TDP changes tack

Print edition : April 04, 1998

THE Telugu Desam Party, which had claimed that it would remain equidistant from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I), sprang a surprise on March 23, the day the 12th Lok Sabha was convened, by putting up a candidate for the post of Lok Sabha Speaker with the BJP's support. The TDP's G.M.C. Balayogi, elected to the Lok Sabha for the second time, was adopted as its candidate by the BJP-led alliance after TDP leader N. Chandrababu Naidu resigned as convener of the United Front and pulled his party out of the U.F. in protest against what he described as the Front's unilateral decision to support the Congress(I)'s candidate for speakership.

Chandrababu Naidu's decision to remain 'neutral' when the A.B. Vajpayee Government would seek a vote of confidence had been interpreted as a strategy to ensure the TDP's political survival in Andhra Pradesh. However, the drama that unfolded on the morning of March 23 revealed that the 'neutrality' had other purposes as well. And his latest decision has given the BJP a shot in the arm. The ruling coalition claims the support of 264 members in the House with an effective strength of 539, and the TDP group has 12 members.

Although Chandrababu Naidu blamed the convening of a meeting of the United Front Core Committee on March 22 without informing him for the break-up, the arrangement with the BJP appeared to have been worked out on that day. The BJP proposed the name of Balayogi, who reached New Delhi from Hyderabad minutes before nominations closed. The TDP had provided another candidate in case Balayogi failed to reach on time.

Chandrababu Naidu, who had maintained that he would never align with the BJP either directly or indirectly, said that the Front's "insult" had made it difficult for the TDP to continue the relationship with it. Moreover, his U.F. partners were "over-enthusiastically trying to prop up Congress(I) interests" much against the Front's stated policies, he alleged.

The TDP with 16 MPs, had an important place in the United Front regime. Although the TDP's parliamentary strength has been reduced, the Vajpayee Government's future hinged on its stand. Even if the TDP's 12 MPs abstain from voting when Vajpayee moves the confidence motion, the BJP-led government will scrape through.

Chandrababu Naidu's stand vis-a-vis the vote of confidence had invited criticism earlier from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It was announced that a meeting of the United Front constituents, convened at the residence of CPI(M) general secretary H.S. Surjeet, had decided "in principle" to expel him from the Front. Subsequently, however, leaders such as M. Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Ram Vilas Paswan of the Janata Dal and P.K. Mahanta of the Asom Gana Parishad, distanced themselves from the decision stating that as the meeting was not convened by Chandrababu Naidu, the convener, the decision had no validity.

Chandrababu Naidu angered other United Front leaders by his unwavering stand, but, as he consistently maintained, his political interests were firmly rooted in Andhra Pradesh and his support to a Congress(I) Government at the Centre would only have led to the crumbling of the anti-Congress(I) plank on which the TDP had been fighting and winning elections since 1983.

Notwithstanding the not-so-friendly statements issued by Left leaders, the TDP stood by its commitment to allot one Rajya Sabha seat to the CPI. However, it appears now that the political equations are in for some change.

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