No other leader is, perhaps, as vociferous in his opposition to the BJP as Andhra Pradesh CM N Chandrababu Naidu. Although the main reason is the Centre’s alleged indifference to his state, another is his belief that the Modi government has been unable to deliver.
In an interview, he says the formation of a “united front” comprising regional parties is a natural consequence of the Modi regime’s underwhelming performance and that coalition governments are in national interest.
Today, perhaps no other leader is as vociferous in his opposition to the BJP as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu.
Though the main reason for it is the Centre’s alleged indifference to the State and denial of special category status, he believes it is in national interest to return to the era of coalition governments.
Citing the examples of the minority government of PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee's coalition, he said in an interview onboard his special flight from Vijayawada to Tirupati that experience shows that coalitions perform way better than governments with absolute majority.
The formation of a “united front” comprising regional parties is a natural consequence of the Modi dispensation’s underwhelming performance, he reasons.
Excerpts from the interview:
Four years in office, with one more to go before elections, how do you look back on your performance?
There are rich states which have the resources to do so many things. Despite the fact that our State is short of funds following the creation of Telangana, we have been able to do many things. We have given power to every home and also announced we are not going to raise the tariff. Gas also we have provided to everyone. Not many states can claim to have done so.
Today, we are declaring AP as ODF State. We have laid thousands of kms of cement roads, we have ensured that there is no shortage of drinking water. Similarly, we are on way to make the State 100 per cent malnutrition free... we are going differently with total forward and backward integration implementing several welfare programmes including zero budget natural farming. It is a first-of-its-kind initiative. There are cement roads in all villages. We are planning greenfield airports, infrastructure projects... these are all not just claims. They are actually happening. It is satisfying.
How are the relations between the Centre and the State after you exited the NDA?
They have to give Rs 3,500 crore for Amaravati, of which only Rs 1500-odd crore was released. They have taken back Rs 350 crore, which was deposited in our account. How can they take money from my account? They are not for positive development. They want to do this type of activities and become more and more unpopular. This will not help them. They have not done anything. As on today, we get only routine payments.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar has commented that he sees a 1977 kind of political environment today. You too have recently attended the swearing-in function of Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy. What exactly do regional parties, specifically TDP, intend to do?
Any political party has to work in national interest. Regional parties have to work for their respective State's interest. Ultimately, we have to protect and promote national and State interests. The present government is unable to deliver. There are so many problems. For instance, what happened after demonetisation? There is no money in ATMs. GST is not yet stabilised. So many people are feeling very bad. Small traders are feeling insecure and harassed. Petrol and diesel prices are increasing like anything. They have decreased it by one paisa. It is a joke.
They don't answer. Farmers are in distress. Unemployment is at its peak. Interest rates have increased. Non-performing assets of banks are increasing manifold. How to sort out all this? They (BJP) are more concerned about politics. It is not good for the nation. Even the Congress thought nobody could challenge it. What happened? Any political party has to serve the people. How to serve the people is important.
Will regional parties like TDP form a united front?
There are so many scenarios. People are not happy. Automatically things will happen. It will happen because people will find solutions always. It will happen because of non-performance of the present government. I am confident the present government won't come back to power.
If the Congress wins just enough number of seats and seeks to form a UPA government like in 2004, what will parties like the TDP do?
Regional parties are going to become more strong. At that time, we will decide what to do. Before or after, all regional parties have to strengthen themselves first. That is the important issue. The same thing happened even in 1996. At that time, BJP was not strong. I made it very clear that the BJP may not come to power. Only regional parties will be strong. Even Congress may not win the election. PV Narasimha Rao was at the helm at that time. Now also, regional parties are going to become strong.
There is a feeling among some sections, particularly the middle classes, that coalitions could bring instability. How do you allay such fears, you being the senior-most leader among the regional leaders? Why? Is there anyone more senior to me among national leaders?
Sonia Gandhi came in 1998, I became CM in 1995. I have been in politics since 1978. Even Narendra Modi became CM first time in 2002... If you look back, historically, single party governments or governments with absolute majority never did well. At the same time, minority governments and coalitions have done wonderfully. PV Narasimha Rao's minority government introduced reforms. Vajpayee's coalition government implemented reforms. Indira Gandhi, because of no reform, at that time, there was not much progress. It was the Hindu growth rate. Now, Narendra Modi has a clear-cut majority... first time in 30 years. But he is unable to perform. How do you explain it? Public wants performance, better living standards, and happiness.
Congress says it is willing to join hands with anyone to defeat BJP. They seem willing to have an alliance with TDP either here or in Telangana.
I don't want to comment on all these things today because they have done injustice to Andhra Pradesh. We have been fighting with Congress for so many years. There is no Congress or BJP in AP. Both have done injustice. BJP has colluded with YSR Congress. It is the front face of BJP. It is YSR Congress only in name but is remote-controlled by BJP. So, my priority is to win 25 seats. Then I want to dictate terms and use our leverage for the benefit of the State. That is my agenda. I will play a positive role nationally.
But will regional parties agree to grant special status to AP?
It is a commitment by all political parties including present and past ruling parties. Congress bifurcated the State in an unscientific manner, the BJP is also equally responsible for that. Is it not my legitimate right? Why should we suffer for something that is done by them? Our per capita income is the lowest in South India. Who is responsible? Are we not paying taxes to the Centre? Special status is a commitment given to the State by Parliament. They have to honour it. I am not asking for any favour.
Talk in political circles is that you are opposed to Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah and not the BJP per se. Your take?
I am neither opposing nor supporting anybody. I joined hands with Modi or BJP for the sake of the State. We did so only after being assured of perfect implementation of the AP Reorganisation Act, grant of special status and handholding till the State becomes self-reliant. But the BJP is colluding with others and they are behaving high-handedly. Ultimately, our aim is development at the State and national level.BJP did not do great things. What is so inspiring about them? How can they answer? How can we answer to the public for supporting you? (BJP) You are saying you are great. Ok. What great? Who wants all these things? I have so many problems. We are for public welfare. If you see, from birth to death, we have welfare schemes.
Am giving so much of handholding. Even at the time of Vajpayee he did so many things. I never had any problems with him. I never asked anybody for personal favours. Even this government... what favour can it do me? I never lobbied. I am not asking for any position for my people also. Vajpayee offered me seven-eight ministries. He forced me to accept speakership for our party. After Balayogi died, at that time, Gujarat incident happened and my party did not take that position. Because of Vajpayee I was there for 2004. He used to tell everybody, 'here is Babu who never seeks personal favours, he won't lobby, he is efficient' and advise others to learn from me.
He used to appreciate me. He accepted several of my ideas. The golden quadrilateral roads idea is mine. Telecommunications my idea, open sky policy, greenfield airports ideas are mine. I was very happy. Micro irrigation, river linkage ideas too I had suggested. You tell me one signature programme of this (Modi) government? Congress can at least claim NREGA. Narendra Modi? At least one satisfying programme? Then? I can cite tens of programmes. I laid thousands of kms of cement roads. I have so many programmes for health, nutrition etc.