Chandrababu Naidu: Rise of the phoenix

As Naidu rebounds with a big bang, he has many challenges ahead in the State

Updated - June 13, 2024 11:11 am IST

Published - June 13, 2024 12:15 am IST

N. Chandrababu Naidu takes oath as Chief Minister in Vijayawada on June 12, 2024.

N. Chandrababu Naidu takes oath as Chief Minister in Vijayawada on June 12, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s resounding victory in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections has confounded political pundits and a majority of the people, too. His Telugu Desam Party (TDP) trounced the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), led by Jagan Mohan Reddy, bagging 135 of the 175 Assembly seats.

Five years ago, it was Mr. Reddy who stormed to power in a near-similar fashion, leaving Mr. Naidu staring at what seemed like a bleak political future to many. Several commentators had even written him off. However, as I had written in an earlier piece (A Leader in His Labyrinth, June 25, 2019), it was clear that the election was not to be his political epitaph and that Mr. Naidu could not be dismissed so easily. Rather, it was always going to be difficult, if not impossible, for Mr. Naidu to emulate the welfare path that Mr. Reddy had embarked upon, i.e., giving almost everyone everything gratis. The return of Mr. Naidu was going to be possible, among other factors, only if the policies and governance of Mr. Reddy turned out to be blatantly anti-people and politically suicidal.

Moreover, Mr. Naidu created a particular leadership style and party structure after ousting the TDP founder, N.T. Rama Rao, who is also his father-in-law, in 1995. This structure did not allow space for a second rung of leadership, which would have enabled the TDP to plan for a smooth succession. While this strategy worked for a while, it eventually boomeranged. While Mr. Naidu tried his best to groom his son, Nara Lokesh, as his successor, Mr. Lokesh did not measure up. Instead, he turned into an albatross around Mr. Naidu’s neck.

Five years later, the situation has completely changed and Mr. Naidu has come back from near-oblivion politically. Though Mr. Lokesh has improved since then and is being credited, among others, for the party’s recent win, he has a long way to go. The need for a strong and competent second line of leadership in the TDP to take the party forward is more pronounced now.

Much of the reason for the successful return of Mr. Naidu and the TDP to power is simply anti-incumbency. While some of Mr. Reddy’s welfare schemes such as ‘Amma Vodi’ and ‘Rythu Bharosa’ were well-intentioned and did benefit a section of the State’s population, the benefits came at a huge price. The schemes were turning out into a bottomless black hole. Add to this, there was no concurrent economic development of the State, which would have subsidised his schemes. Investments were as good as none and businesses shied away from the State. That Andhra Pradesh is in a financial mess today compared to what it was like during the previous regime is an understatement.

This also antagonised a large section of the State’s population, particularly the youth who were clamouring for jobs or simply migrating to other States in frustration. Mr. Reddy’s hubris was his electoral nemesis. He also seems to have forgotten the adage that ‘good economics is bad politics and bad economics is good politics’ as he unknowingly focused only on the second part.

The only way to come out of this jinx is to find a smart solution: balance welfare with development, which is revenue positive. This is easier said than done, since Mr. Naidu assured people in his campaign speeches that the current welfare schemes will continue, may be with a few top ups as well. So, the big question is: Where will he get the money from?

In fact, Mr. Naidu in his second term as the Chief Minister of the combined Andhra Pradesh (1999-2004) did the opposite: he pushed his growth and development agenda which he rolled out in his first term (1995-1999), while ignoring welfare and a large section of the rural and agriculture-dependent population. He only focused on urban development (read: the Information Technology and Information Technology Enabled Services industry). This strategy eventually led to his downfall and the emergence of his friend-turned-rival Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy as the Chief Minister. Reddy laid out a full welfare agenda and went down a path of pure-play welfare politics, which Chief Ministers of many States copied, and in some cases emulated. This made Reddy synonymous with ‘welfarism’.

Twenty years later, much water has flown down the Musi in Hyderabad, and the Krishna in Amaravati. Hopefully, Mr. Naidu is more tempered and wiser now.

Satya Nagesh Ayyagary, a senior journalist, and socio-political and economic affairs analyst, is former Editorial Consultant with The Hindu

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