Post-Lucknow, Andhra will see a more ambitious Modi
In April 2014, ahead of the elections to the Lok Sabha and assembly in united Andhra Pradesh, at one stage, the Telugu Desam came close to calling off the alliance with the BJP. Not that it wanted to but it was muscle-flexing to show who is the big boss in Seemandhra. It needed an emergency meeting at Chandrababu Naidu’s residence in Hyderabad between TDP and BJP interlocuters to sort out the seat-sharing numbers.
The aggressive posturing worked and the TDP ensured it did not give more than five Lok Sabha and 15 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh. In Telangana, it had given much more – 47 assembly and 8 Lok Sabha constituencies for the BJP to contest. The state was to be formally divided two weeks after the election results.
The sweep in Lucknow has ensured the TDP cannot try these tactics in 2019. Even though there is a world of difference between the BJP’s strength on the ground in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, what the election in India’s cow belt has shown is that it is no longer the BJP that fights the election. Narendra Modi as the mascot has made all elections about himself. If the extent of the UP and Uttarakhand wins are anything to go by, he can make even a lamp-post win, of course aided by smart booth-level management.
What this has translated to is a Modi vote in every state, every city, every constituency. Add to the mix, the Modi vision and development agenda that the PM talks about, a brand of Hindutva that would need to be watered down in a state like Andhra compared to an UP, understanding the caste and class dynamics well and connecting with the educated unemployed.
In 2014, Chandrababu Naidu fought the elections along with Modi and actor Pawan Kalyan. The BJP brought to the TDP table, the power of the Modi wave. The Powerstar brought the youth and the Kapu community vote into the alliance kitty, helping Naidu pip YS Jaganmohan Reddy to the Andhra throne. 2019 will see Pawan fighting elections on his own, having burnt his bridges over the special status issue with the both the TDP and the BJP.
This means the challenges for Naidu are now many, especially after UP. As it is, he could not get the Centre to bend and accord special status to Andhra Pradesh. He had to be content with a special package, that his political rivals call a compromise and a sellout. Now it will be even more difficult for Naidu to get his way with a politically more powerful Modi.
It may be recalled that in the days of the NDA regime under AB Vajpayee’s leadership, the red carpet was laid out for Naidu everytime he visited Delhi. Senior bureaucrats would line up at Andhra Bhavan to know the CM’s wishlist because his support was important to the NDA. Modi treats Naidu with respect but the Andhra leader’s clout is not the same any more. Those in the TDP suspect it will only go down further after Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP president Amit Shah has already set his sights on Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as states where the BJP would push the envelope. While it has a reasonable chance of returning to power, riding on the anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah government in Karnataka, the Telugu states are a bigger challenge. In Andhra, it would hope the Modi name creates its own space.
The BJP’s aim would be to ensure it is no longer seen as a party only riding on the coattails of the TDP. Naidu on the other hand, would be more than happy if the BJP is seen only as the TDP’s Team B in Andhra. After the UP win, Naidu would be more than happy to expand NaMo to Naidu and Modi.
But Andhra differs from UP as well. The wounds of division are still raw and if the TDP-BJP combine is seen as not being able to deliver on the promises made in 2014, the Modi-Naidu magic will hit a hurdle. If both Jagan and Pawan Kalyan are able to weave the narrative that the two ruling parties in Amaravati and New Delhi have not delivered for the state, Andhra may be tough to conquer for Modi.
TDP leaders admit in private that the party may have to allot more Lok Sabha seats to the BJP to contest in 2019. But the fact that the BJP has no leader with a pan-Andhra acceptability will dent Amit Shah’s outreach plans. The Naidu-Modi jugalbandi may well continue but the TDP will be wary of the BJP’s ambitions.
Naidu is also simultaneously looking beyond 2019. He has made son Nara Lokesh an MLC and TDP leaders say he could be inducted into the cabinet next month. Naidu would ideally wish to retain power in 2019 and pass on the baton to Lokesh and move over to Delhi as a minister with a plum portfolio in Team Modi, assuming the BJP wins as well. Ifs and buts dot the Andhra political landscape.