Why getting Chandrababu Naidu’s endorsement in Telangana is a necessity for BJP, gamble for TDP

If the BJP succeeds in diverting Andhra voters away from Congress, the latter would weaken to that extent, which is its ultimate aim.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Nov 14, 2023 | 7:08 PM Updated Nov 14, 2023 | 7:08 PM

Telangana Assembly elections

Is BJP trying to persuade TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu to support the saffron party in the Telangana Assembly elections scheduled on 30 November?

As Andhra Pradesh residents in Hyderabad and elsewhere in Telangana are looking at the Congress, with both the BJP and the BRS falling out of favour with them, the saffron party is understood to be keen to turn the tide towards itself, and away from the Congress, with the help of Naidu — as TDP is not contesting the elections.

The attempt, however, is a tightrope walk considering political equations in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

If the BJP succeeds in diverting Andhra voters in Telangana away from the Congress, the latter would become weak to that extent, which is the ultimate aim of the saffron party.

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BJP treading carefully

In the process, the BRS might benefit but that is secondary for the saffron party as it does not want the Congress to win the Telangana election — an outcome that may have an adverse impact on the Lok Sabha elections next year.

Already, the prospects of the Congress have soared and those of the BJP took a nosedive in Telangana after the grand old party pulled off a sensational victory over the saffron party in Karnataka. The BJP does not want a repeat of Karnataka.

To effect this political engineering of diverting Andhra Pradesh votes to the BJP, the saffron party seems to have doubled down on its resolve.

It is taking full advantage of the fact that Naidu is not in a position of strength to bargain and would do its bidding without raising any objection. With the levers of control in its hands, the saffron party seems to have actuated the new action plan.

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‘Modi seems to be afraid of Congress’

A political commentator in Vijayawada told South First: “It is quite possible that the BJP would go to any extent to scuttle the Congress, which is its principal enemy. We cannot rule out the possibility as Narendra Modi seems to be very much afraid of the Congress.”

But another political analyst and academician Dogiparthy Subrahmanyam said that Andhra voters in Telangana would not vote for the BJP. The saffron party might try its hand as they are known to use all tricks in the bag, he said.

“Even if Naidu tells the Andhra voters to vote for BJP, they would vote only for the Congress as they believe the BJP was shooting at Naidu using Jagan Mohan Reddy’s shoulder,” he told South First.

Till now Naidu has maintained a Sphinx-like silence on whether or not he should make an appeal to Andhra Pradesh voters who they should vote for, since the TDP is not in the fray in the Telangana elections.

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TDP opting out

The TDP had decided to give the Telangana elections a miss for two reasons.

One: The party is not in a position to fight the elections after Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest and his subsequent incarceration. Though he is on conditional bail till 28 November, he is not allowed to dabble in political activity.

The second reason is that the party’s performance may well turn out to be disastrous in Telangana, with Naidu not being able to pay much attention because he would have to go back to jail after the expiry of the bail period unless he gets further legal respite.

A political disaster in Telangana could have a severe negative fallout on the prospects of the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, which will have to face Assembly elections along with Lok Sabha polls next year, which Naidu cannot afford.

Though Naidu has been going through a tough time after his arrest, politically it has done a whale of good as there is a surge of sympathy for him for the way he was picked up and thrown into jail by the YSRCP administration in the state in the alleged ₹371-crore AP State Skill Development Corporation scam.

Meanwhile, BJP may also have to consider its friendly ties with Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh lest it is seen as an ‘undeclared’ ally of TDP. YSRCP has backed BJP on several bills in the parliament and has been a reliable ‘friend in need’.

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TDP votes in Telangana

Had Naidu decided to fight the Telangana elections and lost out, the debacle might even throw a douche of cold water at the sympathy wave that has been building up in his favour ever since his arrest.

But the fact remains that Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP has votes in favour of it in Telangana.

Though Telangana TDP president Kasani Gnaneshwar left the party in a lurch after Naidu took the decision to give a go-by to the elections, and joined the BRS, the TDP chief’s admirers in Telangana are understood to have consolidated in his favour.

Political analyst and Chandrababu Naidu-watcher Pagadala Tejaswini told South First that Andhra voters — estimated at about 30 lakhs in Hyderabad — would this time vote for the Congress as they are unhappy with the BRS for its sneering remarks on Andhra natives.

“They know fully well that KCR and Jagan Mohan Reddy are good friends. The reason why they would not vote for the BJP either is because they have a strong suspicion that Naidu’s arrest would not have happened without clearance from the BJP. Andhra votes will not support the BJP,” she says.

The supporters of Naidu are sore over the BJP’s top leaders not uttering a word of condemnation of the way their leader was arrested. Rubbing salt into the wound, the BJP leadership played hard to get, even though Naidu’s son Lokesh camped in Delhi for days to meet the top saffron leaders.

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Lokesh meeting Amit Shah

Finally, with the help of BJP Andhra Pradesh president D Purandeswari, Lokesh could get to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah on 12 October. Lokesh, after the interaction, said Amit Shah was not happy with the YSRCP government in the state for blaming the Union government for Naidu’s arrest.

If Shah was really unhappy, there would have been follow-up action in defence of Naidu, but nothing followed.

Against this backdrop, the Telangana elections have arrived and the political parties have begun looking at the proclivities of chunks of the electorate.

About 30 lakh Andhra Pradesh residents in Hyderabad are too valuable an electoral asset for any political party to let go.

After the arrest of Naidu, the number of Andhra Pradesh residents who have regard for Naidu only increased. The way they congregated at Gachhibowli stadium for a “CBN Gratitude Concert” on 29 October, in an expression of solidarity with the jailed leader, suggested an emotional connect.

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BRS to miss out on Andhra votes?

“I was at the concert. All those who turned up connected with Chandrababu Naidu in his hour of crisis. The concert consolidated them,” Tejaswini said.

Apparently unaware of the changing political dynamics, the BRS top leadership made some uncharitable remarks at the beginning against Naidu, which further alienated the Andhra voters from the party.

The government had denied permission for IT employees’ protests in Hyderabad, which had rankled the Andhra natives.

BRS working president KT Rama Rao had said that his party was in no way concerned with the arrest of Naidu as it took place in a different state which was like adding insult to injury.

After realising the faux pas, the BRS leader denounced the way Naidu was arrested and explained that the denial of permission for protests was only to keep law and order, and not out of disrespect for Naidu but by then the damage had already been done.

On the contrary, Telangana Congress President Revanth Reddy, a former leader of TDP and protege of Naidu, has been consistently praising Naidu and his work as Chief Minister of erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh. Revanth Reddy has repeatedly appealed to Andhra voters in Telangana to back Congress this election highlighting “friendly relations” K Chandrashekhar Rao shares with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Naidu’s primary rival Jagan Mohan Reddy. It is this appeal that the BJP wants to break with a possible endorsement from Naidu to the saffron party and its ally- Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party.

It remains to be seen who would have the last laugh in this game of smoke and mirrors.