How BJP Became Most Favoured Ally in Andhra for Regional Parties

BJP in Andhra – a small player among masses, but critical for Telugu Desam, YSR Congress and Jana Sena. Here’s why.

6 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

In a recent outburst, Andhra's mercurial Civil Supplies Minister Kodali Nani remarked that his government does not have to heed a party with vote-share lower than NOTA. He advised the Andhra Pradesh unit of the BJP to first focus on increasing its vote share from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. He was quickly silenced and was nowhere to be seen defending the government or talking to media in the three weeks since these remarks.

This is a peculiar reaction from the ruling party boasting of an unprecedented mandate, winning 86 percent of the Assembly constituencies and 50 percent of the vote share in the 2019 elections.

Elsewhere, Jana Sena’s founder and movie-star Pawan Kalyan announced an unconditional alliance with BJP in January 2020. He stopped supporting NDA in 2018 on the issue of Special Category Status (SCS). The Centre repeatedly made its stand clear that AP will not get SCS. With 7 percent vote share in the 2019 elections and fundamental differences in ideology, why Jana Sena allied with BJP indicates the latter’s influence in Andhra.

Each of Andhra’s important parties, including Telugu Desam Party (TDP), wants to woo the BJP despite its complete rejection by the people.

How did a party with vote-share below 1 percent become the favoured political ally for Andhra's major regional parties? Unpacking Andhra politics indicates a prioritising of survival over the mandate of the people.

Who is Afraid of the NOTA-Less BJP?

Why YSR Congress (YCP) strives to be on good terms with BJP is linked to long-running cases of ED and CBI against Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy. For years now, these institutions have been politicised and used as instruments of power rather than justice. Jagan is fighting cases of disproportionate assets and quid pro quo investments under his father’s corrupt regime. It is widely perceived that he wants these cases diluted or quashed in return for his support to BJP's parliamentary and policy moves.

Before 2019, TDP and YCP outdid each other in fighting for SCS, on the Centre’s injustice to AP, and its disregard for Amaravati.

Jagan Reddy made his 5 Lok Sabha MPs resign. Put in a corner, the TDP government broke its alliance with the BJP, introduced a no-confidence motion and gave fiery speeches, one of its MPs even speaking extempore in Hindi. Its MPs regularly protested and fasted outside the Parliament, went on fasts and conducted mass events. The powerful narrative of the Centre's injustice meant that the BJP candidates lost deposits in ALL of Andhra’s 175 Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Now, both parties are conspicuously silent on these issues, evident in the kind of questions and debates NOT raised by any of the 25 Andhra MPs.

Only a single question was raised on SCS. TDP stuck to raising this in debates. Despite being Lol Sabha's 5th biggest party, YCP did not send any representation, hold any meetings with Central officials or strongly demand SCS.

How TDP Embarked On A ‘War Path’ Against BJP

Until 2018, the then TDP government actively supported the NDA’s much-maligned moves like demonetisation and complicated GST framework. Likewise, the Centre actively backed the then CM Chandrababu’s ambitious greenfield capital at Amaravati. With Jagan forcing the issue of Special Category, TDP embarked on a warpath against BJP.

But the debacle in 2019 convinced its leadership that their fortunes are best served allying with the BJP, whatever be the costs.

All along his gruelling 3648-km padayatra between 2017-19, Jagan promised to fight against Delhi for Andhra rights if he was given a massive mandate. On cue, 151 MLAs (and 22 MPs) were elected from YCP in what has been among the biggest mandates in Indian electoral history. It also has 6 MPs in the Rajya Sabha. These numbers were crucial in electing NDA’s candidate as Vice Chairman and passing the controversial Farm Bills in Rajya Sabha.

These numbers are potential bargaining chips to lobby for state interests, pending BRGF allocations, and Special Category Status on multiple occasions. But there’s little on-ground change. 

TDP and YCP competed to support controversial legislations on Jammu & Kashmir, citizenship, and recent farm bills. TDP voted for the former bills despite founding ideals of secularism and federalism. Pawan Kalyan spoke in support of NRC-CAA when allying with the BJP. YCP's support is surprising given its solid vote base among Muslims and Christians. December 2019 saw massive anti-CAA protests across AP with TDP MPs participating in some of these events. TDP specifically rejected the combined implementation of CAA-NRC. Eventually, the Jagan government passed the resolutions against NRC and NPR in June 2020.

BJP’s Game Plan: ‘Hunt with the Hounds, Run with the Rabbits’

Right now, the oft-heard questions in AP are – will BJP influence Jagan’s cases to convict him? Is it allowing him to pursue vindictive politics against the Opposition to capture the TDP vote bank?

People don’t trust that BJP will work for Andhra Pradesh’s interests but believe its absolute power at the Centre gives it levers to manipulate regional parties.

The 17th Lok Sabha began in June 2019 with 4 TDP MPs in the Rajya Sabha switching to the BJP. But TDP has been consistent in appreciating Modi's efforts, beginning from ‘integrating Kashmir’ with India upto his actions controlling the COVID pandemic. Its 4 MPs (one in Rajya Sabha and 3 in Lok Sabha) seldom voted against any Bills, only pointing out issues in each. TDP looks to force a situation wherein Jagan is convicted leading to a power vacuum.

Chandrababu Naidu has been urging his cadre to prepare for simultaneous elections in 2022.

Overlapping Vote Banks Of TDP & BJP – Implications

This brings us to the overlapping vote-banks of TDP and BJP. YSR Congress' coalition of dominant communities (Reddys, sections of Kapus) and oppressed castes (Dalits, EBCs) remained undented during 2014 and 2019 elections – a ‘sandwich alliance’ uniting the extremes of Andhra’s power hierarchy. TDP’s vote base isn't so durable. Both TDP and BJP's ideologies stress good governance, technocratic solutions, pro-business reforms, and aggregating BC castes. TDP recently alleged a conspiracy of temples under threat but it's too early to assume an ideological shift to Hindutva ideals. BJP can only gain at TDP’s expense.

Allowing Jagan Reddy’s ‘vindictive politics‘ makes BJP the safe haven for those being harassed and charged with cases.

Its ‘acquiescence’ with the status quo is evident in the issue of abandoning Amaravati too. Jagan championed 3 capitals, with the judiciary, legislature and executive planned at Kurnool, Amaravati, and Visakhapatnam respectively. This ostensibly ensures balanced development of poorer regions (Rayalaseema and Uttar Andhra) on par with richer Coastal districts.

Questions On Which Future Of YSR Congress Depends

The logistics of building multiple capitals in cash-strapped AP, the outmoded socialist principle of state institutions ensuring development, or sheer distances between these capitals burdening the people and state officials are outside this essay’s purview. Between 2014-19, the Centre actively backed the building of Amaravati, granting funds for its development, with the PM himself laying its foundation stone. Now its categorically washed its hands off this issue, impleading in the AP High Court that it's the state government’s prerogative on choosing capital(s). In a case of double-speak, the state BJP unit continues to support retaining Amaravati as the capital.

BJP and YSR Congress seem to have an understanding the Centre will not involve itself in state issues such as longstanding Amaravati farmers’ protests or canceling corporate commitments and PPAs.

The BJP’s game plan seems to be to not interfere with Jagan’s policies, no matter how polarising or damaging they are for state and national interests. This stokes anti-incumbency while the ruling party continues hounding the opposition with illegitimate cases and police coercion. It remains to be seen how Chandrababu turns this crisis into another opportunity again, given his 4 decades in politics and governance. Can he become relevant in AP and National Politics is the question on which depends TDP’s survival. Can the charismatic YS Jagan escape convictions, unlike Jayalalithaa, or can he run a proxy government? These are questions on which depend the future of YSR Congress.

(Naga Sravan Kilaru is the founder of the youth advocacy organisation Yuva Galam in Andhra Pradesh. He tweets @knsravan_. V Vamsi Viraj works with, a COVID-19 news aggregator, and with Yuva Galam. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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