votes together to upset the Congress and the BRS relegating Telangana to a hung house.
It is important to recollect that BL Santhosh, the National General Secretary of the BJP mentioned to his party cadre during a closed-door address that he foresees an unclear majority in the upcoming elections.
Can the Telangana Election Affect an AP Alliance?
“The TDP stepping back is a positive decision to enjoy goodwill with the BJP. Through the Jana Sena, the TDP will look to ingratiate the BJP and seek inclusion in the NDA,” Dr Rao said pointing out that the decision to back off from Telangana comes within two weeks of Nara Lokesh meeting the Home Minister and BJP number two, Amit Shah.
While many may dismiss such a possibility as conjecture, it is important to note that the meeting with Lokesh was called for by Amit Shah. The Home Minister asked for Lokesh to see him through the BJP Telangana President Kishan Reddy. The invitation did not come from the BJP Andhra President D Purandareswari who is also Lokesh’s maternal aunt. During the meeting, Amit Shah also reportedly asked Lokesh for a report on the three cases that Naidu has been jailed for his alleged involvement.
“We are fighting Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRC Party tooth and nail on every promise that they have failed to deliver upon. The anti-incumbency is strong and we want to win back Andhra for Naidu,” said Pattabhi.
This could well be Lokesh and the TDP’s mandate. Such an event could re-draw political alliances in Andhra Pradesh. But for the next 30 days, all eyes on Telangana, please.