Will the Andhra Divorce Make Naidu Look Like the Good Guy?
In January this year, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) sided with the Opposition parties inside Parliament over the issue of the Triple Talaq Bill. The BJP was not amused as it saw in the move an indication of things to come.
It was right.
Late on Wednesday evening, 7 March, the TDP announced its decision to exit the NDA government, making its divorce from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a matter of time and formality.
Those in the know of things say it was coming for a long time. Though the two parties share power both in New Delhi and in Andhra Pradesh, relations have been anything but smooth. State BJP leaders have taken frequent potshots at matters of governance and the TDP is convinced they have New Delhi's approval. In a rare outburst in January, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said he is willing to walk out of the alliance if the state BJP leaders were not reined in.
“Because of coalition dharma, we are keeping quiet. If they don't want us, we will do ‘namaskaram’ and chart our own course,” he said.
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More Problems Than Just Money Matters
The Union Budget that gave zilch to Andhra Pradesh was the last straw. The TDP argued that since this was the last Budget before the elections, the BJP had made its intentions clear on not helping out Andhra, a state that suffered huge financial loss, with no state capital, no industry after the bifurcation in 2014.
“This marriage is not going to last, it is just a matter of time,” one of Naidu's close aides told me at that time.
Naidu has spent the last one month setting the stage for his exit. It was imperative he packaged it well because having enjoyed power in Delhi for four years, the decision to quit at the last minute could boomerang as well. On Wednesday, the decision to quit was gift wrapped as one taken in Andhra interest, but the real reason was political.
The BJP and the TDP have differing versions to offer on how much has been given or not given to Andhra. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley claims that minus the nomenclature of Special Category Status, which was a promise made by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament and reiterated by Narendra Modi during the 2014 election campaign, Andhra would get the same financial benefits.
This meant the Centre will fund all special projects in the ratio of 90:10 as opposed to 60:40 ratio for other states. But the TDP is insistent on the tag and the tax and investment concessions that will come with it. The Centre is reluctant because more backward states like Bihar have been denied the status.
But it is not just the differences over money matters that ruined the TDP-BJP relationship. When Naidu met Modi this January, it was after a gap of a year. Sources say the Andhra CM had found it difficult to secure an appointment, surprising given his stature as an important ally of the BJP.
Things took a turn for the worse two days ago when Jaitley reportedly told a delegation of TDP leaders that the country needed funds for defence as well. The implication was that Andhra was demanding far more than what was due to it.
“When we asked for help, we were met with grave injustice. You spoke as though we were asking all money at the cost of the defence of the country,” Naidu rued.
A Calculated Risk
What Naidu has done is a calculated risk. His sense is that there is a palpable sentiment among the people of Andhra that they have been deceived twice over, first by the Congress when it divided the state going against popular sentiment of the people in the region and now by the BJP. To exploit that emotion politically and project himself as the sole protector of Telugu interest, Naidu calculated. This can get him a second term in office.
Soon after the decision was taken, Nara Lokesh, Naidu’s son and Andhra’s IT minister, said the TDP had waited and believed in false promises enough. Underlined was an accusation of deception.
By raising the pitch against the BJP, what Naidu has also done is to ensure that his bete noire Jaganmohan Reddy does not ally with the saffron party. YSR Congress leaders would be wary as the BJP is seen as a falling knife at the moment in Andhra.
The BJP will have some reason for discomfort because it is being pilloried as an undependable ally, someone that does not keep its word. While it does not have much to lose in Andhra because it is hardly a political force to reckon with in the state, it will hurt its image in the rest of the country and reinforce its image of a bullying Big Brother.
The other worry is about how corporates will react to this political decision. The industry could be wary of making fresh investments unless it is confident about the Centre helping the state establish infrastructure. While Naidu is looking to borrow to fund his projects, it comes with a huge risk of adding to the debt burden.
Given that the people of Andhra feel emotional about being let down, this positioning may help Naidu. But will it be good for Andhra? When ‘friend’ Modi is said to have not helped Naidu, would ‘foe’ Modi help if he returns to power? How does Andhra gain by investing in the same TDP when it has been unsuccessful in getting gains for the state? Those are the questions the electorate of Andhra will need to answer when it votes a year from now.
(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at @Iamtssudhir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)