Last Friday, when I spoke to Nara Lokesh and asked him about the rumblings within the Telugu Desam, his response was a defiant “What rumblings?”
I pointed to Vijayawada Lok Sabha MP Kesineni Nani’s cryptic posts on Facebook and a meeting with Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur and rumours doing the rounds of more MPs, MLAs and ex-MLAs being in touch with the BJP leadership in Delhi.
“We had a TDP meeting today and barring one MP who is in England to watch the World Cup, everyone was present. So I don’t know of anyone planning to leave the party,” Lokesh replied.
It could have been either a refusal to accept that an exodus was on the cards or a deliberate attempt to show that all was well. Either way, by Thursday evening, it was official.
Four Rajya Sabha MPs – YS Chowdary, CM Ramesh, TG Venkatesh and G Mohan Rao – merged the parliamentary party of the TDP with the BJP. It is a big blow to Chandrababu Naidu as two of the four MPs – Chowdary and Ramesh – are known to be extremely close to him and along with Venkatesh provide the financial muscle to the TDP. Incidentally, Naidu is out of the country on vacation in Europe now.
It was not as if Chandrababu Naidu would not have seen the writing on the wall or heard of the number of BJP leaders who were on the speed dial of many TDP leaders after the 23 May verdict. News of two of the four Rajya Sabha MPs who crossed over today, being in touch with the BJP, were doing the rounds for some days now. The TDP leadership believes it is because both Chowdary and Ramesh were under the scanner of the investigating agencies including Income Tax and Enforcement Directorate.
Venkatesh is an industrialist in Kurnool district and a known party hopper. He was in the TDP earlier, moved to the Congress where he was minor irrigation minister in the united Andhra Pradesh cabinet and moved back to the TDP to become a Rajya Sabha MP. He also secured an assembly ticket for his son TG Bharath from Kurnool but he lost in the election.
In an interview to a Telugu news channel earlier this week, Chowdary had dropped enough hints about his exit. He had mentioned Naidu’s centralised way of working, his friendship with the Congress and his unilateral decision to exit the NDA as points of difference with him.
When Naidu gave too much importance to businessmen-politicians, he was criticised for ignoring grassroots leaders. The exit of the four would have taught Naidu a lesson that those in business and politics are always more vulnerable to being poached.
The next round of exits are likely to blame the lack of accountability in the TDP. Naidu has not effected any shake-up in the party organisational structure despite the humiliating defeat and there are murmurs that at least Lokesh ought to have offered to resign as party general secretary. This refusal to own up responsibility will come in handy for the others who are in line to join the BJP, to offer as a reason to quit the TDP.
The merger with the TDP means the plan is to weaken Naidu both politically and financially. Back home in Andhra, Jaganmohan Reddy is already playing mindgames with Naidu, by telling him publicly that eight of his 23 MLAs were in touch with him. The bonhomie that was on display between Modi and YSRCP MP Vijayasai Reddy would lead TDP conspiracy theorists to believe that the `Derail Naidu plan’ is a jugalbandi effort.
There is another theory doing the rounds. That the switch has Naidu’s tacit blessings so that Chowdary and Ramesh specifically can be his men in the BJP and work out things in his favour. Outlandish as it sounds, it is based on the premise that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah can be persuaded by these newcomers into the BJP.
The letter submitted by the four MPs mention being “inspired and encouraged by the impeccable leadership of Narendra Modi” as the reason for the decision to move sides. But usually when one goes to a new home to start a new innings, the body language ought to reflect happiness and hope. But the expressions on the faces of the four Rajya Sabha MPs tell their own story.
Categories: Andhra Pradesh