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Will Naidu unite the Opposition?

Kalyani Shankar |

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu is back on the national scene making efforts for opposition unity. It is because of his political compulsion that he has donned this role now. Though he is adept in mobilising support for his cause, there is indeed a question mark on whether he will succeed in his venture.

Naidu is in a way a prototype for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He did years ago what Modi is trying to do now, projecting himself as a development man. He had little going for him when he became the chief minister for the first time in 1995. He was not an orator like his father-in-law and founder of the Telugu Desam, N T Rama Rao. Though he started as a Congress minister in 1978, once NTR came to power he joined him. He was known as the backroom boy but became a different man once he assumed office. He changed his rustic image and started wearing a goatee. He became fluent in English.

Naidu had got advisers from the US and spent crores of rupees for the image make over. It was he who first declared himself as the CEO of the United Andhra Pradesh. It was he who cultivated the Americans and projected himself as a reform-oriented chief minister and got millions of dollars for his state from the World Bank. Naidu persuaded American multinationals like Microsoft to invest in his state and converted Hyderabad into Cyberabad; he rubbed shoulders with big names like US President Bill Clinton, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Bill Gates. Despite all these, the development card did not work and he was out in the cold from 2004 to 2014.

Changing sides is not new to Naidu as he had aligned with the Left parties in 1996 and 1989 but in 1999 and 2004 he went along with the NDA. He dumped the NDA soon after. In 2009, the TDP was with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti against the Congress but came back to the NDA fold in 2014. He quit NDA in March this year.

What is the reason for Naidu’s recent shift in policy and complete turn around? Why is he combining forces with the archrival Congress? The TDP was born on an anti-Congress platform and has remained in the opposite camp all through, although he was not averse to taking the help of the Congress in the United Front governments of which TDP was a constituent. He claims, “I have no ambition to become Prime Minister. In the past I have rejected the offer twice. I want to be in the state and to develop both Telugu states.”

So what made Naidu take on this new avatar? He is facing trouble at home and elections are a few months away. His popularity is declining and that of his rival YS Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress is on the upswing. Moreover, the BJP is looking for a post-poll alliance with Reddy and is having secret talks with him. What better strategy than to play the role of important opposition leader at the national level?

Secondly, in his second spell in power, Naidu has been trying to sell an impossible dream to the electorate, and has spent the past four and a half years pursuing it. “My objective is to put Amaravati (bifurcated Andhra’s under-construction capital) among the top three cities in the country by 2022 and make it the number one city by 2029,” he had declared. But he failed to get money from the Centre for his development dreams. He blames the Centre for not helping with funds as per its promise at the time of bifurcation. While Telangana had a cash surplus, Andhra Pradesh did not have that luxury. With the clock ticking he does not know how to explain his inability to deliver the dreams.

Thirdly, even in electoral arithmetic the TDP is not comfortable. Naidu has teamed up with the Congress in Telangana for pure arithmetic and he wants to replicate that in his state too. Though the opposition votes might be divided it may not be to the advantage of the TDP. The Left parties have joined hands with film actor Pavan Kalyan’s outfit. Naidu needs the Muslim votes and a secular image. He also has to face anti-incumbency.

Lastly, he fears the taxman might knock at his doors as they have already done so with his cabinet ministers. So he met a whole lot of opposition leaders including Congress President Rajiv Gandhi, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, SP leader Mulayam Singh and CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechuri from opposition parties during his recent visit to Delhi.

Naidu also met his Delhi counterpart, Arvind Kejriwal, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Loktantrik Janata Dal president Sharad Yadav, and former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha. An impressive list indeed! He wants to show his ability to lead to his Telengana counterpart who is also trying to form a federal front.

It all depends on how the heterogeneous parties could come together before 2019. Modi’s biggest strength is a weak and divided opposition. Politics is the art of possible and political compulsions might work wonders. Whether Naidu will be that change agent is to be seen.