Political Pickle

Is the BJP doing to Chandrababu Naidu what he did to NTR?

The BJP seems hell-bent on spoiling Chandrababu Naidu’s foreign holiday. After four of the Telugu Desam’s Rajya Sabha MPs crossed over to the BJP on Thursday, prompting Naidu to spend much of his time in a teleconference with party leaders back home in Amaravati, the air is thick with the possibility of more desertions.

The grapevine in Delhi suggests that one more Rajya Sabha MP Ravindra Kumar may trade his yellow shirt for saffron. That will leave Naidu with just one MP in the House of Elders, Seetharama Lakshmi. The TDP has just three MPs in the Lok Sabha now. 

What will worry Naidu more is the BJP’s move to cut him to size in Andhra Pradesh. The TDP with a meagre strength of 23 MLAs is most vulnerable and the morale of the party rank and file is extremely low. The exit of two staunch Naidu loyalists – YS Chowdary and CM Ramesh – is being interpreted as proof that the TDP bicycle is not fit for a ride. 

The BJP is looking at implementing the TRS template of ensuring desertion by 2/3rds of the legislature party in order to circumvent the anti-defection law. Just like the TRS in neighbouring Telangana ensured 12 of the 18 Congress legislators formed a group and moved out, the BJP wants to target 16 of the 23 TDP lawmakers

Usually such moves are done discreetly but it is probably an indication of the diminishing clout of Naidu that the name of Ganta Srinivasa Rao, former Education minister is being openly bandied about. Rao, an MLA from Visakhapatnam district in north coastal Andhra, is a known party hopper. From the TDP, he moved to Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam and when the actor-politician merged his party with the Congress, Rao became a minister in the Andhra government. He then did a ghar waapsi to the TDP to continue as minister under Naidu. 

TDP leaders have denied Srinivasa Rao is making any such moves, saying the MLA is on vacation in Sri Lanka. The BJP camp says many TDP MLAs are in touch with its leadership. Mindgames or reality, the suspense continues.

The point is why are the TDP MLAs possibly looking at the BJP when the ruling YSR Congress could be a better option for an MLA. Chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy had said that 8 TDP MLAs were in touch with him but claimed he had refused to admit them unless they resigned from their seats and contested the byelections. Given the huge expenditure incurred in the 2019 election, that is not an option any lawmaker wants to exercise

The BJP in contrast, has zero presence in the Andhra assembly. This mass defection will allow it to move from zero to 16 in one go and claim the status of being the main opposition to YSRCP in the House. Moving to the BJP camp will allow such defectors to have clout at least at the central level.

The BJP is also looking to beef itself up in Andhra. Even though it had in its ranks ex-Congress leaders like Purandareswari and Kanna Laxminarayana, the party was not been able to make a mark in the 2019 elections in Andhra, netting less than 1 per cent of the vote. The fact that these TDP politicians survived a Jagan wave is being cited as proof that they are worth investing in. 

But if the plan is to decimate the TDP and fill its space, it would be easier said than done given that the TDP even when routed, got a 39 per cent vote share. The initial plan is to give a psychological hit to Naidu.

Should such a split take place in the TDP Legislature party, Naidu will protest but it will be not taken seriously given his own track record. As chief minister, he encouraged the defection of 23 YSRCP MLAs, made four of them ministers in his cabinet, in complete violation of the anti-defection law.

Two, in August 1995, he took over the TDP in similar fashion, engineering a coup against the party founder, NT Rama Rao. 

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