In 1996, Andhra Bhawan, strategically located just off India Gate, was where the United Front was formed, with Telugu Desam Party (TDP) boss and the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu playing a stellar role.
Seventeen years on, Mr. Naidu camped at a five-star hotel on the other side of India Gate during a recent visit to Delhi. He is out of power but is hoping he can play a similar role in the run-up to 2014.
Though he sounded out Opposition leaders, his immediate concern is the fragile state of his own party.
It is divided over the Telangana issue and marginalised by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the YSR Congress, which Mr. Naidu describes as “a branch office of the Congress”. Do the General Elections hold an answer to the TDP’s problems?
In an interview with The Hindu, Mr. Naidu was in a reminiscent mood. He recalled the TDP’s golden years, when it was a key player in the governments led by the National Front (1989-91), the United Front (1996-98) and the National Democratic Alliance (1998-2004). “Whenever there has been a crisis at the national level, the TDP has played a positive and crucial role. We want to play that role again. How [we will do that], we will decide after consulting other parties,” he said.
Mr. Naidu said he hasn’t decided whether to give in to overtures by the BJP, or put together a non-BJP, non-Congress front. On one hand, he stressed there was a “crisis at the national level” and an urgent need to throw the Congress out of power; while on the other, there was the pull of “secularism”.
Mr. Naidu’s party has been out of power in Andhra Pradesh since 2004. Sources close to him said Mr. Naidu felt he paid the price for being allied with the BJP during the NDA years — especially after the Gujarat riots in 2002.
At that time, Mr. Naidu had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the NDA Government to sack Narendra Modi. When that failed, he almost quit the NDA but, was persuaded by his party colleagues to stay on.
But today, the wheel appears to have turned full circle with Mr. Naidu coming under tremendous pressure from his party to back Mr. Modi. He told The Hindu: “Colleagues will always give a different feedback. As party president, I listen to all suggestions. [Eventually] I’ll take the call which will be good for the party, nation and State.” The time to take that call, he said, has not come.
During his stay in the Capital, Mr. Naidu met Rajnath Singh (BJP), Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United), Prakash Karat (CPI-M) and A. B. Bardhan (CPI). He is also in touch with the Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Odisha, J. Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik.
He will meet West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee and Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav at “an appropriate time”. TDP sources said Mr. Naidu is aware that most of these leaders are highly individualistic and it will be difficult to get them on one platform.
The pressing concern, however, is the TDP’s precarious situation. Is there a solution to the present crisis in Andhra Pradesh? Mr. Naidu said: “The situation is no longer in the hands of any political party. The public is on the roads. The only solution that can come is by talking to the Joint Action Committees, civil society groups and stakeholders on both sides.”
This prompted Mr. Naidu to warn the National Integration Council against “people losing faith in political parties and politicians”. He said if these issues are not solved soon it will be “dangerous for democracy and a disaster for the nation”.