Chandrababu Naidu’s journey: A timeline of the NDA ‘kingmaker’ and Andhra’s longest-serving CM

N. Chandrababu Naidu is set to take oath for a record fourth time as Andhra Pradesh’s CM after playing ‘kingmaker’ in forming the third Modi government. Here's a look at his political journey.

Updated - June 12, 2024 07:39 am IST

Published - June 10, 2024 08:08 pm IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu during the NDA leaders meeting after the Lok Sabha election results, at 7, LKM, the residence of PM Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday, June 2024

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu during the NDA leaders meeting after the Lok Sabha election results, at 7, LKM, the residence of PM Modi in New Delhi on Wednesday, June 2024 | Photo Credit: ANI

Trouncing the incumbent YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in a clean sweep in the 2024 Assembly polls, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu is set to take oath as Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Minister on June 12, its second since the State was bifurcated. The 75-year-old politician, who is currently playing ‘kingmaker’ in the third Modi government, has made a stellar comeback in the State. Winning sixteen of the State’s twenty-five Lok Sabha seats and 135 of 175 Assembly seats, Mr. Naidu has emerged as the BJP’s strongest ally in the NDA, playing a pivotal role in the formation of the next government.

Thanking the public for the mandate, Mr. Naidu said, “The TDP and its allies (BJP and Jana Sena Party) now have the onerous responsibility of fulfilling the people’s aspirations. The immediate task was to set the house in order as the economy was teetering on the brink of collapse with huge sums going into debt servicing, natural resources were plundered and so many bad things happened in the last five years,” while addressing reporters at his residence near Vijaywada.

Since 1978, when he was first elected to the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Mr. Naidu’s rise in politics has been meteoric till 2019. And he has now re-emerged in 2024.

Here’s a look at the journey of Andhra Pradesh’s longest-serving Chief Minister:

1978-1981: Political entry via Congress

Nara Chandrababu Naidu, a young graduate from Tirupati’s Sri Venkateswara University, joined the Indian Youth Congress in 1974. Impressed with then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency, he began canvassing for the party in Andhra Pradesh. Soon, in 1978, he was given a Congress ticket for the Chandragiri Assembly, under the party’s 20% quota reserved for youth candidates. With the guidance of Professor NG Ranga – freedom fighter and Swatantra Party founder and financial aide from his family, Mr. Naidu raised funds for his maiden electoral campaign. After his poll victory, he was a part of the upcoming clan of Congress leaders called the ‘Young Turks’ and was inducted in the T Anjaiah ministry.

His political fortunes took a turn when he met superstar Nandamuri Taraka Ramo Rao (NTR) and a marriage was arranged between the actor’s second daughter Bhuvaneswari and the young minister in 1981.

1982-1995: Joining and rising in the TDP

Attacking the Congress High Command for hurting ‘Telugu self-respect’ by changing five CMs between 1978 and 1982, NTR launched the TDP on March 1982. Vowing to ‘counter the barter of Telugu pride in the streets of Delhi’, NTR swept the State’s Assembly polls in 1983, winning 201 of 294 seats, ushering in NTR’s first term as CM. In this election, Mr. Naidu, who was still in the Congress, was defeated from Chandragiri. Soon, he switched alliances to the TDP on NTR’s command.

In 1984, crisis hit the NTR government, when the actor travelled to the U.S for a surgery in July that year. In his absence, the Congress-appointed Governor Ram Lal dismissed the government, allowing NTR’s finance minister Nandendla Bhaskara Rao to stake claim to the government along with support of Congress MLAs. Mr. Naidu was instrumental in regaining support for NTR among TDP MLAs, holding months-long protest and ensuring that NTR won easily won a trust vote.

NTR easily won the mid-term poll in 1985, and began his second term as Chief Minister, with Mr. Naidu focusing on party-building. As NTR’s focus turned national, with the formation of the National Front in 1988, the Congress began regaining lost ground in Andhra Pradesh. While the Congress lost the Lok Sabha mandate in 1989, it won the Assembly polls, forcing Mr. Naidu to sit in the Opposition.

INDIA - OCTOBER 29:  NT Rama Rao, President of the party and Chief Minister with Nara Chandrababu Naidu ( TDP, Together )  (Photo by Hk Rajashekar/The The India Today Group via Getty Images)

INDIA - OCTOBER 29: NT Rama Rao, President of the party and Chief Minister with Nara Chandrababu Naidu ( TDP, Together ) (Photo by Hk Rajashekar/The The India Today Group via Getty Images) | Photo Credit: The India Today Group

During the National Front reign, NTR became disillusioned with the bloc and announced his intention to launch a new national party named Bharat Desam Party in 1991. Coincidentally, the superstar also remarried in 1993 to Lakshmi Parvathi, whose influence in the TDP began to grow. During this time, Mr. Naidu was elevated as the party’s coordinator and he began building his support among the State cadres. In 1994, after NTR won a third term, he was given several cabinets like Finance, Revenue, and Lotteries etc.

With NTR reportedly grooming his wife as his successor, Mr. Naidu revolted against the TDP founder in 1995. Enjoying the support of NTR’s sons and a majority of TDP MLAs, Mr. Naidu successfully ousted NTR from the CM post within a week, bringing the actor’s thirteen year political career to an end. After NTR’s demise the following year, his wife attempted to stake claim on his legacy by launching the NTR Telugu Desam Party. However, the TDP cadres remained faithful to Mr. Naidu, electing him as the party president in 1995.

1995-2004: Chief Ministership and United Front

Sworn-in as Chief Minister on September 1, 1995, Mr. Naidu immediately began developing Hyderabad as a software industry hub. Often termed as the CEO CM due to his business-friendly and liberalised approach, Mr. Naidu set a target to attract $2 billion in investment and create 1 lakh IT jobs in Andhra Pradesh. He simplified bureaucratic processes, ensuring that Andhra Pradesh ranked as the top State in ease of business for several years.

Under his two terms as Chief Minister, Hyderabad saw a boom in engineering colleges, pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, and IT companies, rivaling its other southern competitor— Bangalore. His global stature as a pro-capitalist State leader earned him many global accolades at the World Economic Forum, and US-India Business Council, among others.

In his early days as CM, the 1996 Lok Sabha elections produced a fractured mandate with the BJP winning 161 seats, Congress 140 seats and the Janata Dal 46 seats and the TDP won 16 seats. After Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to prove his majority, ending his 13-day Prime Ministership, Mr. Naidu attempted to form a non-Congress, non-BJP government in the Centre – The United Front, holding talks with Asom Gana Parishad, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Akali Dal.

United Front leaders at a public meeting in New Delhi on May 20, 1996. United Front leaders (from left) Arjun Singh, M.A. Farooqi, P. Chidambaram, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Sharad Yadav and I.K. Gujral.

United Front leaders at a public meeting in New Delhi on May 20, 1996. United Front leaders (from left) Arjun Singh, M.A. Farooqi, P. Chidambaram, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Sharad Yadav and I.K. Gujral. | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

After Congress expressed inclination to support the United Front government, Mr. Naidu led talks among his coalition allies in picking Janata Dal leader H.D. Deve Gowda as the Prime ministerial pick. TDP was part of both United Front governments, providing support to it despite Congress’ swing.

In 1998, the Lok Sabha elections resulted in a hung verdict with BJP winning 182 seats, Congress 141 seats, CPI(M) winning 32 seats and the TDP winning 12 seats. Switching alliances to the NDA from the United Front, Mr. Naidu was instrumental in providing outside support to the NDA, allowing Mr. Vajpayee to form a coalition government with a slim majority.

A year later, polls were triggered after Mr. Vajpayee lost the trust vote by one vote, forcing him to resign. In the aftermath of the Kargil War, TDP which had allied with the BJP prior to the polls, was re-elected in Andhra Pradesh with a thumping majority. It had bucked anti-incumbency to win 180 of 294 seats in the Assembly and 29 of the State’s 42 Lok Sabha seats. With its strong performance, TDP became one of the BJP’s biggest allies and the fourth largest party in the Lok Sabha but opted to remain out of the government.

During his second stint as CM, he survived an assassination attempt by the Naxal group People’s War Group (PWG) on October 2003. His convoy was attacked enroute to Tirumala when nine of the seventeen land mines planted in the area exploded, but Mr. Naidu escaped with minor injuries.

2004-2014: Opposition leader & Andhra bifurcation

The BJP-TDP alliance was thoroughly routed in Andhra Pradesh in 2004 and Mr. Naidu sat in the Opposition as Congress rose led by Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy and its alliance partner – the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). In the subsequent election, TDP attempted to cash in on the Andhra bifurcation sentiment by allying with TRS. However, his attempt at re-election was thwarted by entry of actor Chiranjeevi’s political outfit Praja Rajyam which won 18 of 294 seats in the State.

In 2013-14, ahead of the Lok Sabha and state polls, Mr. Naidu’s rival and TRS chief K. Chandrashekhara Rao, a Union Minister in the UPA government, was intensifying the movement to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh into two states. As the Centre began drafting the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, the Andhra Pradesh Assembly (then ruled by Congress), passed a resolution rejecting the bifurcation with MPs across party lines not hailing from Telangana region voting against separation in January 2014. However, going against the state’s majority wish, the UPA government passed the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 amid ruckus and mass suspension of MPs in February.

As per the Act, Hyderabad would be the permanent of capital of Telangana and temporary capital of Andhra Pradesh till June 2, 2024 – a week ago. The two states were to also to divide assets and liabilities with the help of the Centre in disputed cases. Post-bifurcation, Telangana comprised of ten districts – Adilabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Medak, Warangal, Khammam, Hyderabad, Rangareddy, Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar. On the other hand, thirteen districts in the coastal Andhra region and the Rayalseema region were handed over to Andhra Pradesh.

2014-2019: Third term as CM & split with NDA

The bifurcation led to wide-spread protests across Andhra Pradesh against the Congress, resulting in its poll loss in both Lok Sabha and state elections. Mr. Naidu, who had once again allied with BJP and actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan’s party Jana Sena Party, stormed back to power in Andhra Pradesh winning 102 of the 175 seats in the state. A ‘special development package’ was announced by the outgoing UPA government to help Andhra Pradesh.

Tasked with the monumental task of developing the newly hollowed-out Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Naidu claimed that “elimination of poverty has almost become an impossible task.” Zeroing in on Amaravati as the state’s chosen capital, Mr. Naidu promised to build the city just as he had transformed Hyderabad. With the help of a Singapore consortium, Mr. Naidu laid plans for Amaravati, acquiring 34,000 acres from thousands of farmers in 29 villages across the district.

With communities in Rayalseema and Seemandhra feeling neglected due to the choice of a far-flung capital, Mr. Naidu also faced a cash crunch as the new state had not recieved ‘special status’ and the economic package attached with it. Facing the ire of the farmers who had voluntarily sold their land in Amaravati, Mr. Naidu pressured the Modi government to pass on the tag and the funds to his state. As BJP reversed its stance on the issue, on March 8, 2018, two TDP ministers resigned from the Union cabinet and Mr. Naidu cut ties with the NDA.

2019-2024: Rise of Jagan, Naidu’s arrest and resurgence

Fuming at the snub from the BJP, Mr. Naidu began hold talks with the Opposition parties like Trinamool Congress (TMC), Janata Dal Secular (S), Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), SP, and RJD, to name a few. After the Congress-JD(S) combine managed to eke out a victory in Karnataka state polls in May 2018, the 18-party Opposition alliance ‘Mahagathbandhan’ attended Mr. H.D. Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony, in a show of strength.

Meanwhile, back in Andhra, his pet project Amaravati remained incomplete, hit by a fund crunch and farmers’ ire. His political troubles grew as YSRCP chief Jagan Mohan Reddy began gaining popularity with his padayatra across the state, vowing to end the ‘corrupt TDP regime’, coining the phrase ‘Bye Bye, Babu’. Paying for his neglect, Andhra Pradesh wiped out TDP, awarding YSRCP an overwhelming margin in 2019 – 22 of 25 Lok Sabha seats and 151 of 175 state assembly seats.


YSRCP chief Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy.

YSRCP chief Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. | Photo Credit: Ch Vijaya Bhaskar

Reduced to a weak Opposition, Mr. Naidu was forced to see Mr. Reddy dismantle his pet project – the Start-Up Area Development Project in Amaravati, choosing to decentralise the state’s capital. Opting for three capitals, Mr. Reddy chose Vishakapatnam as his executive capital -building a new secretriat there, Kurnool as his judicial capital – shifting the High Court there, and Amaravati as his legislative capital, building the State Assembly and Council there. World Bank too stopped its $300 million funding for developing Amaravati and the project remained stalled.

Mr. Naidu’s fortunes turned in 2022 when the Andhra Pradesh High Court scrapped the Jagan government’s three-capital plan and ordered him to develop Amaravati as the capital in a time-bound manner. While the YSRCP government has challenged the verdict, the hearing is still pending in the Supreme Court.

In September 2023, Mr. Naidu, who faced multiple cases filed by the Jagan government, was arrested in a multicrore scam related to the Skill Development Corporation, forcing him to endure a 53-day stint in Rajahmundry jail. As his arrest gained sympathy and public’s ire against Mr. Reddy’s autocratic rule, JSP chief Pawan Kalyan announced his support for TDP, even meeting the ex-CM in jail. Acting as a conduit, the TDP, JSP and BJP alliance was forged in January 2024. By March, a seat-sharing agreement was finalised with TDP getting a lion’s share - 17 Lok Sabha seats and 144 Assembly constituencies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being presented a memento by TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu and JSP chief Pawan Kalyan at Samvidhan Sadan, in Delhi on Friday. Strong competition is likely among the 164 MLAs for the 25 portfolios in the Cabinet. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being presented a memento by TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu and JSP chief Pawan Kalyan at Samvidhan Sadan, in Delhi on Friday. Strong competition is likely among the 164 MLAs for the 25 portfolios in the Cabinet. PTI

Successfully leading the campaign against the Jagan government, Mr. Naidu emerged ‘kingmaker’, scooping 16 Lok Sabha seats and 135 Assembly seats. As BJP fell short of 32 seats of an absolute majority in the lower House, the INDIA bloc began courting the two ‘kingmakers’ – Mr. Naidu and Mr. Nitish Kumar. However, both have asserted that they would remain with the NDA as cabinet portfolios and special status to both states are under negotiations again.

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