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Andhra 2019: A Troika in The Making

VVP Sharma @vvemuri

Updated: February 9, 2018, 10:54 AM IST
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Andhra 2019: A Troika in The Making
In film-crazy Andhra, if a film with Chiranjeevi and his brother Pawan is released before elections, it could convert fandom into votes, and can possibly change the state politics. (File photo)
Andhra, for that matter Telangana as well, figure not really high in the BJP’s must-win states in 2019. The simple reason for this is the party’s bare existence as a force in the two states.

But that doesn’t worry Narendra Modi’s party much. The BJP need not necessarily win many seats in Andhra. It is good enough if a regional party winning many seats is willing to support the BJP/NDA at the Centre.

The question is: Which is that regional party?

Is it the ruling Telugu Desam Party? Or the waiting-in-the-wings YSR Congress Party? Or dark horse Jana Sena Party?

Check out the TDP first. Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister, is the strong man in the state, though he himself may be having second thoughts right now. Anti-incumbency is riding high. Tales of corruption are numerous. The unimpressive debut of his son Nara Lokesh was a political whammy. Naidu’s frequent trips to Dubai and Singapore are beginning to raise eye brows. Over a dozen CBI cases of corruption against Naidu are currently under stay orders of courts (there was a time when the agency told a court it was unable to proceed with a case against Naidu for want of staff!).

Reports that he may have helped or wanted to help Nitish Kumar monetarily when the latter was ruling Bihar under the “mahagathbandhan” program may have soured his relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The lack of urgency for an opposition third front to take shape for 2019 is making him impatient. The Modi magic of 2014 gave him that extra fillip which pushed him well part YSRCP in the state elections. Is that magic as potent in 2019?

Needled by all this, Naidu is beginning to squirm. Would he leave the NDA in the next six months? Yes, if he has a viable alternative in time for the state elections in 2019, his detractors say. His party is loud in the assembly and Parliament about the inadequacies in the Union budget; they actually indicate something.

The BJP is aware Naidu will not be their man if and when the third front takes shape in the country. The BJP is also aware it cannot do much on its own in the state. It is even aware that its 2014 magic wand is not so potent this time round. In terms of vote percentage, the BJP’s share is more or less the same as that of the Muslim and Left parties’ combined votes. The BJP realizes it does not have enough time to invest in a new and effective leadership. Instead, therefore, it is on the lookout for an ally it can control from Delhi and whose MPs it can call for support in Parliament. It personally feels Jagan fits the bill, but it thought the same about Naidu too in 2014!

The BJP knows that Naidu’s reservation sop to the Kapu community is clearly aimed at winning the latter’s support in 2019. Actor Pawan Kalyan, who is a Kapu, is making himself relevant by dint of his caste affinity alone. He had campaigned for the TDP-BJP combine in 2014, but this time he is not. The people of Seemandhra are not happy with the BJP for its neglect of Polavaram project and other pro-Andhra works under the state’s reorganization Act. So, Pawan, too has decided to wait and watch. Of late, he has begun to attract big crowds, especially in neighbouring Telangana. He has only now begun to criticize the Modi government for not helping out Andhra financially.

Pawan has an ace up his sleeve – his brother, “megastar” Chiranjeevi. Both brothers fell out over politics, but they are one as family. Imagine a Telugu blockbuster film with both brothers acting in it for the very first time. And what if such a film is released before the elections? This movie is very much on the cards. It is being produced by veteran Congress leader T. Subbarami Reddy – who lost his last election to the YSRCP in 2012 – and directed by top director Trivikram Srinivas. In film-crazy Andhra, it will be the mother of all blockbusters. If it has the potential to convert fans into votes, it will simply add another dimension to the state’s politics.

So, what are Naidu’s options? One, of course is traversing the path again in the company of the BJP and Pawan Kalyan. Here, if the BJP prospects weaken, TDP will weaken as well. Two, ditch the BJP in order to firm up an alliance with the Left parties and the Muslims. The Muslims are as of now inclined to back YSRCP’s Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of the late YSR Reddy – they will change their mind only if they feel that Jagan is not going to win or is going to pledge support of his MPs to the BJP after the 2019 elections. Three, the TDP goes to the polls alone. That will chip away a lot many of its votes. Thus, Naidu is on a wait-and-watch for the next few months as he cements his party base, rejuvenates its cadre and make peace with the Left parties (leaders of the Kamma caste – same as Naidu – are strong in these parties).

What about the YSR Congress Party? The Left parties are partially tied in knots over the CPM’s decision to have no truck with Congress. But they have no problem with Jagan and his party. In fact, if YSRCP and Left and Muslims come together, they make a strong combination. But all that hinges on Jagan’s affinity for the BJP. After all, hasn’t he been breathing easy these last months without warrants and court hearings and subpoenas from the CBI? So, what does Jagan want? Personal relief from the courts and a friendly government at Centre? Or the chair of chief minister with prospects of jail?

Jagan, too, is waiting. But unlike Naidu, he is currently undertaking a “pad yatra” – latest reports show huge crowds – mostly youth -- taking part. Of course, Jagan sometimes gets carried away by the huge presence of crowd. Ignoring the advice to test if the crowds will eventually convert into votes, he makes tall, even quirky promises, like pension to 45-year-olds! His critics say he has so far managed to retain his image as the “untested” politician seeking a chance.
First Published: February 9, 2018, 7:54 AM IST

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