TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu created a flutter when he addressed a public meeting, “Sankharavam”, in Khammam last week and asserted that the enthusiasm of the people would help the party regain its lost glory in Telangana.
It is, of course, too early to call this the beginning of a TDP comeback in Telangana. However, the Khammam meeting signalled that Naidu, who has stayed away from the state for some time now, has decided to test the waters again.
It has been almost three years since he took up a political campaign in Telangana. Naidu was seen in Telangana in the 2018 Assembly elections when he unsuccessfully tried to get a toehold in the state.
Later, he addressed public meetings in Hyderabad ahead of the keenly fought Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election, but again failed to cut the ice with the people.
The TDP had clearly lost relevance in Telangana after the bifurcation, and polled just 3.5 percent votes in the last Assembly election, winning only two of the 13 seats it contested in alliance with the Congress.
In fact, with the TDP becoming a pariah and being derided as an “Andhra party”, the alliance with it cost the Congress significantly. BRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao had milked electoral benefit by attacking the Congress for its truck with a party from outside the state.
Given this perceived irrelevance, one wonders why Naidu’s Khammam meeting elicited reactions from various political quarters that would normally have just ignored the TDP.
Telangana ministers T Harish Rao and Koppula Eshwar, along with BRS MLC K Kavitha, slammed Naidu for trying to retrieve lost ground in Telangana.
And YSRCP general secretary Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy speculated why Naidu suddenly felt the need to hold a meeting in Khammam.
Showing an interest in Telangana
For some time now, political observers have been noting with interest Naidu’s renewed focus on Telangana.
Over the past few months, the TDP supremo has spared time to get party activities going in the state.
After a huge hiatus, he appointed Backward Classes (BC) leader Kasani Gnaneshwar as the TDP’s Telangana unit president.
And the success of the Khammam meeting was in no small measure due to the “special efforts” put in by Gnaneshwar.
It is now learnt that the TDP, buoyed by the meeting’s success, is planning such public meetings in every district in the coming days. There are also reports that Naidu will take up a whirlwind bus tour of Telangana.
“Due to a lack of proper leadership in Telangana, and also unable to sustain the onslaught by other parties that branded it as an ‘Andhra party’, the TDP’s cadre had scattered and migrated to other parties,” a political analyst told South First.
“Maybe bringing them back is the next step of the TDP’s Telangana strategy, of which the Khammam meeting can be seen as a part,” added the analyst.
Why the renewed interest?
So why is Naidu, locked in a bitter and intense battle with the YSRCP of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, “wasting” his time and resources in Telangana, both of which could be more fruitfully deployed in his area of primary interest?
Political analysts appear divided on their answers.
There are those who see it as a clever move by Naidu to get close to the BJP. It is no secret that the BJP does not see any immediate gains accruing in Andhra Pradesh in the face of two very entrenched parties and an electorate polarised between them.
And its long-term game plan, if it has one, would certainly revolve around weakening the TDP, which is already under intense assault from the YSRCP, to somehow emerge as the primary Opposition.
This would explain why the BJP has been unenthusiastic to overtures by the TDP and was not unduly concerned by when Naidu met its presumed ally in Andhra, Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan, apparently to talk about an alliance for the coming Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in early 2024.
In contrast, after its strong showing in the Munugode bypoll, and given the declining fortunes of the primary Opposition in Telangana, the Congress, the BJP sees a real opportunity in the state and is seeking to enter into tie-ups even with minor parties that would bring in minuscule vote shares.
When BJP “master strategist” and Union Home Minister Amit Shah met with popular actor Jr NTR, it was speculated that it was to persuade him to campaign for the party.
Jr NTR, who once campaigned for the TDP but has since maintained a distance from the party and Naidu, has some sway among Andhra settlers in the state as well as people from his caste.
It is the BJP’s strategy that every bit helps, one that it has successfully used in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar when it was making early inroads there. So, the success of the Khammam meeting may well pique the BJP’s interest.
This seems to be the reading of the YSRCP as well.
“Naidu experimented with the Congress in the past. Now, he is trying for an alliance with the BJP in Telangana and hoping to extend it to Andhra Pradesh, which was amply clear in the Khammam meeting,” said YSRCP’s Sajjala Ramakrishna YSRCP, who is the aide of Chief Minister Jagan.
“To improve his bargaining power with the BJP in Telangana, Naidu is doing all these moves. He hopes in the event of the BJP allying with the TDP in Telangana, it will spill over to Andhra too and can take advantage of the BJP’s central leadership,” he added.
The BRS name factor
Political analysts feel that the TRS’ metamorphosis into the BRS is a blessing in disguise for the TDP.
“At a time when KCR wants to go pan-India and also has plans to enter Andhra Pradesh by rechristening his party as the BRS, it has now lost ground by branding the TDP an Andhra party,” a political analyst told South First.
“Don’t know what the prospects of BRS in Andhra will be, but it’s an opportunity for the TDP to re-enter Telangana and reclaim its lost territory,” added the analyst.
However, the BRS is not convinced about Naidu’s plan to re-enter Telangana.
“He is still irrelevant in Telangana. None in Telangana trusts him. He says he was instrumental in ending the fluorosis crisis in Nalgonda,” T Harish Rao, a minister in KCR’s Cabinet, said a day after Naidu’s Khammam meeting.
“There can’t be a bigger joke than this. It was only due to KCR that Nalgonda got rid of the fluorosis problem. Naidu will not hesitate to even claim that the sun rises only because of him,” he added.
Naidu hopes for a revival
Naidu, on Wednesday, expressed confidence that the party would regain its past glory in Telangana. He was visibly happy by the mammoth turnout, the majority of them youngsters, at the Khammam meeting. He said that the turnout indicated that the TDP is on the path of revival.
Listing out the developmental works that he had initiated in Hyderabad and other parts of the two Telugu States, Naidu said how hard work now has begun yielding tremendous results.
“I have struggled to make Hyderabad an Information Technology (IT) corridor only with a view that the youth should get better employment and earn more. Now, you all know the reality of how the youth in the Telugu states are getting jobs not only in the country but across the globe,” Naidu said.
He also reminded that the party took its birth in Hyderabad, the heartland of Telangana and said Cyberabad, the Hitech City and the Genome Valley in Hyderabad were established with his vision and recalled how he managed to meet the Microsoft founder which gave birth to the Hitech City.
Naidu said that he made several visits to Khammam earlier but now he is coming to the town after a long interval. There is an uproarious response from the massive gathering when he asked whether they want the TDP to lead the state again.
The former chief minister said that the huge gathering at the meeting is a fitting reply to those who say that the TDP no longer exists in Telangana.
“I am now confident of the party regaining its past glory in Telangana,” Naidu asserted.
Making it clear that the leaders who had earlier deserted the TDP will soon return, he expressed confidence that the Khammam meeting will again turn the TDP into an irreversible force.
“The people here are recalling the developmental works taken up during the TDP regime and this is a clear indication that they want the party to be back with flying colours,” said Naidu.
The Khammam factor
Naidu chose Khammam deliberately to re-launch the TDP in Telangana. Incidentally, YSRTP president YS Sharmila said would contest the upcoming Assembly polls from the Palair assembly segment in the Khammam district.
Khammam is the gateway to Telangana for Andhra Pradesh. It shares its border with Andhra Pradesh and has always had a soft corner towards non-natives, especially those from the neighbouring Telugu state.
Even during the peak of the Separate Telangana agitation, Khammam had not resonated much with Telangana sentiments.
For Sharmila, who always faces criticism for being a non-native of Telangana, and the TDP, which carries an Andhra party tag, Khammam is the perfect launchpad.
The BRS did not perform well in the district in the 2014 polls. Later, after the induction of a few TDP leaders like Tummala Nageswar Rao, the BRS gained some strength in Khammam.