Chandrababu Naidu, the king maker and his tryst with BJP-led NDA

The TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister-designate probably hoped for a modest victory but, he hit the jackpot not only in the Assembly elections but also in the Lok Sabha.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Jun 09, 2024 | 3:00 PM Updated Jun 10, 2024 | 2:05 PM

Chandrababu Naidu at an election rally

The wheel of fortune has turned full circle. Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister-designate N Chandrababu Naidu is back in the reckoning at the national level, calling the shots in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This isn’t the first time Naidu has been crucial to provide BJP-led NDA stability at the Centre.

When he was fighting the 2024 Assembly elections, he probably did not foresee that he would emerge as a powerful national leader at the national level as well.

His concentration in the elections was to somehow dethrone YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. In pursuit of his ambition, he worked vigorously despite his advancing age. He probably hoped for a modest victory but, he hit the jackpot not only in the Assembly elections but also in Lok Sabha.

With 16 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats under his belt, and the BJP falling short of the majority mark to form the government at the centre, Naidu overshadowed all other NDA constituents as he had the highest seats with him. He had proved that the fortune favoured those who are prepared.

Now Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot afford to ruffle his feathers. Gone are the days when Chandrababu Naidu had to wait for days for the Prime Minister’s appointment even when he was the chief mister of Andhra Pradesh in 2014-2019.

Now Naidu can just turn the handle of the door and enter the prime minister’s chamber. The proof was visible at the recent NDA’s meeting where Naidu sat next to Narendra Modi. There were hugs and hi-fives.

Also Read: Narendra Modi to attend Chandrababu Naidu’s swearing-in ceremony as Andhra CM

Naidu, a reincarnation of his old self

Bonhomie and light hearted banter flourished between the two leaders, making one wonder whether they had completely forgotten the bitter enmity that prevailed between them ahead of Assembly elections in 2019.

Naidu now is a reincarnation of his 1996-self. Get into the time machine and travel into the past. After 1996 general elections, circumstances favored him.

By then, he was already the  chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, and was set to emerge as a king maker at the national level. The BJP government led by AB Vajpayee collapsed within 13 days unable to prove its majority in Lok Sabha. This weakness of the BJP provided an opportunity for Naidu to seize the day.

At that time, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, DMK, TDP, AGM, All India Congress(Tiwari), left front, Tamil Manila Congress, National Conference and Maharashtra Gomantak Party were among those which formed United Front for which Naidu was elected convenor.

It was then that the opportunity to become the prime minister came calling.

The leaders of the United Front constituents were said to have suggested Naidu to be the next prime minister. Even stalwarts like Jyoti Basu, AB Bardan, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, GK Moopanar, Karunanidhi and Biju Patnaik had asked him to be next prime minister.

But Naidu is said to have declined the offer as it was said he was more interested in the development of Andhra Pradesh.

Naidu, in one context, had said that he had sought the advice of his son Lokesh on whether he should accept the offer.

Lokesh, who was a tenth standard student then, told him to prefer permanent job — Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh – rather than a temporary post like Prime Minister, given the unpredictable nature of politics at the national level.

Also Read: Joined NDA unconditionally before polls, will continue in it: Nara Lokesh

Growth as a national leader, kingmaker

He then held talks with leaders of all the United Front’s constituents and persuaded them to agree for Deve Gowda to be the next prime minister. Deve Gowda held the position from 1 June, 1996 to 21 April, 1997. The Congress and the CPM extended outside support to the coalition.

When Deve Gowda resigned, again Naidu donned the role of a king maker. This time, IK Gujral became the prime minister who was in the saddle from 21 April, 1997 to 19 March, 1999.

Naidu also played a key role in making KR Narayanan, president of India in 1997. Later on, again at the instance of Naidu, the BJP made APJ Abdul Kalam the next president (2002).

In fact, it was said Vajpayee had former governor PC Alexander in mind for the presidential office. He told Naidu about his choice. But Naidu told him that it was not a well informed decision.

Later, Vajpayee is understood to have called him and asked him whether he had anyone in mind. Then Naidu suggested Kalam’s name as he felt that Kalam, a scientist, was a better choice to be the constitutional head to which Vajpayee also agreed.

Naidu had a free run in the national politics during the days of United Front when Vajpayee was the prime minister from 1998 to 2004. Vajpayee never said no to any proposal brought forth by Naidu.

It was then that Naidu’s stature grew and other political parties began recognizing him as a national leader.

Also Read: Chandrababu Naidu to be sworn in as Andhra Pradesh CM on 12 June

Naidu’s dynamic journey with NDA

It was in 1998 that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP took birth with 48 parties in it. Apart from BJP, it was the TDP, Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiv Sena who were its key constituents.

Though Naidu was in the NDA, he did not join the government but lent support from outside. When the BJP suggested TDP should take at least the speaker’s post, Naidu relented and nominated Ganti Mohan Chandra Balayogi, a Dalit for the post.

Balayogi thus became the first Dalit Lok Sabha speaker in 1998 and held the position till 2002.

Naidu came out of NDA in 2004 when he lost the Assembly election. At the centre also, the UPA-I came to power. Naidu began his role as Opposition leader and led several movements against the Congress government in the state.

But in 2013, he was again elected the chairman of the NDA. In May 2014, he had to make way for Narendra Modi who began his innings as the prime minister while Naidu became the chief minister for the third time and for the first time for the truncated Andhra Pradesh.

This time he was part of the central government. He took two berths, one cabinet and one minister of state. But he stepped out of the NDA once again in 2018, voicing the demand for special category status for Andhra Pradesh. which was promised in Parliament by the outgoing UPA -II at the time of the division of the state.

Naidu held a series of public meetings where he took BJP and Narendra Modi to cleaners in the run up to 2019 assembly elections.

However, Naidu lost to Jagan Mohan Reddy which began an interesting chapter in his career. He began trying to get back into the good books of Narendra Modi to fortify his position, which faced a treat from incumbent chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)