Out of power for nine years and buffeted by relentless reverses in the last three years, it was an attempt by the former Andhra chief minister to shore up morale in the ranks well in time before the next election.
The long wait is over. We are coming back to power in 2014,” TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu declared to his party flock last week. Out of power for nine years and buffeted by relentless reverses in the last three years, it was an attempt by the former chief minister to shore up morale in the ranks well in time before the next election.
As part of this strategy, Naidu is getting ready to throw another roll of the dice, this time taking a leaf out of his late nemesis, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s book. Next month, he is scheduled to embark on a padayatra across all districts of Andhra Pradesh to rouse the people to anger against the Congress government. He hopes the walkathon will be the gamechanger for him that it was for YSR back in 2003.
Reflecting his new-found resolve, Naidu is also bracing up to spell out his stance on the Telangana issue. Signals emanating from his office indicate he is toying with the idea of writing a letter to the Centre, formally spelling out his stance one way or another. Although he has not revealed which way he will go, it is being speculated that this will be a declaration of support for a separate state of Telangana.
For long a fence-sitter on the separate state question, Naidu has thus far earned himself the tag of villain in Telangana and that of a waffler in Coastal Andhra. Now Naidu wants to shed his much-ridiculed “two-eyed” stance and make a clear and unambiguous statement that he hopes will help him recover his credibility.
He continues to be pulled in opposite directions within his party, with the Telangana component egging him on, and Seemandhra leaders trying to stay his hand.
“No one has asked us to declare our stance on Telangana. Doing so would be like smearing slush on your own head,” says G Butchaiah Chowdary, a TDP leader from Coastal Andhra.
On the other hand, Telangana leaders in the TDP, like Errabelli Dayakar Reddy, are egging on the boss. “This is a good time to make ourselves heard. Naidu must go ahead,”
The new resolve reflects a shift in Naidu’s tactics. For three years now, he has always said the TDP will spell out its stand only after the ruling Congress declares its intent. The planned padayatra, tipped to begin from Telangana, is his breakout.
Despite being out power for nine years, Naidu has been an active politician. When he lost the 2004 election, he was tipped for a long hibernation. Barely a month later, he was there in the Assembly leading the opposition ranks with gusto. In the years since then, Naidu was a tireless traveller, visiting all districts and addressing rallies on a variety of causes. But the weight of defeat showed on him and his spiel was overly defensive in comparison with the triumphalism of Y S
But the Chandrababu Naidu of 2004 is different from the Chandrababu Naidu of 2012 with a campaign style that works hard to be camera-friendly. You now see him ploughing a farmer’s land, riding a bullock cart and
wading into slush pits. He assiduously avoids CEOspeak and talks the farmer’s language.
But the biggest challenge to Naidu has been to rework his vote-getting strategy. An ace at stitching together caste coalitions, Naidu has endured a erosion of support from sections like the Scheduled Castes and some of the backward classes who have been drawn away by the welfare allure of Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. In preparing for elections 2014, Naidu is trying to win back the support of the very numerous BCs. While the traditional artisan castes such as weavers and toddy-tappers continue to be with the TDP, Naidu’s success in 2014 will hinge on his ability to attract more groups from the middle of the caste rainbow. Towards that end, Naidu last month declared that he will reserve at least 100 party tickets for BC candidates in 2014.
To signal the seriousness of his purpose, Naidu travelled to Delhi this week to lobby support for this stratagem from Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav, A B Bardhan (CPI) and Prakash Karat, all familiar Third Front players. He also called on the Prime Minister and President too to press for a BC quota in all legislatures.
Back at home, there is talk in the air of overtures again between the TDP and the TRS, who together would make a formidable force to take on the YSR Congress and the Congress.
And then he is courting Scheduled Caste groups that have not pledged themselves to YSR Congress, namely the Madigas who are fighting for a sub-categorisation of the SC quota so that the Malas do not walk away with all the benefits. In that direction, Naidu has expressed support to the sub-categorisation. Madiga leader Manda Krishna Madiga immediately reciprocated with approbation. “Naidu has redeemed his promise. He said he would support categorisation of SCs and he has done so now,” he said.
What is helping Naidu most of all is the fact that the Congress has tied itself in a gargantual Gordian knot. With governance stalled in the state and six-hour power cuts the norm, Naidu’s days as chief minister are often recalled in popular conversations. While industrialists warn of a flight of capital if things continue in this vein, Chandrababu Naidu has not been too eager to court their support lest it be seen as a return to his CEO style.
Naidu has never been much of a star of the stump; he is more comfortable sitting in front of his desktop and working out swing perecentages and caste tilts. He knows that the coming election will be totally unlike all previous ones in the state. Where they were all basically bipolar contests, the 2014 contest will be three-cornered. Conventional wisdom tells us that a three-way split of the vote leaves a party getting a 30 percent vote share in a very advantageous position. Naidu’s objective is to inch as high over that mark as possible. All his tactics are calculated to feed that strategy. While critics are writing his the TDP’s obituary in Telangana, Naidu is vastly encouraged by the fact that his party received 30,000 votes in the recent bypoll in Parkal in Telangana. It was a third place finish behind the TRS and the YSR Congress but surprisingly far ahead of the Congress which lost its deposit. The TDP boss is now hoping that if he can improve upon that show in the rest of the region, there might be hope for the party in the post-poll sweepstakes.