Isolated Naidu faces toughest challenge yet
N Chandrababu Naidu, TDP chief and former Andhra chief minister, was once the cynosure of all eyes in Delhi. Within a short time of becoming CM for the first time in 1995 at the age of 45, he became popular for “steering the wheel” of national politics—through the United Front and the NDA. With an aura of invincibility and dynamism around him, he continued to be the darling of the two alternate poles on the Indian political landscape despite being in the opposition. In 2014, he again came to power in the divided Andhra Pradesh, riding high on the Modi wave. As it so often happens, fortune is a flirt.
He lost in 2019 to YSRC chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, a leader just as young as Naidu was in the mid-1990s, after hoping to relive the highs of the 1990s on the back of the Congress. Fast forward to September 10, 2023: bereft of friends, he is remanded in judicial custody in a graft case. A stunning reversal of fortunes.
Of course, this is not a conviction. Naidu can seek bail and get a clean chit from the courts. But it is a stain on his career. The case pertains to the alleged siphoning of Rs 371 crore through shell companies under the pretext of opening clusters of excellence and skill development institutions. The GST, ED and CID have been probing the web of transactions for over two years. Going by the remand report, it appears there is evidence of Naidu violating the rules when he was CM during 2014–19. The CID claims the end beneficiaries were the TDP and its chief. It remains to be seen if they have clinching proof. The political fallout of all this is a tad difficult to predict. Nonetheless, coming as this does close on the heels of the show-cause notice slapped on Naidu by the income tax department—which seeks to know why the Rs 118 crore he received as “kickbacks” cannot be treated as undisclosed income—makes matters worse. From what we have seen in the last decade, he may be under intense scrutiny of various agencies.
No doubt the TDP is seething with rage, but public sympathy is not assured. Naidu’s party accuses CM Jagan of political vendetta, but there is more than meets the eye here. A prolonged stay in jail would demoralise the party, which has no leader of stature to take over from Naidu. The options before the TDP are limited. Its only salvation may lie in the BJP. The terms of an agreement could well be on Naidu’s mind. Can he pull himself out of this crisis? Nothing can be ruled out as of now.