Chandrababu Naidu: King in Amaravati, kingmaker in Delhi

Naidu can leverage the importance he is gaining in Delhi's power game to bargain for more in favour of the state.

ByN Venugopal

Published Jun 05, 2024 | 8:53 AMUpdatedJun 05, 2024 | 8:53 AM

Telugu Desam's Chandrababu Naidu with PM Narendra Modi. (Supplied)

A Telugu proverb says that to redeem what one lost, one must search and find out at the same place. It is true that N Chandrababu Naidu searched and found what he lost at the same place. Indeed, it is a comeback with a vengeance for him, both in Andhra Pradesh and national politics. He is becoming chief minister of Andhra Pradesh for another time after 2019 and also playing a repeat role in national politics, almost 30 years after being convenor of the United Front in 1996-98.

As the chief minister of the undivided state and the residuary state after the bifurcation, he has an enviable experience of three tenures of chief ministership for over fourteen years, with a ten-year break. He must be the second person after N D Tiwari to take up the reins as chief minister of both undivided and divided states.

He became chief minister of the undivided state after a palace coup he led against his father-in-law and the then chief minister N T Rama Rao in September 1995. As an economics postgraduate and shrewd politician trained both in the Congress and the TDP, he grabbed the opportunity of bringing the nascent information technology industry into the state and also came into the good books of the World Bank, which began tutoring him since the ‘Andhra Pradesh: Agenda for Economic Reforms’ in January 1996. He earned the distinction of being the harbinger of globalisation policies at the state level and received accolades from world leaders.

Fluctuating fortunes

By the 1999 elections, which earned him his second tenure, he had become the blue-eyed boy of India Inc. and Multinational Corporations, for whom his government extended a red carpet in the state and offered the state’s natural resources, including land.

In October 2003, the then CPI (ML) Peoples War made an attempt on his life while he was going up the Tirumala Hill. He providentially escaped the land mine and immediately dissolved the assembly for a mid-term poll.

Surprisingly, in the April 2004 elections, within six months of the attempt on his life, the sympathy factor did not work in his favour, and he lost. That marked a ten-year respite in his political career and added to the rise of the Telangana movement, which essentially opposed him and his policies.

In the April 2009 elections, he had to take a U-turn and support the Telangana cause, and with the May 2014 elections, the state was bifurcated, and the TDP won in the divided Andhra Pradesh. Chandrababu Naidu became chief minister of the bifurcated state.

However, he lost his position in the May 2019 elections, almost ignominiously, as the strength of his legislative party fell from 102 during 2014-19 to 23 during 2019-24. Not only was his party’s strength reduced to one-fourth, but his opponent, Y S Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSRCP, won 151 seats in the 175-strong assembly.

Chance for course correction

In this chequered trajectory, Naidu’s second coming has advantages and disadvantages. With hindsight and a critical approach, he can make corrections to his last reign. He can again take up the works stopped midway when he lost power in 2019 and much-needed infrastructure development, particularly roads in the state.

Naidu can leverage the importance he is gaining in Delhi’s power game to bargain for more in favour of the state. He might also be able to slow down the cases against him, which led to his arrest in October 2023.

In the same way, his rule would always compare with what Jaganmohan Reddy did, particularly in welfare schemes and delivery during the last five years. He will have to handle the precarious debt (about ₹5 lakh crores) situation left by the previous government. He might have to continue some of the unpopular initiatives of the earlier government, like giving away Visakhapatnam Steel to Adani.

With a solid strength of 164 (his own 135 plus 21 and 8 of pre-poll alliance partners, Janasena and BJP, respectively) out of 175 and a weak opposition of a mere 11, he is in a position of super absolute power. The future will reveal whether that unbridled power would be used to gain what the state needed or fritter away.

Top challenges in Andhra

Achieving special status for the state, as promised at the time of bifurcation and left unmet for ten years, would naturally be at the top of the new government’s agenda. However, granting special status was the major issue on which the relations between Naidu and the BJP went sore in 2018, and as they became friends once again after six years, they faced the same challenge.

Resolving the tangle of capital building would be a major challenge for him. He has to wriggle out of the legal complications to continue his work on the capital. However much he wants to continue his work on Amaravati, the aspirations among the people of Visakhapatnam and Kurnool raised by the previous government’s announcements of the three capitals would have to be addressed smoothly.

Though it may not be desirable or possible to continue their status of executive capital and judicial capital, respectively, allocation of additional funds, setting up state-level institutions, encouraging employment creation, and extensive measures of urban development in those cities in particular and other areas, in general, would be required.

The issue of Polavaram, which remained unresolved after ten years, has to be taken up in earnest, but at the same time, the objections of Telangana and the grievances of the Rayalaseema people have to be assuaged.

Neighbourly negotiations

As a neighbouring state, the politics of Telangana would also play a role in Naidu’s performance. More so, because of the known fact that A Revanth Reddy, chief minister of Telangana, was or has been Naidu’s protégé. When the cash-for-vote case was booked against Revanth Reddy by the BRS government in 2015, Reddy was in the TDP, and one of the evidences leaked and circulated was a recording of Chandrababu Naidu’s conversation.

Though Revanth Reddy changed his party later, and much water has flown in the Krishna after that, there is still a section of Telangana intelligentsia, including the  TRS/BRS leadership, that targets Revanth Reddy as a stooge of Naidu. If both of them continue as chief ministers of the neighbouring states, each of their actions, vis-a-vis the relations between the states, would be under the scanner.

Role in Delhi

Chandrababu Naidu’s role is not restricted to Andhra Pradesh. The new scenarios emerging in Delhi are also forcing him to play a crucial role in the Union government. During the United Front days in the late 1990s, he was at the helm of affairs for some time, and after about two decades and a half, the role has returned to him. Of course, the only change this time is that he will share this position with Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik.

What will be his position if his 16 seats are crucial for the BJP in the number game at the centre? Would he abide by his pre-poll alliance and lend his support to the BJP? And what pound of flesh would he ask for in return? Would it be some key berths in the Union government for his party MPs or himself or some other benefits for the state? Would he join the Union cabinet, leaving the chief ministership for somebody else?

(N Venugopal is Editor, Veekshanam, a Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society. Views are personal.)