'Sympathy Moves Andhra': Support for TDP Swells After Chandrababu Naidu's Arrest

Chandrababu Naidu's sudden arrest in early September has led to protests by students, farmers, and party workers.

Hindi Female

Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu's sudden arrest in early September for his alleged involvement in the Rs 370-crore Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Corporation 'scam' and repeated extensions of judicial custody have led to a groundswell of support for his Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

Students, IT professionals, women, farmers, and party workers in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh have grouped themselves to protest and oppose the alleged harsh treatment meted out to Naidu by the YSRCP-led state government in the last three weeks.

The protests that started more as a public spectacle in a few cities across Andhra Pradesh have spun into a steady campaign rally with a cross-section of people pouring onto the streets, taking exception to Naidu's prolonged "political persecution."
Chandrababu Naidu's sudden arrest in early September has led to protests by students, farmers, and party workers.

Police detain Telugu Desam Party (TDP) workers protesting against the arrest of party chief N Chandrababu Naidu, in Vijayawada.

(Photo: PTI)

"Chandrababu Naidu's arrest has shaken the rank and file of the Telugu Desam Party and there is more than just a disquiet among the people. There are spontaneous marches across all districts of Andhra Pradesh and people are using this opportunity to not just condemn the sudden arrest but also to remonstrate the ruling YSRCP government about its unfulfilled promises and rampant corruption," Mallu Rajesh, a former advisor to a political party in Andhra Pradesh, told The Quint.


'Case Is Politically Motivated'

Chandrababu Naidu was arrested on 9 September and was sent to 14 days of judicial custody for allegedly masterminding the diversion of funds from the state Skill Development Corporation meant to upskill and train unemployed youth.

The case pertains to the irregularities and alleged offences that took place while his party was in power from 2014-2019.

Naidu was sworn in as the first chief minister of the bifurcated state of Andhra Pradesh in June 2014 as part of his vision to make the state count as among India's top three in seven sectors; a detailed roadmap was also envisioned for the 'Knowledge and Skills' sector as well.

The state Crime Investigation Department (CID) filed a case against the former chief minister and 36 others for their supposed involvement in the scam and has since asked for an extension of judicial custody thrice.

Cases have been filed by the Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax Department, and the GST Intelligence in connection with the Skill Development Corporation case and almost half a dozen other cases in the Andhra Pradesh High Court and local court in the state capital Amaravati, near Vijayawada.

Even as the CID is investigating the money trail to trace the flow of funds into Chandrababu Naidu's and his families' accounts, many reckon that the CID may find it difficult to pin Naidu as the beneficiary with the number of shell companies that have been set up.

"Naidu is A37, the last among the accused persons' list. This means that there could be very little material evidence against him in the case. The reasons for him not being granted bail could only be political," said Mallu Rajesh. And it this inability to provide concrete evidence to the courts close to a month after his arrest which has supporters believe that the case is politically motivated.

The second-rung TDP leaders in both the Telugu-speaking states, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, are known to have devised a strategy to mobilise more people and ensure that the TDP rakes in political gains.


Support for Chandrababu Naidu

As news of Naidu's pre-dawn arrest broke, support came from many corners across India. Among the first was Jana Sena Party leader K Pawan Kalyan, who pledged unconditional support to the TDP, and his leaders and has since been strongly criticising Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy's policies.

Pawan Kalyan, who is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has repeatedly made public his intentions to team up with the TDP for both the state and parliamentary elections slated between March and May next year.

Naidu's unceremonious arrest in the wee hours has also prompted voluntary support from the entire Nandamuri family to which his wife belongs. Naidu's wife, N Bhuvaneswari, is the daughter of TDP founder and former actor-chief minister Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao.

Her brothers N Balakrishna, actor and MLA from Hindupur, N Ramakrishna, N Jayakrishna, and other nieces and nephews came forth and publicly condemned the unfair treatment meted out to Naidu.

But what raised many an eyebrow was the unexpected support from D Purandeswari, Naidu's sister-in-law and BJP president of Andhra Pradesh. Naidu and Purandeswari's families haven't enjoyed cordial relations in the last 15 years owing to bitterness that arose when Naidu allegedly 'backstabbed' NT Rama Rao by engineering a revolt within the TDP and usurping the party and the chief minister's post in the late 90s.

Ever since, Purandeswari, who was very close to her father NT Rama Rao, always worked with the Congress to oppose Naidu, also rising to be a minister in the UPA government.


However, days after Naidu's arrest, Purandeswari condemned Naidu's arrest saying there were many "procedural lapses" in the manner of arrest. Subsequently, on three different occasions, she has raised questions on the political reasons behind the arrest.

"Sympathy moves Andhra. When former chief minister of united AP YS Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) died, his son and current chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy set out on an Odarpu Yatra, where condolence meets were held in every village. In every district and taluk, YSR's statues were erected and there was massive support for the grieving family," political analyst Zakeer told The Quint.

While this marked Jagan's foray into politics officially and led to the formation of the Yuvajava Sramika Rythu Congress Party, the yatra he embarked on with his sister YS Sharmila and widowed mother YS Vijayamma enthused vigour and a fighting spirit into his cadre.

The state government that was led by Congress' N Kiran Kumar Reddy had extended police support to those participating in the yatra to ensure there were no untoward incidents.


Padayatra and Party Campaigns

However, when Naidu's son and national general secretary of the TDP Nara Lokesh set out on the Yuvagalam Yatra – planned across 100 constituencies and 4,000 kilometers – Jagan Reddy and his YSRCP began to clamp down.

From disallowing public participation to not granting police protection and permission to hold rallies, the government has been shacking the party's moves.

At the time of beginning the yatra, Nara Lokesh said:

"The walkathon is to rally support for the TDP for the Andhra assembly and Lok Sabha polls. The main aim of the padayatra is said to restore the credibility of the TDP as an alternative to the ruling party and to showcase its commitment to addressing the issues faced by the people of Andhra Pradesh."

With Lokesh set to resume the padayatra from Podalada village in the coming week, all the TDP leaders intend to join him in ensuring the walkathon unites TDP's cadre. The ongoing foot march is planned to be the longest in the political history of Andhra Pradesh and after a resounding welcome in Naidu's Chittoor district and the rest of the Rayalaseema region, the padayatra is currently moving up the Andhra coast.

Analyst Zakeer reckoned that the YSRCP's action to initiate proceedings against Naidu is also to assess which way the winds are blowing in the state.

In the last four months, the TDP and the JSP have notched their attack upon the ruling government manyfold, prompting Jagan Reddy to take preemptive steps to stall the momentum that both parties have been gaining in the state.

A senior TDP leader and spokesperson of the party said that party leaders see the importance of keeping up the morale of the workers who have geared up to work for it. Many supporters at the taluk and mandal levels who had defected to the YSCRP are beginning to come back to the TDP, the spokesperson said.

The TDP has also planned a door-to-door campaign to inform the public about the 'vindictive policies' of the state government. The party has formed a political action committee under Naidu's direction to carry out planned campaigns across the state.

The Telugu Desam Party polled 40 percent of the votes in the 2019 Assembly election, and with a groundswell of sympathy, it expects to a rise in the vote share in the coming year as they step up efforts to campaign across the state.

(Deepika Amirapu is a multi-media journalist who has reported for print, broadcast, and online news corporations since 2008.) 

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