New Delhi: The political crisis deepened further for N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) after four of its six Rajya Sabha members joined the BJP on Thursday.
The Rajya Sabha has a strength of 245 members and the BJP is the single largest party with 71 MPs. The TDP has three members in the Lok Sabha.
The breakaway TDP faction included CM Ramesh, Garikapati Mohan Rao and TG Venkatesh and was led by their Rajya Sabha leader YS Chowdary. Along with several BJP leaders, including the party's working president JP Nadda, the four met Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and urged him to approve the merger of the TDP Legislature Party with the saffron party in the Upper House.
Four TDP members will give the BJP an extra edge in the upper house of the Parliament where, unlike the Lok Sabha, it does not enjoy a simple majority. The opposition is expected to offer resistance to several key legislation, as it did last time, introduced by the BJP. Because two-thirds of the party's strength is going to merge with the BJP, it is unlikely to invite penalties under the anti-defection law.
The anti-defection law, added to the Constitution as the Tenth Schedule by the 52nd amendment during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister in 1985, makes it mandatory that two-thirds of the strength of a party should agree to a ‘merger’.
The TDP is already suffering from a huge crisis, having lost 22 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats, and 151 out of 175 Assembly seats to Jaganmohan Reddy's Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP). Naidu's outfit currently has a strength of eight MPs, five of which are members of the Rajya Sabha and the remaining of the Lok Sabha.
The development is a big blow to Naidu, coming close on the heels of his party's humiliating defeat in the recent Lok Sabha and assembly polls. The former Andhra Pradesh chief minister is on vacation in Europe as the fresh crisis hit his party. He spoke to his party leaders over phone as they sought to put up a brave front, saying that such troubles are not new to the organisation.
"All my life, I have strived for the good of people and will continue to do so regardless of being in power or not," Naidu later said in a tweet. "TDP MPs joining BJP today is the result of my fight for AP's rights. They had their own personal agendas to address."
These crises situations are not new to me, not new to the party. Earlier, many said TDP is dead. Many said TDP is a closed chapter. Many said leaders are deserting the party and that it will be gone and buried. We never gave up. We came back.— N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) June 20, 2019
Naidu also held a teleconference with his MPs and told them not to worry. He described as false statements made by the four MPs blaming Naidu for the defection. "They did it for their own personal reasons and personal gains," Naidu reportedly said, adding that the MPs had no right to merge the party legislature as they are neither the party president nor any authority.
Naidu and the party are now exploring possible legal options.
Speaking about the developments, TDP leader Lanka Dinakaran told News18," I don't know how far this is true but I feel strongly that many TDP leaders are disgruntled by the loss. Till now no one has taken responsibility [for the poll debacles] and there has so far been no introspection by top leaders."
Chowdary, one of those set to join the BJP, is the founder of the Sujana group of companies. According to the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the company had defrauded banks to the tune of Rs 5,700 crore. In November last year, officials of the ED and the Income Tax department had raided the residential and official premises of Chowdary and Ramesh last year over allegations of tax evasion and money laundering. Both had then claimed innocence.
'Joined BJP due to belief in PM Modi's agenda'
Making the announcement of their induction at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, JP Nadda told reporters that the decision of the TDP MPs, three of whom were present, to join the party is due to their belief in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda of development and inclusiveness.
Nadda was joined by the Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha Thaawarchand Gehlot and senior party functionary Bhupender Yadav as the saffron party welcomed the Andhra leaders into its fold.
Yadav said Rao could not attend the ceremony due to a fractured leg.
Their induction will strengthen the party in the state, Nadda said.
Chowdary, a minister in the first Modi government before the TDP walked out of the BJP-led NDA, said the state's development can be achieved by cooperation and not confrontation, in an apparent dig at Naidu who has been at loggerheads with the central government over implementation of the AP Reorganisation Act.
"The mood of the nation is clearly shown in the results of the Lok Sabha elections. We decided that we should join in this exercise of building our great nation," said Chowdary.
In their letter to Rajya Sabha Chairman Naidu, the four MPs said the Legislature Party of Telugu Desam in Rajya Sabha met under the leadership of Chowdary and Legislature party's deputy leader Ramesh.
"Inspired and encouraged by the impeccable leadership of Shri Narendra Modi ji and the developmental policies being pursued by him in the overall interest of the nation, we have decided to merge with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with immediate effect under Paragraph 4 of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution of India," they said.
(With inputs from agencies)