Is Chandrababu Naidu being in jail an opportunity?
How will the TDP capitalise on it?
Or will it implode with nothing more than a sigh?
At Rajamahendravaram central prison, he’s just A/37 — that’s how Nara Chandrababu Naidu is known after he was arrested on corruption charges and lodged in Rajahmundry jail.
The biggest issue before the Telugu Desam Party now is: Who’s going to run things? And are they ready for a leadership transition?
Transition, because the leadership record of Nara Lokesh, Mr Naidu’s son, does not inspire confidence.
There is support for Mr Naidu across the board — with Akhilesh Yadav at one end of the spectrum to D Purandeswari at the other — all protesting at the way he was jailed.
Mr Yadav is predictable in his response, given that he is opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies.
But Ms Purandeswari (in addition to being Mr Naidu’s sister-in-law) was recently appointed BJP state unit chief of Andhra Pradesh.
Despite the BJP’s unwritten support to Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister who has put Mr Naidu in jail, for Ms Purandeswari to criticise, albeit mildly, the manner in which Mr Naidu was arrested, means something.
Others who have rallied in support of Mr Naidu are only a few.
Pawan Kalyan of the Jana Sena was at the gates of the prison where Mr Naidu has been lodged within minutes of his arrest. This is also mildly surprising.
Just weeks ago, Mr Kalyan was at the meeting of the National Democratic Alliance, trying to persuade the BJP to tie up with the TDP and junk the YSR Congress as its favoured partner in the state.
He found no takers for Mr Naidu in the NDA. Mr Naidu’s offer to the BJP on a three-party tie-up in the state met with a tepid response after he met Union Home Minister Amit A Shah in June.
Read with Ms Purandeswari’s defence of Mr Naidu, it would suggest some kind of covert alliance.
The only problem with such deals is that they never remain covert for long.
How did things come to this? Without going into the merits or otherwise of the case against Mr Naidu, it is important to note that the politics of vendetta and vengeance is innate in the politics of Andhra Pradesh, given the feudal nature of its elite.
Mr Reddy has already decimated all but the core of the TDP’s elected leadership. Many district-level TDP leaders and MLAs have joined the YSR Congress.
Arresting Mr Naidu is like sending a signal to other TDP leaders — that they could meet the same fate. Meanwhile, anxiety is gnawing at the TDP.
Mr Naidu managed all the affairs of the party and had designated no one except his son to oversee things. Who would now handle the organisation?
One door closes and another opens. Unknown to the mainstream media, Mr Lokesh has done a padayatra across the state.
Faced with Mr Naidu’s incarceration, this could be Mr Naidu’s N T Rama Rao moment — the collapse of his government, the images of NTR sleeping exhausted, stretched across benches at Hyderabad airport after returning from an open heart surgery to find his government had been dismissed by Governor Ram Lal …
If Mr Naidu remains in prison longer, Mr Lokesh will have no option but to take the reins of the party and force it to respond to his signals.
There is no doubt that current events have demoralised the TDP.
Even with the bracing effect of Pawan Kalyan, it will take time for the cadres to bounce back (the Jana Sena and TDP will fight the 2024 Lok Sabha elections together).
Mr Reddy, meanwhile, is moving in a slow, almost meditative manner. He was abroad when the arrest took place.
So voters in Andhra Pradesh can decide whether he had anything to do with it, or it was just the law taking its own course.
He is readying to act against Mr Lokesh as well in the same case as his father.
If Mr Lokesh too is sent to prison, the TDP will have to be managed by Atchen Naidu, the president of the party’s Andhra Pradesh unit, and former education minister G Srinivasa Rao.
It does make you wonder. Mr Naidu was the raja of undivided Andhra Pradesh and he’s the one who transformed the state.
During the first phase of his chief ministership (1995-2004), Microsoft Chief Mentor Bill Gates invested heavily in Hyderabad.
Tony Blair and Bill Clinton had both visited him in Hyderabad.
TIME magazine named him ‘South Asian of the year’; the governor of Illinois created a Naidu Day in his honour; and he only had to ask for money and he got it — from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the British government.
His greatest regret was that Hyderabad was passed over for Formula One racing when a track was to have been laid in India.
From that to this? The only question now is: Is his being in jail a threat? Or an opportunity? How will the TDP capitalise on it? Or will it succumb, imploding with nothing more than a sigh?
It could also be that the voters in Andhra Pradesh (which is due for assembly polls in a few months) transfer their sympathies to Mr Naidu in the same way they did to Jagan Mohan Reddy after he was put behind bars.
Either way, politics in Andhra Pradesh is a reminder that in Indian politics, you never can tell.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com
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