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Has Naidu misread Modi?

March 08, 2018 17:26 IST

In early 2017 Amit A Shah warned Nara Chandrababu Naidu that Narendra D Modi was not like Atal Bihari Vajpayee to yield to pressure tactics.
Soon, Naidu was to discover this for himself, reports R Rajagopalan.


IMAGE: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu. Photograph: Kind courtesy N Chandrababu Naidu's Twitter account

Miffed over what it called the Centre's refusal to fulfil the promises it made, the Telugu Desam Party announced that its two central ministers -- Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Minister of State for Science and Technology Y S Chowdary -- would quit the Union council of ministers even while the TDP continues to remain within the National Democratic Alliance.

On Wednesday, March 7, TDP supremo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu said, 'This is the first step, we will go ahead with other actions later.'

 

The period after the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections was a honeymoon phase for the BJP and TDP, which extended to 2015 as well. Matters soured from 2016 onwards.

All along, the state government and Centre had held official deliberations on a special status and special grants for Andhra Pradesh.

Things began to go bad when the Centre felt that the grants from New Delhi were not being spent properly and no utilisation certificates were being submitted.

This approach of the Modi government was on par with its attitude towards the other southern states -- Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Prime Minister Narendra D Modi understood the political games Chandrababu Naidu was playing -- now that his arch-rival Jagmohan Reddy of the YSR Congress was catching up -- when the TDP raised the ante over central funding to the state.

The TDP, on the other hand, felt the Centre and BJP were going slow on the CBI and income-tax investigations into Jagmohan Reddy, Naidu's major political foe, and suspected that the BJP was negotiating with the YSR Congress behind its back.

Complicating matters was the incident in early 2015 when Naidu was embroiled in a controversy over the alleged buying of MLAs, with a criminal case filed against Telangana Rashtriya Samiti leader and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao for tapping Naidu's telephone, leading to Modi's intervention to sort out the matter between the two warring chief ministers.

Naidu also suspected that Governor E S L Narasimhan -- a former director of the Intelligence Bureau -- was acting on the Centre's behalf and against the state's interests, and wanted him removed.

He requested Modi at least five times to replace the governor, but the prime minister did not agree, which led to a further strain in BJP-TDP ties.

On the contrary, by allowing Narasimhan to continue in Raj Bhavan, Modi brought counter-pressure upon Naidu by continuing to get hardcore political inputs from the governor.

What further rattled Naidu was BJP President Amit A Shah's tours of the state to build up the BJP, during which he freely criticised the state government.

Adding fuel to the fire was the presence of BJP state chief Daggubati Purandeswari -- whose sister is married to Chandrababu Naidu -- who went hammer and tongs at the government over alleged corruption and the delay in building the state capital Amravati.

In early 2017, Shah warned Naidu that Modi was not like Atal Bihari Vajpayee to yield to pressure tactics.

The chief minister was soon to find this out for himself. For the last year, ever since Naidu started putting pressure on the government over the grant of special status, there has been no exchange between Modi and Naidu, a fact the chief minister acknowledged on Wednesday when he spoke of the PM not granting him an appointment for the last year.

The crux of the dispute between the state and the Centre was money.

In the 16 meetings between Modi and Naidu between 2014 and 2016, the chief minister sought lakhs of crores of rupees as special grants. But the Centre was mindful of its responsibility to the 28 other states as well, a fact it made known to him.

Apart form this, the Centre had stood guarantor with the Andhra government in its many memoranda of understanding with Singapore, Korea and Japan for mega projects.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Centre was happy to give Andhra Pradesh funds equivalent to what a special category state receives, but giving it 'special category status' as Naidu demanded was not possible as the 14th Finance Commission had scrapped the scheme for all but the north eastern and three hill states..

This upset Naidu who felt Jaitley's words were 'hurtful and insulting', and seemed to suggest that the TDP was 'asking for money at the expense of the country's defence budget.'

'Jaitley spoke like we asked for all the money, we felt insulted,' he said angrily.

The TDP's unhappiness peaked after the Union Budget and it complained bitterly that it neglected Andhra Pradesh.

All of the above contributed to Modi-Shah feeling that Naidu had crossed the Lakshman Rekha of Coalition Dharma.

Since its founding in 1983 by the late Telugu superstar Nara Taraka Rama Rao, the TDP has withstood many storms, and perhaps the latest political turbulence can also be effectively tackled. But the options before it are limited.

The TDP cannot go with the Congress nor can it align with the YSR Congress in the state. The only option available before it is the third front, but even here KCR has stolen a march over Naidu by positioning himself as a fulcrum for a non-BJP, non-Congress, front.

Will Naidu then be forced to align with Rahul Gandhi?

It is obvious that the TDP faces extreme pressure in the state ahead of next year's assembly and national elections, with the Opposition accusing Naidu of failing Andhra Pradesh despite being an NDA ally.

The BJP may not be an entity in Andhra, having bagged only four seats in the assembly in 2014, but it will pay Naidu to bear in mind that unlike then, Modi will now be approaching voters with a five-year record in office, during which time his personal connect with voters, especially the younger ones, remains unparalleled.

R Rajagopalan in New Delhi