These days, Telugu Desam Party president Chandrababu Naidu comes to press conferences wearing spectacles. Once he takes over the mike, it is the familiar pitch, however, as he holds forth on his achievements as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for nine years. The 2014 elections might be a do-or-die battle for the 63-year-old Leader of the Opposition — perhaps, the last chance for him in a divided State.
Mr. Naidu, whose many decisions as Chief Minister alienated farmers, says he is now a changed man with a changed outlook on agriculture, trying to package himself in a farmer-friendly avatar. But that does not deter him from saying he will convert Seemandhra into another Singapore. The “hi-tech messiah” is back to selling glitzy dreams.
If intra-party opinion polls are to be believed, Mr. Naidu is closing in on his archrival, YSR Congress president Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy. In June 2012, Mr. Reddy was at the peak of a sympathy wave and way ahead of Mr. Naidu. But now, the gap is a mere 3-6 per cent, say surveyors. And TDP workers are optimistic.
“The country needs [BJP’s prime ministerial candidate] Narendra Modi and Andhra Pradesh needs Mr. Naidu. If we go with this slogan, we will romp home this time,” senior TDP leader Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy says.
In fact, the TDP’s desperation is clear in its trying to piggyback on Mr. Modi’s popularity. It appears Mr. Naidu or a top BJP leader is likely to announce the TDP-BJP tie-up in the coming few days, much before Mr. Modi’s proposed public meetings in the Seemandhra region in the month-end or the first week of April.
But unless Mr. Naidu pulls out all the stops, he may have to contend with being a close second. For, Mr. Reddy still holds the biggest ace of all — welfarism — which his father, the late Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, used to great success. Mr. Reddy’s election manifesto is full of pro-poor schemes.
Mr. Naidu, on the other hand, might have made a tactical blunder by starting the talk of converting Seemandhra into another Singapore. This kind of “hi-tech” talk might appeal to the business class and urban voters but not to the poor, who still want health, education and welfare schemes.
But there is a large segment of voters who want a Chief Minister with experience to build a new capital and stem corruption. This is where Mr. Naidu fits in perfectly as a wise administrator.
Of late, there has been a flood of Ministers and Congress MLAs into the TDP, which is perceived as an adrenaline boost for the party. “With the Congress disintegrating faster than camphor, Mr. Naidu looks a stronger bet and the media perceives this as a comeback of sorts,” K. Nageshwar, MLC, says. More than 70 leaders from the Congress, 10 from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and five from the YSR Congress crossed over to the TDP in the recent past.
But the euphoria over this may be short-lived as Mr. Naidu may find it hard to give them ticket at the expense of his loyal party leaders.
“Mr. Naidu has staged a comeback in the media. That’s all,” a senior political analyst says.
What could work to Mr. Naidu’s advantage is that Mr. Reddy has no fresh ground to break as he has already reached a peak.