M. Rajeev looks at the political challenges that N. Chandrababu Naidu will face as he assumes charge as Chief Minister of the new Andhra Pradesh
An interesting political picture is unfolding in the new Andhra Pradesh. The State’s 175-member Assembly has representation of three parties — two regional parties, the Telugu Desam Party and the YSR Congress Party, fighting it out in the shade of a national party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It was the TDP, led by N. Chandrababu Naidu, which emerged victorious in the Assembly election. The Congress drew a blank and so did the Left parties, the Jai Samaikyandhra, floated by former Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, and the Lok Satta Party of N. Jayaprakash Narayan. Two Independent MLAs too have now joined the TDP.
Political observers are divided on the composition of the Assembly. Some are looking at the similarities between the DMK-AIADMK model of the neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Others have drawn parallels between now and the situation that prevailed in the united Andhra Pradesh of 1999, which saw the TDP coming back to power with 179 seats, the Congress, led by the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, trailing with 91 and the BJP bagging 12.
The TDP president, who surprised many then by joining the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance, dumping his long-time associates including the Left parties, repeated it this time as well by going with the BJP. His gamble paid off and the TDP benefited from the “Modi wave,” trouncing the YSR Congress, which was projected to have an upper hand in the Seemandhra region.
Even as he is elected TDP Legislature Party leader, Mr. Naidu is likely to face problems from the Congress and the YSR Congress and from within his party, notwithstanding the comfortable majority.
The TDP this time around has the likes of Rayapati Sambasiva Rao and J.C. Diwakar Reddy as MPs and Ganta Srinivasa Rao as MLA, who switched from the Congress just days before the announcement of the election schedule. They are sure to demand their share of the pie in due course, if not immediately. Mr. Srinivasa Rao is eyeing the Deputy Chief Minister’s post ever since Mr. Naidu announced his plan of making a Kapu and a Dalit his deputies and has made his intentions clear more than once.Many problems
Problems abound for the TDP chief in the selection of his Cabinet as a failure in striking a balance could leave at least a section of leaders unhappy. This could, in turn, become an irritant to the smooth functioning of the government as well as the party, especially at a time when the TDP is aspiring to venture into the national electoral scene by the next election. In the process, he is tasked with accommodating MLAs from his ally, the BJP, giving them appropriate, if not key, portfolios.
Having been elected to lead the government in the new State, Mr. Naidu faces several challenges, the biggest, in his own words, being building the new State from scratch, identifying an ideal location for its capital and putting in place infrastructure. By choosing the Acharya Nagarjuna University campus on the Krishna-Guntur border as his camp office, Mr. Naidu could successfully control the real estate market that was riding high on speculation. But absence of clarity on his exact preference for the State capital is keeping leaders guessing.
One of the Herculean tasks awaiting Mr. Naidu is his promise to waive farm and DWCRA loans of close to Rs 70,000 crore at conservative estimates. Ironically, the new State is set to embark on its journey with a budget deficit of over Rs. 10,000 crore and questions are being raised on how Mr. Naidu proposes to raise the quantum required for the loan waivers that he wants to be the first file cleared.
On the plans for the new capital, there are already voices, feeble though at the moment, from senior leaders who are lobbying hard to make their respective areas the seat of power. Mr. Naidu’s pre-election promises came as a surprise to many as the TDP president had built an image as a reform-oriented Chief Minister during his nine-year earlier tenure, averse to freebies. However, the series of reforms he then unveiled in the financial and other sectors and promotion of Brand Hyderabad as an IT destination at the expense of farmers’ interests, cost the TDP dearly in the election.
The promises which began with his Vastunna Meekosam Padayatra, a walkathon for over 200 days, gradually made the people tilt towards the TDP. That his effort to regain trust reached fruition became evident from the resounding support he received from farmers and other sections in spite of the strong sentiments against dividing the State. The Opposition parties, the YSR Congress and the Congress, nevertheless attempted to turn the attention of the electorate from Mr. Naidu, highlighting incidents such as lathi-charge on agitating anganwadi workers and firing on farmers who were opposed to an increase in power tariff during his earlier regime. But people reposed trust in him chiefly because of his track record and the untiring effort he made to project Hyderabad as an international IT destination and the belief that Mr. Naidu alone could ensure all-round development of the new State.Ties with BJP
Outside the party, the TDP’s relation with the BJP, which is basking in the glory of a resounding victory at the national level, is not expected to be cosy in the days to come. The BJP, a section of TDP leaders say, is trying to take credit for the alliance’s victory in the Seemandhra region, while it was Mr. Naidu who single-handedly took the responsibility of ensuring the victory of the TDP as well as the saffron party.
That the BJP is not keen on toeing Mr. Naidu’s line became amply clear when Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said recently that Andhra Pradesh’s capital could not be big as Hyderabad. Contrary to Mr. Naidu’s claims of developing a capital city modelled on Singapore, Mr. Venkaiah Naidu went on to say that it will be a medium-sized city.
The prospect of excessive dependence on the Union government looms large over Mr. Naidu’s administration, given the new State’s helplessness in terms of finances at least in the initial years. Mr. Naidu has already commenced his visits to New Delhi, meeting Union Ministers seeking liberal grant of funds for stabilising the operation of welfare and development schemes. But doubts still persist over whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will oblige the requests as it could prompt other States, the BJP-ruled ones in particular, to present their wish lists and put the government in an embarrassing position.
There are doubts over whether the Congress could recover in the new State, at least to some extent, in the immediate future. The same applies to the Left parties. Though there is uncertainty over the possible course Mr. Kiran Reddy and actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan will take in the coming days, Mr. Naidu will have to put up with a hostile Opposition in the form of the YSR Congress.
The YSR Congress is seen by the TDP as a stumbling block to Mr. Naidu’s plans. “Why should we oppose the government if it is committed to implementing the promises it made in the manifesto? We are clear on playing the role of a constructive Opposition as it is the need of the hour for the State which has to be built from scratch,” YSR Congress political affairs committee member Konathala Ramakrishna said.
He told The Hindu that Mr. Naidu had a reputation of not keeping his promises. “We are bound to take the people’s side the moment the government goes back on its promises citing some alibis,” Mr. Ramakrishna said.
The YSR Congress wants Mr. Naidu to be consistent in implementing promises.