Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu was the convener of the United Front that was formed in 1996 after the Lok Sabha election result had thrown a hung parliament with the BJP emerging as the single largest party with 161 seats and 20.29 percent of the total votes. The vote share of the Congress was higher at 28.80 percent. Naidu had then played an important role in the formation of the post-poll alliance of 13 parties.
But in 1998, the BJP on its own had won 182 seats. However, together with its allies, the alliance was still short of a simple majority by 18 seats. It was then that Chandrababu Naidu opted to go with the BJP and its allies. He had offered issue-based outside support to the alliance led by BJP. While his party did not join the Government, his party MP from Amalapuram constituency, G M C Balayogi was elected as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. His party’s tally of 12 seats was crucial in taking the BJP alliance (the alliance was not officially called National Democratic Alliance then) closer to the magic figure of 272. This was the beginning of the relationship between the TDP and BJP. Chandrababu Naidu’s party performed even better in the 1999 Lok Sabha election and the TDP-BJP alliance in Andhra Pradesh won 36 out of 42 seats. The TDP itself won 29 seats but ensured the transfer of its vote to BJP. The result was that the BJP recorded its best electoral performance in Lok Sabha election in the state by winning 7 out of the 8 seats that it contested.
In return, Chandrababu Naidu who was then developing the infrastructure in the state, especially in and around Hyderabad, and positioning the state capital as an IT hub and a preferred place for investors and businesses, had easy access to the corridors of power in Delhi. All the important projects related to the state of Andhra Pradesh were not only expedited but also financial approvals and other procedural issues concerning red tape were taken care of by the Central Government. This was not a bad deal for Naidu who consolidated his position in the state, in particular his popularity among the urban middle class of the state.
Chandrababu Naidu’s recent statement hinting that if the need arose, his party would not shy away from parting ways with the BJP should be taken seriously by BJP leadership that must ensure that the alliance with the TDP is saved.
It is a fact that presently the BJP on its own is not very strong in Andhra Pradesh and N Chandrababu Naidu enjoys tremendous goodwill among the people, especially after the division of the state by the Congress party in 2014. Whenever the BJP and TDP have contested together they have ensured that the anti-Congress vote does not split and performed well. The recent utterances of certain state leaders such as Vishnu Kumar Raju and Soma Veerraju have discomfited the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister. The restrained statement by Naidu may not set the alarm bells ringing but should caution its leadership in Andhra Pradesh about making needlessly irresponsible statements about its old alliance partner without any provocation.
Andhra Pradesh had played a crucial role in the return of the Congress to power at Centre in 2004 and 2009. Under Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the party also formed the Government in Andhra Pradesh by defeating the TDP. It was a blessing in disguise for parties such as the TDP in Andhra Pradesh that after the death of Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress panicked and could not handle the Telangana agitation and gave in to the demand of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Perhaps, the electoral calculation behind dividing the state was to reap benefits in the new state of Telangana and the remaining state of Andhra Pradesh. However, what followed was a complete backlash in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions (forming the truncated state of Andhra Pradesh) Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in 2014 and the TDP led by N Chandrababu Naidu stormed back to power. The Congress was completely wiped out in Andhra Pradesh and could not perform well even in Telangana.
However, nothing can be taken for granted in politics and re-emergence of the Congress in Andhra Pradesh or Telangana cannot be ruled out, especially at the expense of parties such as TDP and BJP.
Andhra Pradesh has been a stronghold of the Congress party. In the Lok Sabha election in 1977 when the Emergency had been lifted, while most of the states voted against the Congress and for the Bharatiya Lok Dal, Andhra Pradesh voted for the Congress. Out of the 42 seats in the state, Congress had won 41. The only non-Congress candidate to win was Neelam Sanjiva Reddy of Bharatiya Lok Dal. He soon went on to become the President of India that year and in a by-election, the Congress won the Nandyal seat thereby winning all the 42 seats in the state.
So, the leadership of the BJP must be guarded against the possibility of the re-emergence of the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh, especially if the TDP-BJP alliance comes under strain in the state. The statement by N Chandrababu Naidu must be seen as precautionary advice for the alliance by the BJP leadership. For, a weakened alliance in the state would mean a stronger Congress, which could also look for an alliance with Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP. Although, such a possibility looks less likely as of now because Jagan had parted ways from the Congress over differences with its top leadership.
Ever since its formation in 1983 by superstar of the Telugu film industry, N T Rama Rao, the Telugu Desam Party has played the role of an effective opposition to the Congress party in Andhra Pradesh. It would be a sensible strategy for the BJP not to lose an old ally in search of a new one such as the YSRCP. After all, it is an old saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.