Allies in desperation

Its DNA was anti-Congress right from the day the Telugu cine star, the late N T Rama Rao, founded the Telugu Desam Party in 1982. The party retained its antipathy against the Congress even when NTR’s son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu grabbed the control of TDP under some very unsavoury circumstances in 1995. Naidu had another reason to bitterly oppose the Congress Party.

The Congress-led UPA Government carved up Andhra Pradesh after a series of flip-flops and missteps, thus bestowing the mantle of leadership on the leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Chandrashekar Rao, who expectedly went on to win the first Assembly election in the newly-created State and is currently its chief minister.

Meanwhile, Naidu undertook to build a grand new capital for Andhra Pradesh, but thus far seems to have made poor progress in that direction. Increasingly he demanded more and more funds from the Centre for the new capital project, and for the purpose demanded that Andhra be granted special status. Due to the specific direction of the Finance Commission, the Modi Government could not meet the persistent demand of Naidu. Predictably, he left the NDA.

Finding himself isolated nationally and feeling the heat from the opposition YSR Congress Party of Jaganmohan Reddy in the State, Naidu has now shed old rivalries and antipathies and presented himself in the Congress’ durbar in sack cloth and ashes. Of course, the Congress does not have much of an electoral presence in Andhra, especially after it bifurcated the composite State to create Telangana. However, a peace pact with it offers a psychological salve to the TDP which had lacked a sympathetic voice hitherto at the national stage.

As for the Congress, well, it is ready to hold anyone’s extended hand given its poor electoral grip on large parts of the country. Last week, Naidu was in the national capital, meeting various Opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, and declared his intention to work for the creation of the so-called mahagathbandhan. Headlines were made and photographs of Naidu meeting Sharad Pawar, Omar Abdullah and Mulayam Singh Yadav duly appeared in the media. But in concrete term what was achieved remained unclear. It is because outside Andhra and to a lesser extent Telangana, the TDP counts for zilch.

As for the Congress, its support-base in Andhra has practically vanished and in Telangana, it is struggling to offer a meaningful challenge to TRS which, after nearly five years in power, continues to enjoy immense popularity. Probably, both the Congress and the TDP found in each other kindred spirits whose common interest lay in taking on the BJP. Also, suspecting an unwritten understanding between the YSR Congress and the BJP, a vulnerable Naidu was out mustering whatever little support he could ahead of the parliamentary and Assembly elections next year.

However, his self-professed role to midwife the much-vaunted mahagathbandhan might meet the fate of such efforts by other opposition leaders who had undertaken the task. Opposition leaders with national pretensions and big egos are unlikely to be persuaded by a regional leader like Naidu who is hard put to defend his own home turf. But, there is no harm in trying. Unless he is able to get a handle on the affairs of his State, unless he is able to dispel the widespread impression of bungle and neglect in the controversial new capital project, Naidu will carry little weight at the national level.

His first priority should be to retain Andhra in the face of an intense and strong challenge from the YSR Congress. Indeed, how the Congress-TDP alliance does in the Telangana Assembly poll will decide the fate of the newly-crafted alliance between hitherto bitter enemies. Let us face it, the Congress is a marginal player both in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

How successful will be the combine’s attempt to forge a united alliance against the BJP can be gauged from the fact that in the four States going to the polls currently, these efforts have come a cropper, with various regional players fielding their own candidates, thus dividing the Opposition vote. In sum, Naidu lacks the stature to become the catalyst for the so-called mahagathbandhan.

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