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This article was first published 5 years ago  » News » Naidu is Rahul's new troubleshooter

Naidu is Rahul's new troubleshooter

By R Rajagopalan
November 10, 2018 09:31 IST
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'Naidu understands electoral calculus, that the regional parties are yet to gain confidence in Rahul as a vote-catcher,' points out R Rajagopalan.

IMAGE: Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu address the media in New Delhi, November 2, 2018, after discussing efforts at Opposition unity. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo

After meeting Congress President Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi last week, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and leader of the Telugu Desam Party, has assumed the role of mediator with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Janata Dal-Secular to resolve any hindrances to Opposition unity as well as to allay their misgivings over the Congress's policies.

Naidu took on the job after Rahul Gandhi is believed to have hinted to him about certain issues concerning the DMK and JD-S.

Why did Gandhi choose Naidu instead of Sitaram Yechury who was coordinating with the southern political parties on his behalf and whose brainchild the Opposition grand alliance to take on Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi was?

Yechury, it is learnt, cooled off towards the Congress chief after the latter's actions like visiting temples, asserting his Hindu credentials, etc. The Communists believe in keeping its distance from Hindutva, be it of the hard or soft kind.


In Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, Gandhi made it a point to offer prayers at Hindu temples, something that may backfire if done in, say, Dravidian Tamil Nadu, where the DMK is sceptical of any show of religiosity.

It is this aspect of Congress politics that has worried the DMK and which Naidu has been tasked with addressing.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist has pointed to Gandhi's overtures to the upper castes in the Hindi belt, which was a factor in driving away Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati from the Congress camp. Yechury is learnt to have raised these issues with Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi.

This appeal to the upper castes is another factor that has alienated the DMK in Tamil Nadu. In the southern states the forward caste votes go to the AIADMK and in recent times to the Bharatiya Janata Party, so Stalin sees no purchase in targeting them in his backyard. On the contrary, any overtures to this group may drive away his base of minorities and backward castes.

Apart from the Congress's new-found enthusiasm to proclaim its Hindu-ness, another issue that has put off potential allies is its stand over seat allocation.

Unmindful of its actual strength on the ground, the Congress has been expecting the moon from other parties. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, it wants the DMK to hand over 12 to 15 Lok Sabha seats, something the Dravida party is loath to do.

Which was why Rahul Gandhi started sending overtures to actor turned politician Kamalahaasan and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, further irritating the DMK.

DMK chief M K Stalin is not willing to allot more than 5 seats to the Congress as he fancies its chances in the remaining 34, having learnt a bitter lesson in the 2016 assembly election when the Congress could not find suitable candidates in the seats allotted to it and lost heavily, leaving the DMK short of numbers to form the government.

Naidu understands this electoral calculus, that what the regional parties are really trying to say is they are yet to gain confidence in Rahul Gandhi as a vote-catcher, and doubt if he can add votes to their parties.

Yechury too was faced with such griping by potential allies of the secular front. But Naidu's job may have become a little easier after the Congress-JD-S front's Karnataka bypoll victory this week, when it routed the BJP 4-1.

But as he criss-crosses Amravati, Bengaluru and Chennai, the thought must cross Naidu's mind: Can he knit together an Opposition front, like the then CPI-M general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet did in the 1990s, or will he end up dejected like another Telugu bidda, Sitaram Yechury?

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R Rajagopalan in New Delhi
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