Under relentless opposition attack over its failure to secure special category state status for Andhra Pradesh, the state's ruling Telugu Desam Party on Thursday pulled out of the Modi government but kept a window open for rapprochement by deciding to remain part of the National Democratic Alliance.
The two TDP ministers in the government -- Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Rahu and Y S Chowdary -- met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and handed over their resignation letters.
There was no official word yet on whether the letters were forwarded to the President for acceptance, setting off speculation that back channel talks might still be on to thrash out a compromise formula.
However, sources in the know said the resignations are likely to be accepted.
The resignation by the Union ministers followed a 20-minute talk between Telugu Desam Party boss and chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and the prime minister which apparently failed to remove irritants plaguing the TDP's ties with the government.
According to sources, Naidu has reportedly turned down Modi's request to "reconsider" the TDP's decision to withdraw from the NDA government at the centre, saying "things have crossed that stage".
During the telephonic talk, the prime minister asked Naidu to come over to New Delhi for a personal discussion but the latter did not respond to it.
"The prime minister asked our leader to come over to discuss everything in person. But Chandrababu said he cannot go now," a state minister said.
Naidu held a meeting with his ministers at his residence in Amaravati after the phone conversation with Modi. The TDP chief told his party colleagues about Modi's request to reconsider their decision to pull out of the NDA government.
"The issue could have been resolved had we sat and discussed it," the prime minister reportedly told the TDP leader.
"We have waited patiently for four years (for special category status to AP) but ultimately we had to take the decision (to leave the NDA) in deference to the people's sentiment," Naidu reportedly said.
He said the people of the state were seething over Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's comments, which they feel were an "insult".
"The chief minister explained all this to the prime minister and why the TDP decided to leave the central government. The prime minister asked him to come to Delhi for a personal discussion to sort things out.
"Chandrababu only asked the prime minister to do something for the state since he had the authority," said Information and Public Relations Minister Kalva Srinivasulu.
In a tit-for-tat action, the two BJP ministers in the Naidu government -- K Srinivasa Rao and T Manikyala Rao -- too quit.
Governor E S L Narasimhan has accepted the resignation of the two BJP ministers.
The TDP has 16 members in the Lok Sabha and is the third largest constituent of the NDA in the House after Shiv Sena, which has 18 MPs.
The Sena has also been at loggerheads with the BJP, and often cried neglect by the senior partner. It, however, continues to share power with the BJP both at the centre and in Maharashtra.
Naidu had on Wednesday announced his ministers will pull out of the NDA government, a decision he termed as "painful but in the interest of the state".
The announcement came amid widening rift between the TDP and the Modi government over special category status for the state.
Naidu himself described Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's press conference in the national capital on Wednesday where he said funds equivalent to what a special category state receives would be extended to Andhra Pradesh but rejected the TDP's demand for special category status as the proverbial "last straw".
Addressing reporters after tendering their resignation, Raju said the TDP will continue to be a part of the centre's ruling alliance.
Chowdary said the issue of special category status was very emotive for the state but the Centre did not address it, and added that even the special package was not adequate.
Reacting to the development, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar claimed in New Delhi "political pressure" and "false propaganda" by the main opposition YSR Congress and other parties on the issue of special status might have forced Naidu's hand.
"The TDP has demanded special status. We are discussing with them.... Unfortunately, YSR Congress and other parties are indulging in all sorts of false propaganda, spoiling the political atmosphere in the state and putting pressure on Chandrababu Naidu," Kumar told reporters.
The BJP sees the resignation of the two TDP ministers as an inevitable outcome of the regional party's "political compulsions" ahead of the assembly polls next year which will take place with general elections.
The BJP, which has two Lok Sabha members from the state that sends 25 MPs to the House, is not overly worried about the prospect of contesting elections without an ally, and even hopes to emerge as a "significant political force".
"The BJP has the potential to emerge as a third viable alternative in Andhra Pradesh and our track record in different states testify to this. We will continue to work for the people there to become a significant political force," its spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said.
Some BJP leaders said, in the event of the TDP finally walking out of the NDA, the saffron party may find an ally in the YSR Congress, which has been a friendly party in Parliament.
Jaitley had said yesterday that giving special category status, as demanded by Naidu, to any state apart from those in the North-East and three hill provinces was not constitutionally possible after the implementation of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations.
For special category status category states, the Centre meets 90 per cent of the funds required in a centrally sponsored scheme as against 60 per cent in case of normal category states. The remaining funds are provided by the state governments.
'We have potential to emerge as third force in Andhra'
The BJP sees the resignations of two TDP ministers from the central government as an inevitable outcome driven by the regional party's "political compulsions" ahead of the assembly polls in the state next year.
Andhra Pradesh BJP chief K Hari Babu said political one-upmanship has been going on in the state -- an apparent reference to the war of words between TDP and its main rival YSY Congress -- over the special category status, and said the ministers' resignations were more of a political ploy ahead of next year's assembly polls.
The assembly polls in the state will be held along with the Lok Sabha election.
The saffron party, which has two Lok Sabha members from the state with 25 seats, is not much worried, its leaders said, over the prospect of fighting the elections without an ally.
"The BJP has potential to emerge as a third viable alternative in Adhra Pradesh and our track records in different states testify to this. We will continue to work for the people there to become a significant political force," its spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said.
As of now, the TDP remains a part of the NDA even after its decision to pull its ministers out of the government.
BJP sources said even if their party has to fight alone, it can only grow in a state where it has always had a marginal presence.
They also added that while the TDP remains a part of the NDA, the YSR Congress has also been friendly to the government in Parliament, which gives the BJP a unique political space as its main national rival, the Congress, remains a pariah for the two regional parties.
With the Centre slamming the door shut on Naidu's demand for special category status, he was left with little option but to escalate the matter as YSR Congress's chief Jaganmohan Reddy has been attacking him over the issue, the sources said.
"It was his political compulsion," they said.
The fact that the TDP has decided to remain a part of the NDA shows that the party is hedging its bets given the BJP's growing political clout at the national level ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls, they said.
IMAGE: TDP leaders Y S Chowdary and Ashok Gajapathi Raju. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo