YSR Congress Party President and Member of Parliament Jagan Mohan Reddy on Monday triggered a new round of political speculations when he praised Gujarat Chief Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Addressing his first press conference since his release on bail over a disproportionate assets case a week ago, Jagan described Modi as a good administrator.
"I have a lot of respect for Modi’s administrative capabilities. Why can’t he practice secular, inclusive politics and bring the entire opposition together," he said.
But Jagan did not elaborate whether he supported Modi’s candidature for the prime minister’s post or if his party was considering a tie-up with the BJP.
Jagan’s praise for Modi came as a shock for the Congress, which had hoped that the YSR Congress will extend support to the United Progressive Alliance government after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Incidentally, Jagan had earlier stated that his party will support a secular front like the UPA in the general elections.
The YSR Congress chief did drop hints about being against the idea of politicising religion and discriminating against an individual on the basis of his or her religion.
"I belong to the present generation. Whether we are Hindus, Christians or Muslims, we are all born here, live here and are going to die here," said Jagan.
"I want Modi to change the entire system in bringing every party on to a secular platform in the interest of the nation," said the 39-year-old politician from Rayalaseema.
"I want development with peace," he said in an apparent reference to Modi’s aggressive pro-development agenda.
He also took a powerful dig at his bête noire, Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu.
"I am secular and will continue to be secular. I am not like Chandrababu Naidu who changes his stand," he said, in an apparent reference to Naidu providing support to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance between 1998 and 2004 and then distancing himself from the saffron party after branding it 'communal'.
Emphasising that he was a secular leader and the YSR Congress was a secular party, Jagan said, “What other secular parties like Communists, the Janata Dal - United will do, I will also do the same. I have my options. I don’t think I would be in a hurry. All these options are there for everybody”.
Jagan's remarks, indicating that he will keep all his options for the post-poll scenario, and his positive demeanour towards Modi has given the state BJP a shot in the arm, as the party is looking for a strong ally for the Andhra Pradesh polls.
When asked about reports of a secret understanding between him and the Congress, Jagan quipped, “If there was any such understanding, why would I have suffered 16 months of imprisonment”.
He linked his opposition to the Congress to the decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, which has been approved by the party’s working committee.
"The Congress is playing politics for votes and it is dividing the state," he said.
He sought to know from the Congress how the party will resolve issues like sharing of river water, the dwindling employment rate and the status of Hyderabad after the division of the state.
“Fifty per cent of tax revenues come from Hyderabad. How can we let go of the city just like that,” he wondered.
It is not clear whether Jagan's remarks about Modi were only a tactical move to exert pressure on the Congress.
While he linked his strong opposition to the Congress to the proposed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, he could not have ignored the fact that the BJP was also a strong supporter of the creation of Telangana.
Only two days ago, BJP’s leader in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj had made it clear that the saffron party will not forge any alliances in the state at the cost of Telangana.
Jagan blamed the Congress for playing vote politics over the unity of Andhra Pradesh and warned that the division of the state will create serious issues.