In the latter half of a term in power, chief ministers grope around for one magical welfare scheme that will win them the next vote. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is not yet at the half-way point of his tenure, but the early starter that he is, Naidu is already reaching for his wand. At the TDP’s Mahanadu, the annual conclave, in Tirupati over the weekend, he gave a glimmer of his plan for reelection in 2019. Setting aside his usual spiel about the new capital, he struck a distinctly populist note. He promised to set up Anna Canteens that will serve food at extremely low prices to workers. Quickly billed the One Rupee Idli scheme, it is designed to do for him what Jayalalithaa’s schemes did for her — win the next election.
Of course, a plate of idlis is not by itself a sumptuous enough electoral strategy. So, Naidu’s quiver holds other tactical arrows: quotas for the numerous Kapu community, and perhaps, even for the poor among the Other Castes, and an all-out assault on water scarcity in Rayalaseema, considered his weakest wicket. He also made it clear that he would work towards the complete ruination of the YSR Congress, headed by Jagan Mohan Reddy, by election time.
It may not be enough. The TDP president has to overcome many challenges in the three years remaining to him. He needs to build at least a façade of the capital he has been promising since 2014. But his coffers are empty and the purse strings are in the hands of the BJP, the TDP’s ally but also a competitor that nurses hopes of growing in Andhra Pradesh. The fund crunch is proving to be a drag on job creation initiatives and there is a restless population of farmhands and artisans who have lost their occupations due to the land acquisition for the new capital. It’s not a challenge that can be sated with a plate of idlis, but then the chief minister is a sedulous tactician who is skilled at making a little go a long way. He has been there before.