Nominal representation or outside support to Modi government: The choices before TDP’s Naidu

The chief minister-designate does not want to trade his bargaining power with the BJP by being part of the Union government.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Jun 07, 2024 | 8:21 PMUpdatedJun 07, 2024 | 9:49 PM

Chandrababu Naidu with PM Modi

Contrary to the buzz in the political circles, TDP supremo and prospective Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu who captured power in the state with a brute majority and won 16 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats, may stay out of the third Union government led by Narendra Modi or settle for a nominal representation.

The chief minister-designate, sources suggest, does not want to trade his bargaining power with the BJP — for funds and other benefits for the state — by being part of the Union government or demanding multiple cabinet berths.

Speculations have been rife in the media over Naidu demanding special status for Andhra Pradesh, Speaker post for TDP along with at least four cabinet berths. What sources in TDP suggest are contrary to the speculations.

Keeping TDP outside the government but making it dependent on his party will place Naidu exactly where he wants the BJP — at an arm’s length and in perpetual worry of pulling the plug on the coalition. Sources in TDP suggest that Naidu’s absolute silence over the party’s role in the Narendra Modi government is indicative of political calculations that may extend beyond being part of the government.

While some insist he will extend ‘outside support’, a section of TDP leaders see the possibility of Naidu seeking only nominal representation for those he trusts. Names doing the rounds are Ram Mohan Naidu for a cabinet berth and debutante Guntur MP Chandra Sekhar Pemmasani for an MoS. Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena on the other hand, may get an MoS berth in the Narendra Modi cabinet.

Also Read: Naidu wants ‘Vajpayee treatment’ from Narendra Modi for TDP

Similar to supporting the erstwhile Vajpayee government

The assertion that he won’t be part of the government has a familiar ring since Naidu adopted the same strategy when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister between 1999-2004.

Naidu did not join Vajpayee’s government which allowed him a lot of clout. The Union government had to involve him while making major decisions, Even the selection of APJ Abdul Kalam as the presidential candidate then was at his behest.

Naidu took only the Speaker’s post, that too after a lot of deliberations. Naidu decided to nominate late GMC Balayoji just a few hours before the closure of the nominations. Balayogi had to rush with break-neck speed to file his papers, which he just managed to do in time.

MPs of TDP told South First that Naidu has been tight-lipped about his plans to bargain with the BJP.

The fact that he has not consulted any MPs or dialled them, they insist, suggests that he has no plans to send them as ministers in the Union Cabinet, unless he wants to keep them guessing till the last moment. Sources in TDP suggest that even if Naidu were to send MPs into the cabinet, it will be his most trusted aides to prevent possibility of a dual power centre.

Naidu’s speech at the NDA parties’ meeting on Friday, although backing Modi ‘unconditionally’, also made it clear that he will retain his individuality.

“Balancing regional aspirations and national interests must run parallel while ensuring holistic development for all strata of society,” Naidu said.

The speculation that TDP may not want to be part of the government found more credibility with Nara Lokesh, in his interview with TV channels, insisting that the party is not keen on wanting Cabinet berths.

Also Read: Chandrababu Naidu: King in Amaravati, kingmaker in Delhi

Distant but powerful

The TDP patriarch does not want a dual power centre. Sources in the TDP suggest that Naidu may not want his MPs to occupy the Union Cabinet berths while he rules over Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP’s tactics of luring MPs and MLAs away from parties seem to be a factor for TDP to consider it a safe bet to keep its MPs as far away as possible from the BJP. If TDP MPs are made ministers, they would inevitably hobnob with BJP’s top rung in Delhi.

By supporting the Union government from the outside, Naidu will have the BJP in perpetual fear of him snapping ties and walking away.

Not being part of the government is a free pass for TDP to change its stance on issues or the alliance. Currently, the BJP might be able to manage the NDA without Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) but it cannot survive without Naidu’s TDP.

Not being part of the government also allows Naidu to extract better bargains from the Narendra Modi government.

If special status for Andhra Pradesh is not immediately feasible, Naidu could always make a case for special funds to backward districts, more allocation to infrastructure projects sponsored by the Union government etc.

Also Read: Amid TDP’s crucial support, demand for ‘Special category Status’ comes to fore

Naidu’s unfinished business

This time, Naidu is more interested in completing the unfinished task — the construction of Amaravati for which he had a very elaborate plan.

In fact, the Singapore government had designed the capital but before he could really start the work, he lost the Assembly elections in 2019.

He could only construct the supposedly temporary Secretariat and the Assembly building to serve the purpose before ultra-modern buildings came up.

After Jagan Mohan Reddy took over, all the buildings became permanent.

Amaravati’s plan went into the garbage basket as Jagan Mohan Reddy pitched for three capitals, more out of spite at Naidu than being really convinced that they were a better alternative.

Naidu, after he became the chief minister of the estate for the third time in 2014, realised the importance of being pally with the BJP as he wanted liberal central funding for Amaravati which he thought would not be possible if he adopted a confrontationist approach.

He compromised on his demand for special category status and settled for the special package but in 2018, afraid that Jagan Mohan Reddy was getting ahead of him by taking up the demand for special category status, he came out of the NDA and began fighting for the same.

On several instances, Naidu said there was no point in fighting with the Union government when you need its help very badly.

He referred to the daunting task of construction of Amaravati, likes of which India or for that matter Asia, had never seen and also the completion of the Polavaram Project which was supposed to be the lifeline of the state.

He could complete neither when he demitted from office in 2019. Though he struggled hard for the completion of the project and dedicated every Monday to reviewing the progress of the project, he could get nowhere. In his tenure, Soma-varam (Monday) used to be called Pola-varam (varam is week).

Naidu, now wiser than in 2014, is apparently considering to revert to the 1999-2004 stand which would give him enough elbow room to put forth his demands from a position of strength.

It is widely felt that he may not raise the Special Category Status issue which is a dead horse.

According to sources, Naidu does not fancy any role at the national level for himself, at least at the moment, and wants to focus solely on Amaravati and improving the finances of the state which are now in a mess.