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Modern Anti-Congressism Gets Quiet Burial in its Place of Birth

Chandrababu Naidu and Rahul Gandhi, the bosses of Telugu Desam Party and the Congress, had a formal meeting in Delhi. They are friends now. With a single agenda – to defeat Narendra Modi in 2019.

VVP Sharma | CNN-News18@vvemuri

Updated:November 1, 2018, 5:43 PM IST
Modern Anti-Congressism Gets Quiet Burial in its Place of Birth
Andhra Pradesh chief minister and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu meets Congress chief Rahul Gandhi along with other TDP members on Thursday.

The plank of anti-Congressism is dead today, at least in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh which was formed, coincidentally, also today, 62 years ago.

Chandrababu Naidu and Rahul Gandhi, the bosses of Telugu Desam Party and the Congress, had a formal meeting in Delhi. They are friends now. With a single agenda – to defeat Narendra Modi in 2019.

Naidu, who is desperate not to lose power in Andhra Pradesh in the Assembly elections next year, seems to have convinced Rahul that the longevity of the Congress is linked to it playing second fiddle to the TDP. Rahul has taken the bait. He is ready to befriend anyone who is willing to work for a front against Modi. Naidu has money, experience in front-making and claims he also has a strategy to defeat Modi in 2019. That is a separate story.

What is relevant here is that Naidu, who belongs to the family that gave birth to anti-Congressism in Andhra, happens to be the one to end it.

Who is more desperate between Naidu and Rahul? That too is a separate story.

For the record, TDP and Congress are at present part of an alliance for the Telangana Assembly elections. The TDP had a good presence in Telangana until Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader and chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) won over the leaders (KCR too was a TDP man till he left, peeved at not getting a good post). The TDP is leaderless, but with decent cadre strength. If that vote transfers to the Congress, KCR will be in jitters. The Congress is not reviled in Telangana like in Andhra Pradesh. The people of Telangana still see it as a party which gave them their state. The Congress has a stronger presence here, compared to Naidu’s Andhra. Plus, there are no caste-based parties in Telangana. Thus it is a direct right. Thus the alliance – this is Naidu’s reasoning.

In Andhra, the situation is exactly in reverse. The Congress is not strong at all. Caste comes into play and the TDP is considered a Kamma-majority party. The Congress is known as a Reddy party. The Reddys prefer the YSRCP these days, it is claimed. Then there are the Kapus. No two castes can be seen together.

In practical terms, the TDP supporters will be loath to vote for the Congress. Such a situation can only help the lurking politician, Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSRCP who thinks he is the next chief minister of Andhra. All this leaves Naidu jittery already. He needs a way out. Can the Congress help him return to power in Andhra? If he loses Andhra, can he carve a role for himself at the Centre, perhaps as a front organiser? This has been the sum and substance of Naidu’s politics in the last two decades.

When we look back in history, we see a curious link between the Congress and Andhra Pradesh. Andhra was a Congress bastion even before Independence. After its formation in 1953, it only strengthened its presence. By the 1970s, it was a Congress citadel that no opposition party could even dream of invading. Even in 1977, as the country turned against Indira Gandhi, Andhra stood by her. Forty-one out of 42 Lok Sabha seats went to the Congress. Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the first chief minister of the expanded Andhra Pradesh in 1956 and a Congressman to boot, was the lone victor for the opposition.

The next five years saw the Congress high command literally play with Andhra’s governance. The period between 1979 and 1983 saw four chief ministers change. One person didn’t like this. Actor NT Rama Rao. He raised the baton against the Congress’s bullying. He said the Congress needed to be opposed. He wanted end to the Congress monopoly in the state. He told the people the Congress was attacking the “atmabhimanam” (self-respect) of the Telugus. The people believed him. The Congress was mauled in the 1983 elections for the first time in three decades. Indira never forgot the humiliation, but her attempt to unseat NTR boomeranged on her. He returned with a majority in 1985 and became the first chief minister of an Indian state to organise conferences of non-Congress chief ministers.

In the process he began to see himself as indispensable. At one point, he sacked everybody in his council of ministers. The people didn’t like his tantrums. He lost in 1989 (in that year’s general elections, the TDP got just two seats).

But the incoming Congress never learnt its lessons. In the next five years, it remote- controlled the state; once again the state saw four chief ministers being replaced. NTR came back in 1994. The following year, Chandrababu Naidu, a former Congressman (he had once contested against NTR and lost!) who married NTR’s daughter, came close to him and had in the interim managed to control the TDP affairs, unseated him in a family coup. Much against his wishes, a weak NTR managed to overcome his hatred for the Congress and complained to then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. Nothing happened. Rao was a Congressman too and had not forgotten NTR’s past actions. That saw the end of the era of the first formidable challenger of the Congress from any Indian state. There is the case of Tamil Nadu, but unlike MGR or Karunanidhi, NTR extended his anti-Congressism beyond the borders of Andhra, to Delhi itself.

NTR hated the Emergency. He had no love lost for Indira or her party. Indira reciprocated the sentiment. Her son, Rajiv, inadvertently played a role in the rise of NTR. His infamous public humiliation of then Andhra chief minister T Anjiah made him a political pariah in the state. NTR exploited the sentiment to his advantage and rode to power.

In the 1984 general elections, the people rejected the Congress. It got just six seats. The TDP got 30. It became the first regional party to be the national opposition party (CPM was third with 22 seats).

The background of such political animus today stands wiped out at the altar of expedient politics. What this portends for 2019 is a subject for another day.

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