Erstwhile Telugu matinee idol and founder president of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) NT Rama Rao must be turning in his grave. Rao built the entire edifice of TDP on an anti-Congress platform and Telugu pride. He had also played the role of National Front chairman to take on the Congress at the national level.
Under his son in law N Chandrababu Naidu’s stewardship, this aggressive anti-Congress posture has been shelved. Instead, Naidu embraced the very Congress that was accused of unscientific and hurried bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh for political gains.
Naidu’s meeting with Congress President Rahul Gandhi is a culmination of this transformation that TDP has gone through over the last three-odd decades. From being an aggressive BJP acolyte under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, Naidu’s shift seems to be out of political compulsion to keep him relevant and win back the state in 2019 elections.
Naidu had won Andhra Pradesh after having sat out for two terms with support from Narendra Modi’s fledgling BJP in Andhra Pradesh during 2014. While not many within his own party support his break up with BJP, the old time supporters are bound to be miffed with his decision to go into Congress fold. But politics makes for strange bedfellows and Naidu is an angry man after having been rebuffed by Modi’s BJP over funding for Amravati, the new capital of Andhra.
With YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy and Jana Sena President Pawan Kalyan eating into his vote sharee, Naidu seems to have had very little option but to tango with Congress that seeks to revive in a state it ruled for long years. In fact, had it not been for YSR, Congress would have found it difficult to come to power in 2004 and 2009, where the bulk of the MPs were delivered by AP.
In a state dominated by casteist factions, coming together of Kammas that dominate TDP and a splinter group of Reddys still with Congress, may provide the much required fillip to Naidu’s lacklustre campaign after having performed very modestly over the last five years. Making BJP the villain in the piece seems central to TDP campaign plank in the state. TDP has realised late in the day that without allies it would be very difficult to be re-elected to power.
On the other hand, lack of a mass leaders seem to be the biggest drawback for BJP in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where the party is already ridden with casteist groups.
From the Congress perspective, TDP is a big catch in the run up to Lok Sabha and Andhra Pradesh assembly elections. Having hit the nadir, both in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the party would only improve its electoral projects. However, deft seat sharing formula between the two will have to be worked out based on strengths of respective parties in different constituencies.
Naidu’s aggressive anti-BJP plank also has the potential to give fillip to a united opposition campaign in run up to 2019 elections to take on the Narendra Modi – Amit Shah juggernaut. Unity of purpose, aggressive campaigning, working out a common minimum programme with conviction to de-throne Modi will be challenges to the perceived opposition unity.