Monday, July 22, 2024

Chandrababu Naidu at Delhi’s centre-stage


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By Kingshuk Nag

Swings in fortune have seen him in and out of power over the last four decades. From getting close to the prime minister’s post to slipping to the sidelines of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu has returned now in his most powerful avatar yet. He holds the key to the survival of Modi 3.0. Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party swept the polls with 16 out of 25 MPs and simultaneous assembly elections with 135 out of 175 MLAs. This resounding victory and his new role in supporting the NDA has made him the focus of the country’s attention with speculation about what Naidu wants in return and what he will do next. His key role in shaping and supporting the governments of HD Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has given Naidu a sound track record in helping build coalition governments.
Chandrababu Naidu has supped with both sides. He has been with the BJP; he has been with the party’s opponents. He has glued together uncertain coalitions while keeping a firm hold on his home State, helming it thrice.
To understand the man of the moment, and a history of switching sides, one must go back to his early days. As a young MLA from the districts, in the early 1980s Chandrababu Naidu used to share a room in the hostel set up in Hyderabad for legislators. His room-mate was Y S Rajasekhara Reddy who like Naidu later became the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. A photo of leading film star Jaya Prada used to hang on the wall of their room. At that time Reddy and Naidu were friends but later they became political foes. In this election Naidu beat Jagan Mohan Reddy (son of the now deceased Rajasekhara Reddy) to come to power. Incidentally, when they shared a room in the MLA hostel, Naidu was an ardent Congressman but switched sides later as he joined the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The TDP was founded by Telugu cine star N T Rama Rao (NTR) who was seeking to create waves in politics. With his inimitable style NTR convinced the electorate that the Congress party in Delhi was treating Andhra Pradesh like a feudal outpost and his party was an alternative to this raj.
Meanwhile NTR was also looking for a suitable groom for his daughter Bhuvaneshwari and zeroed in on Chandrababu who came from a modest rural background but was seen to be very bright. At the time when the alliance was fixed in 1981 Naidu was still a Congressman and in fact a minister in the Congress ruled State government. After NTR romped home and became the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 1983, Naidu left the Congress and joined hands with NTR’s TDP. The fact that he lost the assembly election may have also prompted the switch over. Naidu had been with the grand old party since 1975 and was seen as a camp follower of Sanjay Gandhi.
For his first decade with the TDP, Naidu was with the organisation building the party but had no ministerial position. However, he had tremendous power within the party and this was recognised. Then in 1990, the TDP lost power in the State to the Congress party. Around that time NTR, a widower, remarried. His new bride much younger to him soon began wielding tremendous influence in the party. This was not taken too kindly by NTR’s children and certainly not by his son-in-law Naidu.
In 1995, Naidu launched a coup to oust NTR in a leading hotel where he collected TDP MLAs. Most MLAs sided with Naidu so NTR was deposed and his son-in-law took control of the TDP and soon the government. As the new chief minister Chandrababu Naidu allied with the BJP at the Centre and when the NDA formed the government he became a favourite of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee used to reportedly often consult Naidu.
When he came to power, Hyderabad was a backward city with dusty roads, Naidu had his own vision of development. Taking a cue from neighbouring Bangalore, Naidu began promoting hi tech industries and software skills in Hyderabad. He established Cyberabad and to express his seriousness travelled to Seattle and waited outside the office of Bill Gates of Microsoft for an hour to get an audience with him. Soon Microsoft set up a development centre in Hyderabad. This was followed by other companies and soon Hyderabad was seen as a hi-tech city. The real estate business got a boost and many institutions came up. The entire image of Hyderabad changed and even municipal services got upgraded sprucing the city.
But all this did not help win the elections and in 2004 Naidu’s party was ousted from power. So was the Vajpayee government which reportedly advanced the elections on Naidu’s advice. Naidu had been apprehensive about the 2002 Gujarat riots and its effects.
After 2004, chastened by the Telangana movement that led to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and creation of the new state of Telangana, a powerless Naidu now found himself in the new state of Andhra Pradesh which did not have Hyderabad (that went to Telangana). Naidu was elected to power in the new State which did not have a capital- so he decided to create Amaravati, a green field capital on the banks of the river Krishna. The name was taken from an ancient city in the neighbourhood that did not exist anymore but the new capital came up on what was farm land. Naidu had a grand plan: in his first term he had got investments from the west: US and Europe. In the second term he wanted to build his new State with investments from the East: Japan, Singapore, etc. The ancient Amaravati was a Buddhist centre. So, with a name like this for the capital, he would get investments from Buddhist countries in the East, Naidu averred.
But in the 2019 elections Naidu lost and was out of power. Before that in 2018 he had exited an old alliance with BJP. He apparently wanted a special status for Andhra from the union government that would bring more funds. But this was not forthcoming. In the 2019 elections Jagan Reddy won Andhra Pradesh and the BJP won the Centre. Jagan Reddy wanted to shift the capital to Vishakhapatnam, a port city, causing a lot of discomfiture. He increased the number of districts in Andhra and was free with handouts straining the finances of the State. This time, Andhra has switched back to its pragmatic development icon Naidu who now holds a job he has long mastered: building the State and maintaining his position in Delhi at the epicentre of a new ruling coalition.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author based in Hyderabad) (Syndicate: The Billion Press) (email:[email protected])



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