TDP's calculations

Print edition : April 11, 1998

BY deciding to give a quick burial to his policy of equidistance from the BJP and the Congress(I), Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu might have won some new friends in New Delhi but he has lost many old friends in Andhra Pradesh. Among his alienated allies are the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, which had stood with the Telugu Desam Party since 1984. They now say that the TDP's anti-Congress(I) record is not unblemished because it had facilitated the election of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao from the Nandyal parliamentary constituency in 1991 by not fielding a TDP candidate.

Recent political developments have put a big question mark over the TDP's trustworthiness as an ally although Chandrababu Naidu says that he has strong political compulsions for extending support to the BJP. He says that anti-Congressism is the raison d'etre of the TDP and if the BJP Government had collapsed, the Congress(I) would have come to power "through the back door".

Chandrababu Naidu's reasoning met with immediate resistance even from within the TDP. "These are your political problems with which the minorities are not concerned," fumed Basheeruddin Babu Khan before resigning in protest from the Chandrababu Naidu Cabinet. He was the only Muslim Minister in the Cabinet. Describing the TDP's decision as a "betrayal of the minorities", he said that Muslims reposed their faith in the TDP in the 1994 Assembly elections and again in the parliamentary elections in 1996 and 1998. (The Muslim clergy had given a call to support the TDP in these elections.) The resignation of Babu Khan rocked the Assembly for two days.

Although he was taken aback by Babu Khan's actions, the Chief Minister did not agree with the perception that the entire Muslim community supported him in the Lok Sabha elections. Had they done so, the TDP would not have lost the Guntur Lok Sabha seat where party general secretary Lal Jan Basha was the nominee. Basha polled 30,000 votes in the Guntur-I Assembly segment where the minorities account for 60,000 votes.

Where does Chandrababu Naidu go from here? He has ruled out the possibility of the TDP joining the Vajpayee Government. But, there is no doubt that he would be soft towards the Sangh Parivar. According to him, the BJP, with just about 180 seats in Parliament, is totally dependent on its allies and thus cannot push through its communal agenda. His argument is that the BJP's secular allies such as the Lok Shakti led by Ramakrishna Hegde and the Trinamul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee, which cannot afford to alienate Muslims, will forestall any attempt to backtrack on the National Agenda.

Chandrababu Naidu has set his sights on the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh which are 20 months away. "With the Assembly elections so close, it would have been suicidal for me to have backed a Congress(I) Government at the Centre," he said.

The TDP leader is buoyed by a survey predicting a decisive victory for the TDP if the Assembly elections are held now. This, according to the survey, is because the factors that influenced the outcome of the parliamentary elections, such as the stability plank of the BJP or the image of Atal Behari Vajpayee, are no longer relevant. He prides himself on having weathered the anti-incumbency factor.

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