Winds of political change have been sweeping across Andhra in recent months, with general elections still over a year away. The ruling Telugu Desam Party-BJP alliance in the state is on the verge of falling apart as the saffron party is cosying up to the YSR Congress, led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy.
For Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, the relationship with the BJP is symbiotic. He benefits from being in alliance with a national party and reaps electoral benefits in parliamentary constituencies. Telugu Desam Party benefitted from riding the Vajpayee wave that swept the country in 1998 and the Modi wave in the 2014 elections. For BJP, the alliance with the regional party helped to get a foothold in yet another southern state.
It was in the thick of the 2014 election campaign that Modi assured the voters of the residual state of Andhra Pradesh in the holy city of Tirupati that once elected, the BJP would handhold the state government and help build a capital bigger than New Delhi. The BJP shared the dais with its ally, Telugu Desam Party, and actor-politician Pawan Kalyan. Modi's magic and Naidu's credibility as a mature leader, together with Pawan Kalyan's charm, helped the TDP garner power.
After four Union budgets, the people of Andhra Pradesh feel that they have been left high and dry by the Centre as none of the assurances made by the then UPA government that divided the state nor the ones made by the Modi government in which the TDP is a partner were fulfilled. With Hyderabad remaining with Telangana, the agrarian state of AP does not have much to go on.
The unfulfilled special category status that was assured by the then prime minister Manmohan Singh to Andhra Pradesh on the floor of Parliament pushed the TDP and the NDA closer together. When the Centre refused to accord the status to Andhra, the TDP ended up paying the price for playing second fiddle to the Centre's decision.
The Chandrababu Naidu government then settled for the "Special Package" announcement by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley but sought budgetary back up to the Centre's proposal.
The TDP had hoped that the Union budget 2018 would make some announcement in that regard. While pressure is mounting on the TDP to deliver on the promises jointly made, the BJP, which won only four seats out of the 175 assembly seats in the 2014 elections, has unveiled its plans to grow in both the Telugu states. A blame game has ensued, with each holding the other responsible for the delay in projects, including the construction of the new capital, Amaravati, the division of assets and the promised new railway zone for Visakhapatnam.
Naidu's diminishing clout
As the gap between the NDA partners started widening, it was speculated that Naidu, fearing a CBI probe into the "cash for vote" scam in Telangana, had surrendered to the dictates of the BJP. Even after over 50 trips to New Delhi, Naidu failed to secure the Centre's assurance on several issues, including that of changing the underperforming contractor delaying the Polavaram project by over months. The void between Modi and Naidu has grown to such an extent that Modi gave audience to Naidu only after a gap of a year and a half.
It is believed that adverse reports from the state BJP, particularly on Polavaram and Pattiseema projects, have widened the gap between the Centre and the state. TDP insiders, however, feel that a section of BJP is averse to Naidu, one of the few south Indian leaders who still wields some influence in national politics. They cite the instance of Naidu objecting to Modi's entry into the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh in the wake of the Gujarat riots in 2002.
Adding to the TDP's woes, Jaganmohan Reddy has announced that he is ready for an alliance with the NDA in the 2019 elections, provided the NDA government grants Special Category status to the state. This was coupled with the open support of the BJP floor leader in AP Assembly to YSR Congress party's demand for disqualification of its turncoat MLAs who are enjoying positions in Naidu's cabinet.
"The problem with Naidu is that he is worried more about Jagan's YSRCP taking the TDP's place if they come out of the NDA alliance. So, they will make noises in the Lok Sabha but will desist from resigning the ministerial posts. Naidu knows that the NDA won't be the loser if the TDP decides to exit," said Somu Veerraju, BJP MLC in the AP legislative council.
As of now, the TDP, which was worried about its declining clout in the NDA corridors, has no other option but to come down heavily on the truant Centre for not fulfilling its promises, very well knowing that breaking the alliance so close to elections might not yield it any additional benefit.