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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu Is Against The Dynasty Rule, Why He Is Grooming His Son Lokesh?

By RADHAKRISHNA | INNLIVE

Stanford-educated Nara Lokesh, who is already deeply involved in party and government affairs, is expected to lead the Telugu Desam Party in 2019.

In 1985, the Telugu Desam Party was in the midst of an angry internal churn. N Chandrababu Naidu, the party’s general secretary, fought tooth and nail against his father-in-law and party founder NT Rama Rao’s proposal to name his son, Nandamuri Balakrishna, an actor, as his political heir.

At that time, a furious Naidu said that the TDP was in danger of going the Congress way. He said: “We opposed family rule of the Congress in elections and if Balayya [as Balakrishna is called] is now roped into the party, the TDP will be termed as an offshoot of the Congress.”

To make his point, Naidu refused to contest in that year’s mid-term Assembly poll.

30 years later, Naidu, now chief minister of bifurcated Andhra Pradesh, is grooming his son Nara Lokesh to take over the TDP, which he seized control of in 1995, when he toppled NT Rama Rao unceremoniously.

Lokesh is likely to contest the 2019 Assembly elections. Sources within the TDP say that the 33-year-old may contest from his father’s Kuppam constituency in Chittoor district, where Naidu has served six terms since 1989. The TDP scion may also stand from Chandragiri, from where Naidu won in 1978 on a Congress ticket.

Before the party annual convention in Tirupati last week, and the Rajya Sabha elections early this month, a clamour rose for Lokesh to be made Rajya Sabha MP and sent to Parliament for a larger role and possible induction into the Modi cabinet.

However, Lokesh said that he would rather serve in the state than in Delhi. “I am not interested in going to Delhi,” he said at a press conference during the convention. “I want to serve the people of the state by staying here.”

“Lokesh has gained significant political experience by taking up party responsibilities,” said GV Anjaneyulu, TDP MLA from Vinukonda. “It is the right time to make him a minister. If government’s responsibilities are entrusted to him at this juncture, he would further enhance his leadership qualities so as to run the party on his own by 2019.”

De facto successsor?
Naidu is looking for an energetic and dynamic TDP president, a post which he has held since 1995, when he took over the party in a coup. This time, however, there is unlikely to be a struggle. Lokesh’s path up the ranks has been paved by his powerful father.

During the party convention, Naidu’s coterie shot down a proposal to nominate a senior TDP leader as party president. The reason given was that it would unsettle the party and administration, which needed to focus on building a brand new state and its capital from scratch.

But Naidu’s big plans for his son is perhaps why there’s no space left for veterans in the TDP. Very few remain. Deputy Chief Minister and Revenue Minister KE Krishnamurthy is one who has stayed, but Naidu keeps him at arm’s length. At the convention, Krishnamurthy was among 14 cabinet ministers who were pulled up for non-performance.

A senior TDP leader, who penned a biography of Naidu in early 2000, was pushed out of the party as he did not abide by the move to accommodate Lokesh in the party hierarchy in the mid-2000s. “Naidu wanted us to chorus (sic) Lokesh’s entry, and when we did not, he sidelined most of us,” said Umareddy Venkateswarlu, a former minister who was with Naidu until 2008 but is now part of Jaganmohan Reddy’s rival YSR Congress. “The TDP, which was built by NTR as a force opposing family rule of the Congress, has once again become just one man’s party.”

The grooming of Lokesh:
Nara Lokesh, who completed his schooling in Hyderabad, received an undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University in the US and topped it with an MBA from Stanford. After a short stint at the World Bank in Washington DC, in 2010, he joined Heritage Foods, the family business in Hyderabad.

Lokesh’s entry into politics was a television experiment that bombed. In 2013, he attempted to transform an existing Telugu news channel, Studio-N, into the TDP mouthpiece. The channel was floated by the Narne Group whose owners are related to NTR’s older son Harikrishna (cine star NTR Junior, Harikrishna’s son, is married to Narne’s daughter). After relations between Naidu and Harikrishna soured, Lokesh and team were given marching orders.

Though Lokesh campaigned for his father in 2008, he has been increasingly active in the TDP since the party’s convention only since 2013, when he was seen on posters hailing him as “Chinnababu” (young master) and the “future leader” of the party. NTR Junior, a popular cine star and Lokesh’s cousin, who was widely expected to be given a key role in the party was sidelined.

The young TDP leader’s marriage to Brahmani, daughter of NTR’s son Balakrishna – whose proposed elevation as party chief in 1985 had led to Naidu’s rebellion – seems to have helped stem any opposition from the NTR family. His father-in-law steps in to mediate in case of any trouble.

Taking over party work:
After his unsuccessful stint at television, Lokesh and his friends – software professionals S Abhista and Rajesh Kilaru – headed to the TDP headquarters in Hyderabad, where they took over IT services, and the task of rebuilding the party’s cadre base by formulating welfare schemes along the lines of those by Left parties.

They fine-tuned an online membership drive during which the TDP added a record 54 lakh members. After this, Lokesh and his team were given the task of organising welfare programs for party workers. Under Lokesh’s watch, the party set up a grievance cell with 22 lines at the party office in Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills where workers could call in with their problems. Lokesh is also custodian of the TDP’s Workers Welfare Fund, which helps ailing party workers with funds and medical treatment, as well as with skills training and job placements.

Lokesh took over the backroom operations of his father’s campaign in the run up to the 2014 Assembly elections, which were held along with the Lok Sabha elections. He is credited with the billboard campaign that screamed: “Jobukavala? Chandababu Ravali”, which translates into: “Do you want jobs? Chandrababu must come [to power]”. This campaign galvanised the youth in Hyderabad and TDP won more Assembly seats in the city than even the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Congress. Of the 15 seats Naidu’s party won in Telangana, 10 were in Hyderabad, the capital of the newly-created state of Telangana.

Shadow CEO?
Lokesh’s attempts to fashion the party and government along corporate lines of which he is the shadow CEO is reminiscent of his father’s technocratic approach when he was Andhra Pradesh chief minister from 1995 to 2004.

For instance, all party spending needs Lokesh’s nod, and it is he who instituted electronic e-controls for the movement of files, and digital signatures for all approvals. Biometric entry gates and locks have been installed at NTR Bhavan and the Secretariat to mark attendance, and to ensure punctuality. Senior ministers, MPs and party veterans have to wait hours to meet the TDP scion and are expected to conduct official campaigns and programs only after his approval.
At last month’s party convention, ministers and party MLAs were assessed on the basis of report cards prepared and submitted internally by Lokesh. Fourteen cabinet ministers were pulled up for non-performance. Party sources said that 41 party MLAs were also reported for not doing anything for their constituencies, and for not countering the Opposition criticism in their areas.

Lokesh has attempted to manage the party and government’s image by controlling the publicity and information departments too. He monitors the official publicity wings of the party, writes responses on Facebook and tweets on party policies. He also attacks opponents like Jaganmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress, KT Rama Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on social media.

The Media Information Monitoring System, a news monitoring service in the Chief Minister’s Office, has been staffed by personnel approved by Lokesh, who recently also brought in a senior Doordarshan employee as Commissioner of Information & Public Relations.

Those close to Chandrababu Naidu say that the chief minister is likely to opt for a more leisurely political role in Parliament once his dream project – the construction of Andhra Pradesh’s new capital city of Amaravati – is completed. That is expected to take five years. Lokesh, meanwhile is being groomed to take over the mantle. 
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