The strong protests by BJP ally and NDA constituent Telugu Desam for ‘betraying the people of Andhra Pradesh’ in the Union budget and the subsequent slogan-shouting in Parliament during the prime minister’s reply to the debate on the president’s address cannot be mere posturing by a normally-reticent ally. Evidently, though the TDP pulled itself back from the brink, there is a groundswell of resentment in the party’s cadres at a time when the elections to the Assembly are 18 months away and the Lok Sabha electoral battle is barely 15 months away. Going by present indications, the two could be clubbed together. The first threat to break the alliance with the BJP came from party supremo Chandrababu Naidu. Then came a meeting of the party executive at which the general tone was against the BJP. With BJP leaders holding out quiet assurances that a special package was in the pipeline, the problem has been seemingly defused, but that it could re-surface is well on the cards. The alliance rupture between the Shiv Sena and the BJP has clearly emboldened the TDP.
On the face of it, the BJP has more to lose from a rupture than the TDP since the BJP vote share in the State was a mere two per cent in 2014. But the TDP fear is that if the BJP were to tie up with Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress, together they could make a bid for power in the State. Jagan Mohan is a power to reckon with, with substantial following and seeing an undercurrent of tension between the TDP and the BJP he had held out an olive branch to the latter which made the former see red. The Congress, which was once a formidable force in Andhra, is nowhere in the picture now, having been decimated over the years after the death in a plane crash of Y Rajasekhar Reddy, Jagan Mohan’s father, who ruled the State with an enviable hold. With the lacklustre performance of Chandrababu Naidu in his current spell, the people are looking up to Jagan Mohan, whose glaring black mark is the amassing of huge assets when his father was in the saddle. The BJP would be hard put to explain an alliance with such a corruption-tainted leader.
With elections approaching, Chandrababu Naidu and his party are looking for alibis to explain away the lack of development and the slow pace of work on the project of a new capital at Amravati and what better way than to blame the Centre for not giving adequate funds to bankroll the rollout of the new capital. The Polavaram irrigation project is another bone of contention. The mega project being constructed across the Godavari in West Godavari district is a national project, included in the AP Bifurcation Act, 2014, the cost of which is slated to be borne by the Union Government as per the Act. The cost of power component has to be borne by the State Government alone, as it is a multi-purpose project. There is tension between the Centre and Andhra Pradesh over the project. According to the chief minister, already Rs 12,000 crore has been spent on the project and at least Rs 42,000 crore more would be required to complete it. A large part of the total cost will have to be spent on the relief and rehabilitation package for the displaced persons, most of them Girijans. Chandrababu was hoping to cash in on the project in the 2019 general elections but with the tardy pace of work, that is ruled out.
The special package that Andhra is seeking too is easier said than done. The Centre knows only too well that any such special treatment would lead to similar demands from some other states. Yet, there is a modicum of justification in the sense that the carving out of Telangana state from Andhra has cost the latter dearly. In all fairness, Andhra needs to be compensated adequately for the loss of huge land area to Telangana including the city of Hyderabad. Considering that YSR Congress has also made it clear that it is prepared to tie up with BJP only if the Centre announces a special package for Andhra, it is truly a Hobson’s choice for the Centre. The BJP knows only too well that it cannot go to polls on its own because it has a miniscule vote share. Andhra has a substantial number of seats in the Lok Sabha — 42 — so any party aspiring to return to power at the Centre has to have the prop of a regional party. Part of the BJP dilemma also stems from its performance in Telangana when it is in alliance with the TDP. Sooner than later, however, BJP will need to take a call that best serves its interest. It is really a toss-up between the TDP and the YSR Congress for alliance with the BJP for 2019.