Former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh N Chandrababu Naidu has one single mission at hand – come back to power in the state which he lost to YSR Congress Party's (YSRCP) YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, the current chief minister of AP.
While Opposition leaders of different political hues have been meeting up to prepare for 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Naidu – who was instrumental in forging the 2019 collective of national parties opposing the BJP – has been largely silent. While speculation in political circles suggest that Naidu may join hands with the BJP, whose side he had left in 2019 ahead of state assembly and Lok Sabha polls, sources close to the veteran political leader tell The Quint that Naidu does not want to play any role in national politics till he gets back the reins in AP.
Moreover, setting aside his national political ambition, Naidu has been opposing some of the priced projects of the BJP, even as he has not been siding with the Congress or other regional political parties.
Why Is Naidu Not Thinking of a Prominent National Role?
"There is nothing which interests him (Naidu) in national politics right now as he does not think about anything other than AP. He can support any political party which safeguards the interests of AP," a source close to Naidu told The Quint. What AP needs currently is investments, state capital development, and the long-pending Special Category Status which awards certain benefits to complement development needs.
Just like Chandrababu Naidu, Andhra Pradesh CM Jagan Mohan Reddy has not been able to improve the financial shortcomings of the state which lost Hyderabad to the newly formed Telangana state. According to budget experts, the state's fiscal deficit in 2023-24 is targeted at 3.8 percent and revenue deficit for 2023-24 is 1.5 percent of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP).
However, some political experts think Jagan Mohan Reddy has kept his options open even for an alliance with the Congress. His sister, YS Sharmila, is believed to have been in talks with Telangana Congress and the grand old party's national leadership to join the state unit ahead of assembly polls in Telangana scheduled for 2023. Naidu, however, has shown no inclination, at least publicly, to strike a deal with any side.
"We have been opposing some of BJP's policies. But we do not think there is anything to rely on in the Opposition camp as well," a TDP source said. TDP has been opposing Amul's proposed entry into AP at the cost of the state's Vijaya dairy, the source pointed out. "We have not won any favours with the BJP by opposing Amul's entry," he added. However, TDP remained optimistic when the Congress and its allies opposed the grand inauguration of the new Parliament Building in May this year. Naidu even tweeted expressing his support and pride even as his party leaders attended the ceremony.
The party has also been largely silent on Uniform Civil Code, which the BJP seems to be making a poll trope.
Moreover, several of Naidu's trusted lieutenants like Y Sujana Chowdary had jumped ship to join the BJP after the party faced rout in 2019, making his link with the saffron party alive, if not strong. Chowdary and other TDP MLAs who joined the BJP are still close to Naidu, it is speculated.
Can Naidu win 2024 assembly polls and make a mark in Lok Sabha elections too?
TDP's Lack of Leadership and Naidu's Calculations
According to TDP leaders, what can bail out TDP in AP is an anti-incumbency wave against the YSRCP, which does not seem to have materialised yet. YS Jagan Mohan Reddy still has a say in the state and enjoys the ground support which he had garnered before the 2019 Assembly polls. The state's poor fiscal performance and protests in Amaravati against the CM shifting the state capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam does not seem to have helped Naidu much.
The TDP is also marred by a leadership crisis. Other than Naidu who is a septuagenarian, the party does not have many strong leaders. Nara Lokesh, Naidu's son, has still not emerged as the upcoming leader of the party. The exit of several leaders, including those who held the purses of TDP, to BJP has also affected the party.
But what seems to be working in Naidu's favour is the popular support he seems to have gained recently, especially during his roadshows which thousands attended across the state. The YSRCP government had to ban roadshows in the guise of preventing stampedes due to the support the TDP leader was getting.
Whether this ground presence could translate to votes is yet to be seen but it has certainly communicated that Chandrababu Naidu is far from over.
Given this, will the TDP, which once used to be an ally in the NDA fold, link up with the BJP again? Will Pawan Kalyan, actor-turned-politician, help the TDP in brokering as deal with the BJP?
In actuality, the TDP can gain much from an alliance with the BJP. As the Congress remains decimated in the state, the BJP cadre and their ground reach can boost the TDP's prospects in 2019. Besides, TDP founder NT Rama Rao's daughter Daggubati Purandeswari is at the helm of BJP in AP now.
However, the BJP may not gain much from an alliance with the TDP. The biggest grouse the central leadership of the party had with its state wing was that it acted as a wing of the TDP instead of a separate political outfit. Not much may change if an alliance is forged yet again. Hence, the question is – will the BJP, which had written off TDP in 2019, be willing to forge an alliance with the yellow party in AP?