Chandrababu Naidu wants ‘Vajpayee treatment’ from Narendra Modi for TDP

For Narendra Modi, who has never ever helmed a coalition government, the shrewd Chandrababu Naidu can prove to be a nightmare, if disappointed.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Jun 06, 2024 | 1:00 PMUpdatedJun 06, 2024 | 1:00 PM

Chandrababu Naidu with Narendra Modi and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar during NDA meeting. (X)

“Chandrababu Naidu of the 90s is back,” a TDP source cheerfully described the visuals of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) parties’ meeting on Wednesday, 5 June.

With the highest number of Lok Sabha seats (16) among NDA constituents after BJP, N Chandrababu Naidu was seated next to Narendra Modi, his towering personality taking up space in the camera frames, perhaps also in Modi’s mind.

While speculations on what Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) wants from BJP is running wild — ranging from plump portfolios in the Union ministry to Speaker’s chair and demands of special status of Andhra Pradesh — a key strategist for the TDP succinctly summed it up: “There aren’t any expectations, except for Chandrababu Naidu and TDP to be treated like they were in the Vajpayee government.”

Related: Naidu reiterates he will stay with NDA

Smiles masking insults

In expecting Modi to treat him like Vajpayee, Naidu seems to have the last laugh. After his dramatic exit from the NDA in 2018, withdrawing his ministers from the Modi Cabinet, Naidu never minced words while criticising Modi, once even referring to him as a “terrorist”.

There was no love lost between Naidu and Modi’s trusted lieutenant Amit Shah, with the latter repeatedly insisting that the doors of NDA would never open for Naidu. Modi himself had been uncharitable in his remarks about Naidu.

While the smiling faces at the NDA meeting would have a naive person believe that all is well, the fact is politicians never forget insults. Naidu, particularly, has a reputation for vengeance.

Related: King in Amaravati, kingmaker in Delhi

The Vajpayee treatment

What does it mean when the TDP says it expects Modi to treat them it AB Vajpayee did? Despite not being part of the NDA, Naidu played a crucial role in the Vajpayee government in 1999.

To cut a long story short, there would have been no majority for Vajpayee if there was no Naidu to back him. Extending his support from outside, Naidu ensured he was treated special, his demands were fast-tracked, and his expectations were met quickly by the Vajpayee government.

Naidu’s rapport with Vajpayee translated into a large number of infrastructure projects in Andhra Pradesh, the World Bank’s sanction of the Velugu project, and large-scale IT infrastructure in Hyderabad. It was Vajpayee who appointed Naidu as Chairman of the micro-irrigation task force.

In short, the Vajpayee government gave wings to Naidu’s visions and went above and beyond to accommodate his ‘requests’ from Andhra Pradesh. This, was when he didn’t have an axe to grind.

Also Read: NTR-Nara family tree spreads branches in Andhra politics

Chequered history

The situation this time is different. Naidu has a chequered past with Modi and Shah. He is now part of the NDA, a crucial part of that again.

He is unlikely to turndown Cabinet berths, if anything is expected to demand key portfolios. Naidu’s eyes are set on building a legacy for himself in bifurcated Andhra Pradesh — figuratively through policies but literally by building his dream capital of Amaravati.

Special status for Andhra Pradesh — the issue that led to TDP walking out of NDA last time — will dangle like a sharp sword over Modi 3.0’s head. While Naidu is wary of possible attempts to wean away his MPs, the landslide mandate in Andhra Pradesh’s Assembly elections giving 135 out of 175 seats to TDP has filled him with confidence.

For Modi, who has never helmed a coalition government, the shrewd Naidu can prove to be a nightmare if he is disappointed. For now, Naidu is sitting on open invites from the Opposition bloc and the BJP has to grin and bear.