From the ubiquitous Chai bandis to the Chief Minister’s Office, these days the one topic of discussion that comes up invariably is the “injustice” done to the State by the most famous “chaiwallah” (read Prime Minister Narendra Modi) the country has seen. The cuppa of chai, brewed allegedly by the latter, symbolizing the State’s cup of woes. The regular, endless and often acrimonious debates on vernacular channels add not just fuel to fire but also masala, leaving the saffron party’s loyal defenders red in the face. It’s a sea change from 2014, when the same people had lapped up the same leader’s every word. While the truth or otherwise of the issue at hand is debatable, what it shows more than anything else is the success of the BJP’s friend-turned-foe TDP president and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
Naidu, who has completed four years in office, is the man leading this blitzkrieg against a beleaguered BJP with German-like efficiency. Working 18 hours a day, criss-crossing the State, and hammering home the message, whether it is at review meetings or public gatherings, he has deftly made the BJP—a fringe party in the State—public enemy number 1 while at the same time equating a vote to the main Opposition YSR Congress of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy as one to the saffron party. It appears to be a well-thought out strategy to turn the 2019 elections into a referendum on the Modi government rather than his own, since his David vs Goliath narrative effectively relegates Jagan, the pretender to the throne, to the background and pits himself against an allegedly “vindictive” and “invincible” Modi.
The TDP chief’s visit to the swearing-in function of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, his handshake with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and advocacy of the unity of regional leaders are driven as much by a desire to play a more assertive role at the Centre as securing the party’s prospects in the State. It doesn’t mean that Naidu has nothing to show for his four years in power. An effective communicator, the 67-year-old peppers his daily tirade against the BJP with achievements of his own, conjuring up the image of a wronged leader trying his best to transform the State into Singapore, a metaphor for the promised development. In other words a hero and a victim, deserving sympathy and admiration.
Faced with this strategic brilliance of his bête noire, Jagan hasn’t, at least till now, been able to come up with a fitting reply. He seems content throwing barbs at Naidu as he presses on with his 3,000-km padayatra. Earlier, the young leader was surely a step ahead. He had put the TDP in a spot by serving notices for moving a no-confidence motion against the Modi government during the Budget Session of Parliament. Since TDP was at the time in the NDA’s camp, Jagan’s move forced it to also serve a similar notice and perhaps, hastened its exit from the alliance. Not doing so would have dented its credibility in the State as Jagan had made grant of special status to the State the main agenda and used the no-trust notice as a weapon.
The Centre’s adamant stand against special status left the TDP with few options. Since then, Jagan, has lost the initiative. True, he got his Lok Sabha MPs to resign hoping that would put pressure on the TDP to follow suit. It hasn’t happened due in large measure to Naidu’s relentless campaign against the BJP. In fact, by asking his MPs to quit, Jagan has ended up conceding to the TDP the floor of Parliament, where it will now be the sole champion of the cause of Andhra Pradesh. Mistaking tactics for strategy could prove to be the undoing of the vocal and aggressive YSR Congress leader.
The other player who is keen on making an impression, actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan, has of late been travelling in North Andhra. Sporting a beard and interacting with people, the star is on a yatra to establish an emotional connection with the voters. His Che Guevara act and high-decibel speeches against the TDP chief and his son have certainly attracted crowds but the volatile leader is yet to be treated as a serious contender, due mainly to his temperament. He has recently appointed a strategist to advise him and his strategy currently appears to be to replace his filmy image with the aura of his idol Che Guevara. His comrades-in-arms, the Left parties, are delighted but communism is well past its sell-by-date in AP.
Kalyan Chakravarthi Tholeti
Deputy Resident Editor, Andhra Pradesh