Friday, July 01, 2016

Telugu Desam Party Supremo & AP CM Chandrababu Naidu, Still Loyal To NDA For Now Even As Discontentment With Narendra Modi Grows


TDP Supremo Chandrababu Naidu was rarely seen without a laptop in the last years of his previous term as the Andhra Pradesh chief minister. Once, when I called him 'Laptop' Naidu, he took it as a compliment. He constantly monitored sundry schemes on a laptop and exuded supreme confidence that he would sweep the 2004 elections. He lost. And it took him 10 years to return as the CM.

Naidu is a changed man now. It's not because, instead of a laptop, he now has an iPad as a constant companion and he talks of 'iCloud' and 'file-sharing' to review his government's work.
He now knows that development projects and welfare schemes alone don't win elections. He has learnt that winning elections is not all about economics. It's also politics, which means getting caste equations and alliances right.

Returning to NDA in 2014, he found a good friend in Narendra Modi. Modi and Naidu are both hardworking and practical politicians, and they have been getting along like a house on fire - so far. Naidu has two BJP ministers in his team, and the Modi ministry has two men of Naidu's Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

But some of the warmth in the Modi-Naidu camaraderie has evaporated in the recent months. Naidu himself has not uttered a word of displeasure with BJP, but some of his leaders have made no secret of their unhappiness, saying Modi has not done enough to help Andhra Pradesh after the state's 2014 bifurcation.

And now the fracas over the distribution of judges between Andhra Pradesh and the new state of Telangana is bound to bring the stress to the TDP-BJP relation.
Leaders of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which rules Telangana, claim that judges of Andhra origin are being foisted on their state in a big way as part of a conspiracy hatched by Naidu with Modi's blessings. Any attempt by Modi to pacify Telangana - the new state with 17 Lok Sabha seats can't be ignored totally - will only be interpreted by TDP as being unhelpful on BJP's part.

And this may once again raise questions over whether TDP will continue to be part of NDA, athough Naidu, for the record, swears he will stick to the alliance.
But both Naidu and Modi share another trait: both are obsessed with winning the next elections.

The Lok Sabha, as well as the assemblies of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, will go to polls in 2019. What Modi will do about the dispute over allocation of judges and how Naidu will react to it will depend on what each estimates his winning chances in the elections - still three years away - are, with and without the alliance.

On the face of it, Modi has little to do with the division of judges. That's something the High Court in Hyderabad, which is now common for both states, is doing. But Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao - better known as KCR - claims that judges should be allocated only after the creation of separate High Courts like it was done when Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand were carved out. He alleges that the Centre had been holding up a separate high court at Naidu's bidding.

With KCR's backing, lawyers and lower court judges have taken to the streets and are threatening a total strike by the judiciary on 1 July. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has promised to "talk to" the two chief ministers, but KCR wants action and he wants it quick. He has warned of a dharna in Delhi if the Modi government fails to divide the High Court first and then allocate judges.
Caught between TRS and TDP, Modi will be forced to walk the tightrope in the coming days. It won't be easy.

If Modi continues to drag his feet over a new high court, he will be open to fresh charges by TRS that he is favouring his ally in Andhra. And if he accedes to KCR's demand, the already strained alliance with TDP will get even worse.
Telugu Desam's unhappiness with the BJP began when its demand for a "special category status" for Andhra Pradesh had been turned down. This status - currently enjoyed by eight north-eastern states, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir - would have ensured for Andhra Pradesh, a preferential allocation of central funds.

TDP leaders say that the state has got hardly Rs 13,000 crore instead of the Rs 49,000 crore it had expected. The BJP maintains that, short of giving the state special status, the Centre had been more than generous. It had given the state Rs 2,804 crore to bridge its 2014-15 revenue deficit and Rs 7,430 crore towards the Rs 22,113 crore deficit that 14th Finance Commission projects the state to have during 2015-20. Desam leaders say that the state received only about Rs 1,000 crore, of the Rs 10,000 promised to build a capital. To this, the BJP says Naidu's pet project of building a Rs 56,000-crore Singapore-style capital was too extravagant and wasteful.

TDP leaders are not convinced. Says Ashok Gajapathi Raju, TDP's minister in the Modi government: "... All the power has gone to Telangana, while AP is left with debts (due to bifurcation)."

The previous UPA government broke Andhra Pradesh into two in a hurry, hoping it would sweep Telangana by forming the separate state and win Andhra by giving it the special status. But this special status was not incorporated into the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014.

And the Modi government sees no point in going ahead with it because it would drain the Centre's resources and other states demanding such a status would cry foul.

But Naidu will be in no hurry to leave the NDA, despite his growing discontentment with Modi. And yet, any stand that Modi might take on any post-bifurcation issue that Andhra Pradesh sees as inimical to its interests, might push Naidu closer to a flashpoint.

On its part, the BJP too might at some point review the truck with TDP. The BJP has almost broken its ties with TDP in Telangana, and some BJP leaders think that continuing to ride piggyback on TDP in Andhra Pradesh would stymie its own long-term growth in the state.

It's more than likely that both TDP and BJP might take stock of their arrangement after next year's UP elections that may determine which way Modi's own fortunes are heading.

For now, Naidu and Modi will continue as political allies, though not as friends.

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