The BJP’s Plan A and Plan B for 2024 are being executed simultaneously in the State. While the first priority for the party in the State is to build its ground to emerge as an independent force, the BJP likes to keep alternative allies at an arm’s length for eventual adversity.
Recalling the BJP’s past dependency in the State, senior journalist and political columnist Jinka Nagaraju takes a humorous dig through a political joke in circulation back in the day about Chandrababu Naidu appointing the state BJP president and even ratified the BJP candidates in constituencies he allotted to the saffron party in the elections. Chandrababu Naidu held such a firm grip on the State and played a lot on front foot in the NDA prior to Modi-Shah.
For the longest time BJP played second pedal in Andhra Pradesh. But the approach of the party has changed under Modi-Shah regime after 2014, even more so after massive win in 2019 Parliamentary elections. While the pan-Indian-Modi-flamboyance has also impacted Andhra Pradesh, the party also shifted gears and exhibited enthusiasm to play up front. With TDP reduced to mere 23 MLA seats and 3 MP seats, and party leaders politically hounded by the ruling party in the State, the BJP is trying to fill the vacancy in opposition and build on it for 2024.
The BJP’s approach in Andhra takes another curious turn after party national general secretary Arun Singh issued the order replacing Somu Verraju with Kanna Laksmi Naraya on July 28, 2020.
The root of BJP’s second peddling goes back to the days of emergency and rise in anti-Congress politics in 1980. While it was the Janata Party that brought the anti-congress forces under one umbrella, it lacked the direct participation of Andhra. It was Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao (NTR) and the inception of the TDP in 1982 that altered the course of the politics in Andhra Pradesh, which was still a Congress bastion despite the rise of Janata party elsewhere in the country. NTR not only went on to win the State election and form the first non-Congress government in the State, he also led the non-Congress opposition at the Centre.
While it took another decade for BJP to emerge as the political alternative in the country, the TDP by then had cemented its place in the State. In the subsequent years, Chandrababu Naidu played an important role in coalition politics of the 1990’s. He even played the convener for the 1996-98 United Front government. Backing the Vajpayee led NDA in 1999, Chandrababu succeeded in making the most of central resources for the State. With BJP-TDP bonhomie at its peak, Chandrababu Naidu even convinced Vajpayee and NDA allies in going for election in advance in 2004, which eventually led to the loss of both NDA in the centre and TDP in the State.
Having said that, it is also important to note that even during Vajpayee’s tenure, Chandrababu Naidu was the only NDA Chief Ministers who took an objection to the 2002 Gujarat Riots, opposing Narendra Modi administration and called for Modi’s ousting. It is also true that Modi and Chandrababu Naidu competed to be the best of the Chief Ministers in early 2000s. Coming back to the 2014 campaign, the BJP and TDP were at a mutual need. BJP’s growth in the State over the decade was abysmal and negative, and needed an ally in the State. On the other hand, the TDP was facing the brunt of bifurcation and needed the Centre’s support. While the Modi wave helped TDP in the State, the TDP backed NDA once again at the Centre.
The run up to 2019 election and the fall out:
After the bifurcation, the State’s dependency on the Centre has increased. The budget deficit state looked at the Centre to implement the statutes Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014. After four successive budgets with no credible allocations for the State, the TDP had to withdraw from the NDA. The YSRCP in opposition had succeeded in mounting the narrative pressure on the State government. Chandrababu Naidu went face to face with Modi and sided with Congress in the Centre. With TDP’s origins as the anti-Congress, the narrative quite didn’t sit well in the minds of people.
The priorities of the Modi-Shah BJP differed. The party no longer wanted to play a second fiddle in the States. While the top brass BJP leaders have remained silent, the BJP-TDP fall out started through the local leaders. It was the likes Somu Veerraju (MLC) and P Manikyala Rao who first started criticising Chandrababu Naidu. On most occasions, the Modi-Shah entertained Chandrababu Naidu’s visits, but unlike the Vajpayee government Modi led NDA yielded no allocations for non-BJP ruled States. While the BJP National leadership kept TDP at arm’s length, it also gave a leeway to its local leadership to speak strongly against the TDP. With Chandrababu taking it head on, the fall out was complete. The likes of Kanna Lakshmi Narayana and Kambhampati Haribabu who sensed lesser success for BJP without an ally in the State, have not bothered to contest the elections.
With Jagan Mohan Reddy’s antipathy for Congress, the BJP had an eminent ally in YSRCP and kept its options open.
The 2019 election was only a pit stop for the BJP and the party got back to work as soon as possible. The party strategy is to encourage defections of TDP and Congress top leaders belonging to Reddy, Kamma and Kapu communities, occupy vacant opposition space and vie for power by 2024. With the dearth of opposition in the State, BJP is geared up to fill the void. The BJP is looking at party growth in the neighbouring Telangana and emulates the same in Andhra Pradesh.
While the Telangana BJP managed to win only one MLA position in December 2018 State elections, the party went on to win four MP positions in the May 2019 General Elections, as many as the Congress managed. Within a month after the results, four Rajya Sabha members of the Telugu Desam Party, the main opposition party in Andhra Pradesh, were inducted into the BJP. The likes of Adinarayan Reddy have already joined the BJP. TDP in Andhra Pradesh is now reduced to 23 MLA positions and 3 MP positions. In the 175-member AP Assembly, a party should have at least 18 MLAs to be an Opposition party. If six MLAs leave the TD, it will lose its Opposition status. With two of TDP MLAs resigned already, the TDP is under pressure. Since last June, numerous State BJP leaders have hinted at the TDP legislators joining the BJP.
With elections three years away, the BJP’s approach seems very clear. It has successfully put both leading parties in the State, TDP and YSRCP, at equal distance. On one hand the State BJP president is aggressively attacking the government, on the other the party is trying to strengthen its ground by bringing together less significant political allies and caste groups.
The politics and parties in Andhra Pradesh are grounded on caste based. The TDP is seen as the party of the Kammas, and YSRCP as the party of Reddies. The BJP has lacked the support of any dominant community so far.
Again, Jinka Nagaraju speaking about the BJP of the past observes that:
“The enormous clout Naidu enjoyed had polarised the state BJP into pro-Naidu and anti-Naidu factions. And those who tend to analyse politics in terms of caste would say that the BJP got split into Kamma versus others. The ‘other’ is constituted mostly of coastal Kapus and Rayalaseema Reddys. The presence of former union ministers Daggubati Purandeswari, Kavuri Sambasivarao, both Kammas, did not alter the colour of the faction.
The anti-Kamma faction of the BJP had embarrassed the then chief minister Naidu so much by raising regionally inflammable issues like Rayalaseema and North Andhra that he had to silence them using his influence in the BJP. The group used to allege that BJP had Naidu’s converts among its ranks which was hindering the expansion of the party.
Much to the chagrin of Naidu, the faction consisted of leaders like Somu Veerraju, Akula Satyanarayana, D Purandeswari, Kavuri Sambasivarao, Ankal Reddy and Shanta Reddy among others. They had openly urged the BJP to have a truck with Jaganmohan Reddy.
They revolted against Naidu while the BJP remained an ally of the TDP and a partner of the TDP government. They even held a Rayalaseema Convention at Kurnool which demanded setting up of a second state capital and a High Court in the region.”
While Nagaraju’s observations are come critical of BJP’s past, the same seems to be true for the present also well. The BJP has succeeded in its first move by stitching a working alliance with the Jana Sena party. With Pawan Kalyan on board the BJP ship, the party has won half the battle in consolidating Kapu voting in their favour. BJP has been in talks with the leader of the Kapu movement, Mudragada Padmanabham. The veteran leader has been holding on to his demand for Kapu reservation. With recent criticism from the JSP leaders, Mudragada withdrew himself from the movement. Coming together of Kanna Lakshminarayana, Pawan Kalyan and Mudragada Padmanabam would give BJP the much needed caste base its lacks in the State. This would give the Kapu community the much needed face it has struggled to build over last thirty years, also give the historic opportunity to stand on a level ground with the Kamma community (TDP) and Reddy community (YSRCP).
Through these equations, the BJP aims to spread its wings in the Konaseema and the Godavari belt. Pawan Kalyan enjoys an undisputable presence in the region. BJP also has a past record of winning from Narsapuram, Kakinada and Rajahmundry Parliamentary Constancies. The party has a silent presence in the Raju community in the region. The representation of past and present MPs from the community stand proof to the Claim. Veteran film star and Union Minister from BJP, Krishnam Raju represented the constituency in the past and continues to have a presence in the constituency. Another the Ex BJP MP and BCCI vice-president and Industrialist Gunnam Ganga Raju switched over to the YSRCP. With the YSRCP incumbent MP Kanumuru Raghu Rama Krishna Raju getting in friction with the party, events took an interesting turn and speculation of him joining BJP are on high. The YSRCP has already asked the Lok Sabha speaker to disqualify the MP and the requisition is pending action.
In an interview with a vernacular daily, Y. Satya Kumar, party national secretary of the state came out in strong support of Narsapuram MP K. Raghuram Krishnam Raju against whom the YSR Congress served a show cause notice for his anti-party activities. He ruled out the possibility of the Lok Sabha speaker disqualifying him as Mr Raju did not criticise the party president. He then went on to justify the comments made by Mr Raju and even announced that it was because of the BJP, not Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy, that the rebel MP became chairman of a Parliamentary committee. With three Rajya Sabha MPs, K. Raghuram Krishnam Raju can be the Lok Sabha MP for BJP.
It might still be tough for BJP to gain ground in Rayalaseema and Northern Andhra. With three years to the election, it still seems a good start for BJP. The Bengal and Assam experience hint greater possibilities for the party under Modi-Shah leadership.
The central leadership of the party is projecting itself as the main opposition party in the state. “People of the state wanted the BJP,” said Sunil Deodhar, the BJP’s national secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh. “But they voted to defeat Naidu. Now many leaders are joining us. What brings them to us is that they know they will not be able to win on their own. We will be celebrating the anniversaries of local heroes and freedom fighters, and stress on Telugu asmita (pride)… We are pushing for publicising Central government advertisements in Telugu so that Modi’s policies are known here. I am also learning Telugu” said Deodhar.
The Ex-BJP State President Kanna Lakshmi Narayana has so far written seven letters to the Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy on subjects of Sand Policy, irregularities in capital constrictions, the three capital decisions, purchase of assigned lands, the Polavaram project. CBI enquiry on Agri Gold case, re-establishing the Hindu temples which were removed during Krishna Pushkaralu in Vijayawada and to bring change in the policies regarding the conservation of the temple lands, which were made by the previous government. It was Kanna Lakshmi Narayana’s letter on procurement of 104 and 108 ambulances that weighed heavy on the ruling party and brought light to the first possible scam of the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government.
Kanna Lakshminarayana has shot off a letter to Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan seeking the latter’s intervention in the implementation of 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker section (EWS), announced by the Centre, in AP. In the letter, Kanna claimed that several students in AP from EWS were losing opportunities in admissions to higher and professional education institutions as well as employment because of the non-implementation of the reservation.
As much the ED and CBI cases make Jagan Mohan Reddy vulnerable, the welfare first policy has also put him in odd situations. The Jagan Mohan Reddy administration has exhausted the state resources already and stares at ‘fund rising’ for the implementation of welfare schemes in the future. The BJP state leaders have called the Jagan Mohan Reddy as the ‘Sticker CM’, finding fault with the State government for affixing the photos of YSRC chief on 108 ambulances and 104 mobile medical units (MMUs), criticised the Chief Minister for not using the photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union health minister. The BJP has in the past (and in the present) has accused the non-BJP ruled state governments of not giving the due credit to the Centre for its contribution to the welfare programmes.
While the State BJP has taken an aggressive path for self-growth, the Centre has sent mixed signals to the State government and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. The national leadership of the party seems to be following the ‘safe distance and wait-and-watch’ policy in this regard. While the state unit under Kanna opposed Jagan on capital shifting, G Kishan Reddy, MoS Home, and deputy of Amit Shah chipped in to clarify that the Centre has no role in the location of the capital. The YSRCP government’s resolution to abolish the Legislative Council also lies pending before parliament. On most issues they approached the Centre; it has kept Jagan’s team in waiting so far.
Similarly, as much Amit Shah undermined Chandrababu Naidu for leaving NDA and losing elections, the Modi call to Naidu during early days of COVID19 and the TDP supremo soft response towards Modi in the following months hints at a possible union in the future. The two veterans seemingly like to keep their doors open to each other.
In the present State BJP, the Veerraju lead group is considered to be soft and appreciative of Jagan Mohan Reddy and YSRCP. Mr. Verraju also has been the flagbearer of the antipathy towards Chandrababu Nadiu beginning the fallout with NDA in 2018. While Kanna has not overtly supported Chandrababu or TDP, his staunch opposition to three Capitals and other bills passed by YSRCP has certainly made him closer to TDP in the eyes of political commentators. The move to replace Kanna with Verraju comes as part of the BJP’s policy to keep all players at arm’s length, in this case not to hurt the incumbent government in AP.
Somu Verraju had long been a contender to lead the State party. In fact, Kanna Lakshminarayana’s sudden switch from INC and the theatrics of hospitalisation before he was declared the party president in no time, was a topic of ridicule in the past. The present appointment of Verraju can boost the party strength in the Kapu belt and help bring together the BJP-JSP in godavari districts.
In a nutshell, the BJP’s Plan A and Plan B for 2024 are being executed simultaneously in the State. While the first priority for the party in the State is to build its ground to emerge as an independent force, the BJP likes to keep alternative allies at an arm’s length for eventual adversity.