Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister-designate N. Chandrababu Naidu takes oath during the swearing-in ceremony, in Vijayawada.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister-designate N. Chandrababu Naidu takes oath during the swearing-in ceremony, in Vijayawada.PTI

The importance of being Chandrababu Naidu

CBN is a realistic political machine with technology and modernity as his double engines, just like Modi was as Gujarat’s CM.

This election’s endgame has been reduced to two political powers: Narendra Modi and Chandrababu Naidu. The BJP lost the election. Naidu won his. Partners by exigency, Modi and Naidu have shared a boundary since the Telugu titan supported Vajpayee’s NDA in 1999. He joined Modi’s gravy train in 2014, got off in 2018 and is now back with Modi in 2024.

The BJP’s decade-old hype has been somewhat oxidised by its rout in Uttar Pradesh and such unexpected places. Political pundits predicted Modi’s allies would cut him to size, but it’s the other way around. The feisty Modi has doled out mostly lightweight portfolios except to TDP, JD(S) and LJP, clearly indicating that Indian politics is still his way and the highway.

The BJP’s rise followed the ascent of regionalism in the 1980s and 90s and the decline of Congress into a moth-eaten monolith. The regional Justice League of NT Rama Rao, MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa, Lalu, Mulayam, Mamata, Nitish Kumar, the Thackerays, Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik, KCR et al became political superheroes, sometimes helping and sometimes fighting the Congress Darkseid.

Naidu aka CBN and BJP have been BFFs against the Congress since 1999. History’s notches are often unnoticed; the Congress’s decline can be partially attributed to the charisma of CBN’s dad-in-law NT Rama Rao, whose party TDP won a landslide victory despite the Indira Sympathy Wave that swept India in 1984 and gave the Congress a ‘chaar sau paar’ mandate.

Ironically, this 404 Lok Sabha seat-mark, never crossed, also dated its decline as a Parliamentary force in the years to come, because it never secured an absolute majority since Rajiv died and the Gandhis went into a nearly decade-long mourning. And TDP marked its national presence as the first regional party to become the main Opposition party in the Lok Sabha.

Though never as charismatic as NTR, CBN is a realistic political machine with technology and modernity as his double engines, just like Modi was as Gujarat’s CM. Both are homegrown leaders, with strong personal foundations in their respective regions. Both are babu-friendly, perhaps because bureaucrats cannot defect. Modi enjoyed absolute backing from the NDA government at the Centre, which became a trickle when UPA stepped in. CBN never had that advantage.

Hence he cannot be labelled an opportunist, but a regional warlord seeking opportunities for his state. INDIA soothsayers who expect Modi to fall because of anger of his allies over poor Cabinet representation and CBN replacing him with INDIA support, will be disappointed. The numbers game is a tongue twister: Naidu is Modi First because it means Andhra First, and Andhra First means Naidu First.

Though TDP has never held numerous high-profile portfolios in any NDA government, CBN is a powerful persuader, seeking funds for Andhra Pradesh and his dream city, the expansive hi-tech immaculately landscaped Amaravati, which Jaganmohan Reddy spitefully left to rot.

Narendra Modi, no fan of adulting, also knows CBN is stuck in the NDA in spite of being besties with Sonia and Sharad Pawar. The Prime Minister hasn’t lost his swag despite the BJP leading a minority government. His calculated coalition confidence stems from the fact that Naidu won’t ghost him. But Naidu as Modi’s friend is also Modi’s biggest threat: a friend who is cordial with the enemy. In the coming days a lot of political traffic is due both ways, and many netas are bound to change their political attire. Only the butt cracks aren’t showing yet.

Ravi Shankar

ravi@newindianexpress.com

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