Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s act of threatening the Bharatiya Janata Party around the time of the Budget only to beat a hasty retreat reminds one of his counterparts in Bihar and West Bengal who have been harking after a ‘special package’ for their respective States for donkey’s years — never to be taken seriously by any Union government. This is not mocking at the poor State of Nitish Kumar, the struggling State of Mamata Banerjee or the fledgeling, truncated State of Naidu. The track record of such powerful regional leaders suggests, however, that their incessant demand for this financial bonanza reaches a crescendo only when it suffices as a coercive tactic. In the case of the Telugudesam Party, the issue of ‘misbehaviour’ by local BJP leaders was added as an excuse, much as such alleged conduct by the accused hardly made news. A fact about the BJP’s prospects in southern India is rarely discussed. Much before the BJP’s electoral debut in Karnataka, both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its political front had established a strong base in Andhra Pradesh. Lack of self-confidence and poor strategy led the saffron organisation to taking the backseat and letting ally TDP strengthen its roots after the death of NT Rama Rao. The lost opportunity can make the local leaders of the BJP grow restless at times, yet never to the point of openly challenging Naidu. The alibi unravelled soon as the TDP asked its MPs to “disrupt” Parliament to press for the package. No seasoned political party would normally choose a word such as this for a publicly made statement. Recalling Naidu’s desertion of the National Democratic Alliance following the defeat of the coalition in 2004 elections, it is compelling to draw a parallel after the less-than-impressive show of the party ruling at the Centre in the recent Gujarat elections and the debacle in a by-election of Rajasthan. The talks with possible challengers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for 2019 at this stage would still be premature. Hence this quick patch up.
Geographically, economically and ideologically, Naidu’s strategy is ironical whereas Kumar’s or Banerjee’s is not. Kumar is a dyed-in-the-wool socialist on the one hand and fastidiously sensitive about possible charges of corruption against him on the other. The double whammy leaves him woefully short of ideas to make Bihar progress. Banerjee inherited an economy on the verge of bankruptcy from the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government and a terrible work culture of the people brought up on the credo of all protest and no work. The situation for both the States was made worse by a large-scale emigration of the meritorious. While the Telugu-speaking people are enamoured with the West, their movement within the country in search of employment is quite restricted. What’s important, they never lost the hope of building a future at home, which Bengalis and Biharis living in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and other greener pastures of the country did. Finally, given that Naidu is market-friendly, raising money for the naturally bestowed land of Andhra Pradesh should not be an uphill task. If Hyderabad, the capital of the formerly undivided State, is lost, Amaravati is a huge opportunity. The feedback about the proposed capital, at the stage of construction at the moment, is quite positive, which should make it an attractive private investment destination. Add to that a long enough coastline worthy of commercial exploitation including for international trade. As a cherry on the cake, the law-and-order situation in Andhra Pradesh is better than that in Bihar and West Bengal. What does Naidu still need a package for?
Seeing April 2019 from here, it also seems unlikely that a national opposition alliance can be built without the leadership of the Indian National Congress in the United Progressive Alliance although Rahul Gandhi’s party will be humiliated at every step of the process as his regional allies will offer the oldest party a pathetically low share of seats to contest — even if the INC wrests Rajasthan from Vasundhara Raje. Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh elections will witness tough fights with little advantage of anti-incumbency to the INC. Then, the State-wise strength of Banerjee, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Uttar Pradesh’s bigwigs Akhilesh Yadav or Mayawati notwithstanding, none will agree to the national leadership of any one of them. The communists remain formidable in Kerala alone while in Bengal they have reduced to irrelevance. If the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam remains a mess, the BJP will tie up with the DMK in Tamil Nadu. Now that Naidu sees the Third Front as untenable, Andhra Pradesh’s ‘special package’ can wait — once again ad infinitum. Even as the Centre releases funds generously for Andhra Pradesh without calling it a package, it does not behove a capitalist Naidu seeking capital like a socialist.