OPINION: NDA or UPA: Telugu self-respect at stake in Andhra

K. Sai Srinivas

Krishna: JD(S) patriarch and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda with AP Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu during a public meeting of the Telugu Desam Party held at Tiruvuru town, Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, Monday, April 08, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Krishna: JD(S) patriarch and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda with AP Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu during a public meeting of the Telugu Desam Party held at Tiruvuru town, Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, Monday, April 08, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Andhra Pradesh’s politics is centred around Telugu self-respect. The simultaneous elections to 25 Lok Sabha seats and 175 assembly seats in 2019 will see the incumbent Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party leader Chandrababu Naidu facing off with YSRCP leader Jaganmohan Reddy. The consensus among political pundits is that Jagan will likely dethrone Naidu. But the latter is a seasoned campaigner and administrator, and hopes that his sops to farmers, women et al will win him the votes. So, all eyes are on the Andhra voter as she casts her vote in the first phase of polls on April 11.

Unlike the 2014 elections, the main players in the state are fighting sans an alliance with the main national parties – Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress. This time, the national parties seem to be not fighting the polls with any serious conviction to ascend the throne in Andhra, but rather to save their pretty faces in national politics.

Post polls, it may be a different story altogether as the winner in the Centre – NDA or UPA – in need of allies, may rope in Jagan (plus Telangana Rashtriya Samiti chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao), or Naidu.

NDA, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, aiming to win a second term, may stitch an alliance with Jagan. In which case, you can call it Bharatiya Jagan Party. Or, NDA may even mend fences with Naidu if he beats the odds and retains his chair. What are the chances of UPA winning over either party? Jagan says he has forgiven Congress for past mistakes, and Naidu is considered an old fox who can easily switch sides.

Apart from Telugu self-respect, two other words – Special Status – carry special weight in this election. The voters are sick and tired of the debate around special category status to the state.

Jagan, in particular, professes that he will fight for this status and will cast his vote in favour of any alliance at the Centre to secure this objective.

After Chandrababu Naidu failed to secure special status from the NDA and left the alliance in a huff, he has tried hard to win over the voters with various schemes and sops. He is hoping that showering benefits to farmers and women will erase the anti-incumbency feelings. But Naidu’s rivals never miss a chance to accuse him of not only failing to secure the special status to the state but making a mess of efforts to build a new capital in Amaravati. Naidu’s detractors believe that the chief minister predominantly favours his kamma community and helped them secure prime land in the new capital
at favourable rates.

East Godavari: YSR Congress party chief Jaganmohan Reddy during an election rally in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, Sunday, April 7, 2019. (PTI Photo)

East Godavari: YSR Congress party chief Jaganmohan Reddy during an election rally in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, Sunday, April 7, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Jagan is basing his campaign on personal appeal among a wide spectrum of populace, including women, youth and minorities. He is taking a leaf out his father, former chief minister of the combined Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, who died in a helicopter crash barely after his second term had begun. Jagan’s father came back to power in the state after a successful padayatra. Neither party is worried that the exchequer will be drained because of their populist schemes. Why count the cost of these schemes – lakhs of crores, according to estimates – if they can assure a win at the hustings? Naidu says Congress may have promised Rs 72,000 every year to each poor family, but he will give Rs 2 lakh to each family if he comes back to power. The schemes of both TDP and YSRCP have sentimental titles to impress the emotional voter. For instance, the TDP’s ‘Pasupu-kumkuma’ scheme promises Rs 10,000 to each member of women self-help groups. YSRCP’s Rythu Bharosa scheme will assure annual benefits up to Rs one lakh to each farmer. The film-crazy Andhra voter may yet buy these titles and assure a box-office hit for Jagan or Naidu.

Tollywood popular actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party is another player in the poll arena. Pawan comes from kapu community, which feels aggrieved in Naidu regime. Pawan is betting on securing the votes of his community as well as from his vast fan base. He remains a fringe player, compared to Naidu and Jagan, for now.

Interestingly, the combined Andhra Pradesh played a key role in supporting ruling parties at the Centre for a long time. For decades, the state rooted for Congress before Telugu Desam party founder and popular actor N.T. Rama Rao (NTR), the father-in-law of Naidu, rode to power on the back of his campaign for restoring Telugu Self-respect. Naidu dethroned NTR in an overnight coup to grab the chief minister’s post and ruled the state with aplomb for a decade. Naidu, who deftly stitched alliances at the Centre, is credited with burnishing the image of the state, and especially establishing Hyderabad as a major IT capital in South.

But Naidu watched from the wilderness for a long time as Rajasekhar Reddy secured back the state for Congress. After Rajasekhar Reddy’s death, Congress lost the plot and failed to assuage the self-respect of Jagan and his followers by naming him his father’s natural successor to Chief Minister’s post. That remains Sonia Gandhi’s biggest blunder in the state till date. She also listened to her coterie and gave in to the age-old demand for a separate state for Telangana. The rest is history as she watched the state slip away to two regional leaders – Telangana Rashtra Samithi founder Chandrasekhar Rao took away the prized new Telangana state, along with Hyderabad; and Naidu who found his bearings back in the new Andhra Pradesh state.

Irrespective of whoever forms the government at the Centre – the talk in town is that NDA will barely scrape through this time, and will have to stitch important alliances to rule a second term –Andhra Pradesh will have to fight to regain the previous stature it commanded at the Centre. So, Telugu Self-respect may remain unfulfilled for a long time. Whether it is Jagan or Naidu, the new chief minister will have to fight for the rights of the state tooth and nail at the Centre, and even then there is no guarantee that he will succeed. After all, NDA or UPA will have to contend with the numerous demands of their various allies after the elections, and they have to first secure their own Special Status.

-K. Sai Srinivas, Senior Journalist