TDP’s limited options

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, parties and politicians are prone to re-position themselves. So, expect the political mobility to gather steam further in the coming weeks and months. But the public recriminations between the BJP and the Telugu Desam Party are owing to something different. TDP boss and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is desperate for additional funds to build his dream new capital, Amaravati, for the bifurcated Andhra. Before the parliamentary and State Assembly elections, he needs to showcase the project for the voters. But the paucity of funds is a huge problem. The Centre too has its hands tied.

A weak and doddering UPA government conceded the demand for Telangana in utter confusion and pressure in 2013, seeking to assuage the hived-off Andhra with the promise of a special status which entitles it to additional funds. Since then, the 14th Finance Commission Report has limited the grant of special status only to the States in the North-East and to the hilly States. In other words, the assurance given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has become constitutionally untenable. Yet, the Centre has accommodated Andhra as far as possible, releasing extra funds to meet its special needs for creating a new infrastructure and a brand new capital. But this is obviously inadequate to implement the capital project which is of an extraordinarily grand scale.

The State wants Rs 33,000 crore for Amravati. There are other projects where the Andhra demand runs into tens of thousands of crores. The centre provides 60 percent of the funds for central schemes to the States, but once a State is granted special status it is entitled to get as much as 90 percent. Hence, the TDP pressure tactics. Naidu has said that he met central ministers 29 times in the last four years, pressing for special status, but the Centre refused to act. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley explained at length why the demand for special status could not be met. He also disclosed that extra funds were indeed released, though these may not have met the expectations of Andhra. Also, after the Finance Commission award the States’ share in the national kitty had been raised from the earlier 32 percent to 42 percent. It is money driving a wedge between the hitherto old and firm BJP-TDP alliance.

Meanwhile, the tit for tat resignations by TDP ministers from the Modi Government and the BJP ministers from the Naidu Government will not make a difference to the stability of either government. Both enjoy comfortable majority. However, the rupture opens the way for the anti-BJP parties to try and fish in troubled waters. Already, Rahul Gandhi has made cooing noises, promising special status for Andhra should the Congress come to power. For the first time, Naidu might soften towards the Congress since all along the latter was its main challenger in the united Andhra. After the grant of Telangana against the wishes of the people of what is now Andhra, the Congress is a minor presence in the State, with the main opposition coming from Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. In other words, doing business with Congress no longer poses a problem for Naidu.

But the TDP boss is a skilful politician. He is unlikely to provide Rahul a crutch in Andhra, when in return there is little that he can gain himself. Naidu’s hands might have been forced by the incessant pressure from the YSR Congress which has organised public protests against the Centre’s denial of a special status to Andhra. Notably, the TDP has so far quit the NDA Ministry, not the NDA. Of course, nothing is impossible in politics, but it is unlikely that Naidu will make a clean break with the BJP — and then allow the waiting Jaganmohan Reddy to walk into the NDA camp. With the Congress, a minor player both in Telangana and Andhra, Naidu’s brinkmanship has its limits. With 16 members in the Lok Sabha and four in the Rajya Sabha, the TDP can embarrass the NDA Government but not pull it down even if it were to join hands with the Opposition. Hopefully, the resignations and threats will persuade both sides to locate some common ground. Printing more money for it to be given to Andhra is not an option.

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