The BJP appears to be in no mood to placate the Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena, its ally in Andhra Pradesh.
It is not overly bothered about the Jana Sena chief openly expressing displeasure over his alliance with the saffron party not going anywhere. Or his unexpected meeting on Tuesday, 18 October, with TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu, in whom the BJP is least interested.
Though both Naidu and Pawan have brushed aside speculation that they met to discuss an electoral pact for the state and national elections that are just 19 months away, the BJP believes there is more to the meeting than meets the eye.
Though the saffron party’s state unit president Somu Veerraju took an official position that the BJP’s alliance with the Jana Sena would continue as before, and that Chandrababu Naidu had met Pawan Kalyan only to extend solidarity over the Visakhapatnam incident — which involved the arrest of several Jana Sena workers by the YSRCP-led state government and Pawan being confined to a hotel room — it is becoming clear that this mere public posturing.
BJP loses interest in Pawan Kalyan
Party insiders told South First that the central leadership has lost interest in Pawan Kalyan, largely due to a trust deficit as well as his penchant for political antics.
Veerraju, interestingly, pointed out that democracy had faced threats even during Naidu’s regime between 2014 and 2019, and recollected how stones were hurled at Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s convoy.
The stoic silence from the central leadership over Tuesday’s developments, BJP leaders say, is a strong indication of the alliance is more or less on the rocks.
“As a matter of routine, the state unit chief briefed the central leadership about Tuesday’s developments. There were no indications from the national leaders either to reach out to Pawan Kalyan or placate him. No one in Delhi is interested in speaking to him,” a highly placed source in BJP told South First.
“The central leadership always viewed Pawan Kalyan as an unreliable ally. Very rarely was he given an appointment to meet our top leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, or party president JP Nadda,” the source added.
BJP wants no truck with TDP
Another top source in the party said that while Pawan Kalyan wants a revival of the 2014 alliance of BJP, TDP and Jana Sena, the saffron party is not quite on the same page.
“Chandrababu Naidu has proved to be an unreliable ally. He has ditched the BJP in the past at crucial times and is not trustworthy,” a BJP national secretary general told South First about the prospects of BJP joining hands with TDP as proposed by Pawan Kalyan.
“Also, as a party, we want to have more say in the decision-making process. There is no point in being a junior partner where we have to toe someone else’s line,” he added.
Nadda’s snub to Pawan Kalyan
The first clear indication of the BJP’s disinterest in Pawan Kalyan came in June during party national president JP Nadda’s two-day visit to Andhra Pradesh.
Placard-carrying Jana Sena cadres had, ahead of Nadda’s visit, unleashed rhetoric demanding that Pawan Kalyan be declared as the chief minister candidate of the BJP-Jana Sena alliance. Party leaders even held a press conference to press the demand, much to the embarrassment of the BJP.
And the BJP reaction was brutal.
Let alone declaring Pawan Kalyan as the chief minister candidate, the BJP national president did not even make a passing reference to the Jana Sena in all his meetings in the two days he was in the state. He completely avoided talking about the party’s alliance with Pawan Kalyan.
On top of it, he sent a strong message to the party cadres and leaders that efforts should be made to grow in Andhra Pradesh independently as an alternative to the ruling party, just as it had done in neighbouring Telangana without any other party’s support.
During his visit, Nadda addressed at least four meetings and also took part in a state core committee meeting where he did not show any interest in discussing who should be chief minister candidate of the alliance.
Though they have been allies, the Jana Sena and BJP had never taken up joint programmes. While BJP had planned its own protests against the ruling dispensation, the Jana Sena devised its own programmes.
The absence of joint programmes was read as a lack of synergy and trust between the Jana Sena and the BJP.
All this also came against the backdrop of the Jana Sena and the main Opposition TDP working together — directly in some places indirectly in others — before and after the zila and mandal parishad elections late last year.
Why Jana Sena matters to TDP
An analysis of the voting patterns in the 2019 state and general elections shows the Jana Sena marred the chances of TDP in more than 40 Assembly and eight Lok Sabha constituencies, particularly in Guntur, Krishna, East and West Godavari districts, and in Visakhapatnam.
The Jana Sena candidates, though they lost their security deposits, polled votes that could have made a difference to the TDP in several seats. Because of the presence of the Jana Sena in the fray, the TDP won a mere 23 seats in the 175-member Assembly.
Take the case of Mangalagiri, where TDP chief Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh made a disastrous electoral debut. Lokesh was pitted against Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, a strong contender, and also Jana Sena-Left candidate Muppala Nageswara Rao of the CPI.
Lokesh lost by a margin of a little over 5,200 votes. Muppalla Nageswara Rao secured over 10,000 votes.
In Ponnur the party’s six-time MLA Dhulipalla Narendra Kumar lost by a little over 1,100 votes while Jana Sena’s Parvathi Boni secured around 12,000 votes.
And now with YSRCP supremo and state Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy targeting Naidu and his son in their home constituencies, the TDP needs all the help it can get.
Contesting on its own without an alliance with the TDP also cost the Jana Sena and its chief Pawan Kalyan, who lost both the seats he contested from.
In Bhimavaram, Pawan lost by a margin of over 8,000 votes to YSRCP’s Grandhi Srinivas. TDP’s Puliparthi Ramanjaneyulu, who stood third, secured 54,000-odd votes.
Similarly, in Gajuwaka, the other seat from where Pawan Kalyan lost by nearly 15,000 votes, the TDP managed to get 56,642 votes.
Had the TDP votes gone in favour of Pawan Kalyan, he would have won at least one seat and would not have had to face the humiliation that he did.
Fighting alone, the two parties fighting merely dented each other’s vote share at several places. And the moves to come together are a result of this realisation.