Lessons in coalition politics from Andhra, Odisha flips

A tectonic shift in the electoral landscape has sunk two popular chief ministers, one of whom was within handshaking distance from making history.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N Chandrababu Naidu being welcomed by supporters after the party's lead in the state Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, on Tuesday.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President N Chandrababu Naidu being welcomed by supporters after the party's lead in the state Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, on Tuesday. ANI

A tectonic shift in the electoral landscape has sunk two popular chief ministers, one of whom was within handshaking distance from making history. Naveen Patnaik, the Biju Janata Dal supremo and Odisha chief minister for 24 years, was given a rude shock by voters who sent his party packing. From 113 assembly seats in 2019, the BJD slumped to 51 as a super-charged BJP breached the magic halfway mark of 74. The defeat in the Lok Sabha polls was even more hurtful—the state’s ruling party has been reduced to just one seat, with the BJP romping home in 19 out of the 21 constituencies.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam-Jana Sena-BJP alliance routed the YSR Congress and looked set to win 164 of the 175 assembly seats at the time of going to press. The script was similar in the parliamentary polls, where the TDP-JSP-BJP combine looked set to win 21 out of the 25 seats with the YSRC left to lick its wounds with just four. Jagan’s over-reliance on a volunteer scheme instead of putting faith in the party cadre, his welfarism and reckless changes during candidate selection (he shuffled 82 candidates) proved to be his nemesis. If that was not bad enough, the arrest of TDP boss N Chandrababu Naidu turned the tide of sympathy.

On his part, Naveen ignored the writing on the wall. The disaffection among constituents was palpable after 24 years of his rule. But he took his electorate for granted, presuming the freebies would see his party through for a record sixth time. Over-reliance on V K Pandian, his close confidant of non-Odia provenance, eventually ended Naveen’s run. Pandian could be seen as the main cause that prevented Naveen from riding into the sunset in glory. The bureaucrat-turned-politician made the state’s twin elections all about himself and gave the BJP its most potent weapon, the outsider factor.

Not long ago, both the chief ministers were unofficial allies of the BJP; but the saffron party eventually ensured their ouster. Now all eyes are on Naidu. He is riding in on public sympathy after his arrest, having ensured that his pact with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena translated into a smooth transfer of votes. His articulation of Andhra Pradesh’s development plan was clear, too.

With a huge majority in the assembly and in a kingmaker’s position in the NDA, the TDP boss can have a few takeaways from Odisha on how coalition dharma can change. Unlike Naveen, Naidu has always nursed a national ambition. However, his on-and-off relationship with the BJP will infuse an element of suspicion between the partners. How coalition dharma plays out, with the BJP now on a significantly weaker ground, will determine the next government’s ability to last a full five-year term.

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