Andhra Pradesh

CM Ramesh Exclusive : I am happy in the BJP

Rajya Sabha MP CM Ramesh was among the four Telugu Desam lawmakers who crossed over to the BJP on 20 June. It was a big jolt as Ramesh was among those who were considered very close to TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu. 

In this exclusive interview to T S Sudhir of Filter KaapiCM Ramesh breaks his silence on why he chose to quit the TDP. Taking every question on his chin, Ramesh admits he is still getting to know the BJP and his colleagues in his new party. 

Sudhir : How has been the past one month been. It is just over a month since you joined the BJP?

Ramesh : I have spent most of my time in Delhi last one month because Parliament has been in session. I have been meeting BJP leaders, getting to know them, trying to understand how the system works, introducing myself to party colleagues. 

Sudhir : So how different is it from the TDP?

Ramesh : It is obviously very different. TDP is a regional party, BJP is a national party. I was with the TDP since 1989 so it was a long association of 30 years. Here it has been only 30 days. 

CM Ramesh (second from right) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Sudhir : The TDP of 1989 was a very different party headed by NTR.

Ramesh : In 1989, I was with Chandrababu Naidu when he fought from Kuppam assembly constituency for the first time. In the 1994 election, I was his general agent in Kuppam.

Sudhir : What is the work assigned to you in the BJP?

Ramesh : So far I am coordinating in the Rajya Sabha among MPs. After the session is over, I will be assigned party work.

Sudhir : Are you seen as an outsider? After all, you fought the elections just three months back as a member of the TDP that was bitterly opposed to the BJP?

Ramesh : No. On the contrary, I was elected to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which is the most important Parliamentary committee. Of the three BJP MPs, one is Bhupendra Yadav, a senior leader of the party. The other is Rajeev Chandrasekhar and the third is me. 

Also read : How the TDP MPs jumped ship

Sudhir : Let’s talk about the circumstances in which you left, when did you get in touch with the BJP leadership to convey your interest in moving camp?

Ramesh : I had about four meetings with the BJP leadership within a span of a week to ten days, prior to our joining. I met Amit Shah both individually and as part of the group. In fact, I insisted on talking to him individually so that he knows why I am joining. I told him I am not expecting anything, I have the Rajya Sabha membership for another five years and whatever work he will give, I will do. He told me that he had seen my style of working, that I am very active in the House, a go-getter and he will allot work accordingly. 

Sudhir : When did you communicate to Chandrababu Naidu that you are leaving the TDP?

Ramesh : I met Naidu ten days before I quit. I told him this is the situation. I have a five-year tenure left in the Rajya Sabha. We spoke about a lot of things which I cannot reveal.

Sudhir : But the people would like to know why someone so close to Naidu chose to quit less than a month after the election results. 

Ramesh : See I told him I served the TDP honestly for 30 years. I have to take care of my political future also. I am 52 years old now. I have to build my career. I can be in politics for at least another 20-25 years. As BJP is a national party, I am interested. I also spoke about the way the TDP lost. I told him we should not have left the NDA, only withdrawn the ministers. Going with the Congress at the national level was a mistake. 

Sudhir : YS Chowdary, the other Rajya Sabha MP, who too quit with you has gone on record to say he opposed both decisions. Did you also oppose it internally in the TDP at that stage?

Ramesh : Yes. You see, there was a difference between pre-2014 and post-2014. In the last election, I was handling all of Rayalaseema for TDP. This time, Naidu did not give me any work. I was sitting idle.

Sudhir : So who was handling then?

Ramesh : Everything was handled by Naidu and his son. Our services were not utilised. We worked so hard for ten years when we were in the opposition. But after winning in 2014, they did not use us properly.

Sudhir : But again you and YS Chowdary were considered the closest to Naidu. Most people are surprised that the two of you chose to desert him.

Ramesh : Chowdary is a different case. I am on the ground. I was facing Jagan in Rayalaseema. Yet I got majority seats for the TDP in 2014. After that, I brought in good people to join the TDP. I told Naidu that while you are providing good administration, you are not caring about the party. 

Sudhir : Which is precisely why his son, Nara Lokesh was made TDP general secretary so that he could be the leadership face for the party cadre. 

Ramesh : TDP is Chandrababu Naidu. Today there are two teams, one owing allegiance to Naidu and another to Lokesh. That’s not correct, not healthy. With Naidu, one can be sure you can try and convince him, he will listen. 

Sudhir : That does not happen with Lokesh?

Ramesh : He does not have experience. I have not reported to Lokesh so I cannot say.

Sudhir : Do you recall the interview we did during the election campaign? Then you were very confident that Naidu will return as CM on 23 May. Was it false bravado or did you genuinely believe TDP was coming back?

Read the April 5 interview with CM Ramesh here

Ramesh : We have to say like that to the media, right. I had told Naidu internally that there is no election, no selection, no collection. 

Sudhir : What does that mean?

Ramesh : Our seat selection was totally messed up. I had told Naidu 30 to 35 per cent MLA candidates we have to change.

Sudhir : Yes, that was a big mistake the TDP made and in places where you changed the MLA candidate, you gave it to his son or daughter, thereby underlining the anti-incumbency factor even more emphatically.

Ramesh : Yes. For instance, I asked why give ticket to Rayapati Sambasiva Rao from Narasaraopet Lok Sabha constituency. In the last five years, he must have hardly come 5-6 times to Parliament due to ill-health. You needed fresh faces. 

Sudhir : What do you mean by no collection?

Ramesh : You know what that means. We were not able to mobilise funds for elections. 

Sudhir : How is that possible considering you were the party in power?

Ramesh : No. YSRCP got it from so many sources, you know it. 

CM Ramesh while campaigning for TDP in the elections (archive)

Sudhir : How did your family react to your decision. After all, leaving an organisation where you have worked for 30 years is not a small thing. Did they support your decision. Were there people in your inner circle who advised you not to go?

Ramesh : It was a mixed opinion. My family does not interfere in my political work so finally I took the call. They only told me to talk to other people, not to take a decision in haste and take the right call.

Sudhir : You and Chandrababu Naidu are next door neighbours in Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad. Did that make it awkward?

Ramesh : No. I do not know the person who lives in the house to my right or my neighbour who lives in the house facing us. So why should the neighbour on the left make a difference. 

Sudhir : Many believe you joined the BJP in a hurry because of cases? 

Ramesh : For your information, if you show me that I have any case, I will quit politics. Neither directly nor indirectly. There is no FIR, no investigation, only political allegations. The Income Tax searches took place and that assessment is over. Auditors will take care of that. There is some difference of Rs 2-3 crore that they will put to justify their searches. That’s all. 

Sudhir : You said you will be assigned party work after the Parliament session is over? Would it entail getting MLAs to move from the TDP to the BJP, in order to finish off your former party? 

Ramesh : There is a plan but not to finish any party. Any party will look to improve itself, not to finish another party. 

Sudhir : I agree. In any case, to finish a party with close to 40 per cent vote share will be tough. What is then the BJP strategy in Andhra Pradesh?

Ramesh : The BJP strategy is to improve both in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In south India, that is the main focus. Jagan as on today, is neither enemy nor a friend. He has got a good mandate. We will give him some time.

Sudhir : Let us talk about Amaravati and the fact that there are allegations that irregularities were committed. The World Bank loan of $300 million was dropped last week. You think not everything was above board?

Ramesh : The YSR Congress is in power. How much time will it take for them to dig out the truth since they now have access to all records. Let the government probe. 

Sudhir : One of the BJP leaders in charge of Andhra Pradesh, Sunil Deodhar has gone on to say that Naidu will end up in prison. Is that the party view?

Ramesh : All that is political talk. I am not saying it will happen or will not happen. 

Sudhir : Are you in touch with your former TDP colleagues?

Ramesh : Yes, we are definitely in touch. Politics is different, personal relationships are different. 

Sudhir : Do they want to follow your footsteps and move out of the TDP as well?

Ramesh : I have to go and ask them. For them to take a decision, they have to get the confidence that they will be comfortable in the BJP. They will see me, think okay CM Ramesh went to BJP and is happy, he is take care of. That will influence their decision.

Sudhir : Is CM Ramesh happy?

Ramesh : Yes, 100 per cent. 

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