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The Honeymoon Ends

The Telugu Desam Party and the BJP break ties which were uneasy to begin with

The four-year alliance of Andhra Pradesh’s ruling party, the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) and the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) ended on a bitter note with the TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu calling the non-granting of special status to AP a “betrayal”. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley dubbed the renewed agitation of AP for special status as a “game of political sentiment which has no room in Constitutional revenue sharing”.

Even as details of Jaitley’s comments at a press meet late on Wednesday were relayed to TDP leaders at Amaravati in AP, Chandrababu Naidu frantically tried to contact the PMO for clarifications which were not forthcoming. Jaitley stuck to his ground – no special status for AP, but all relevant incentives, except the rollback of industrial sops, would be given to the state.

The tone and tenor of Jaitley’s statements irked Naidu who wanted a direct talk with PM Narendra Modi before his final decision to snap ties. Naidu’s office says they left over a dozen messages at the PMO. No word arrived in response. The PM, being in a cabinet meeting, was not available at all. In a late night tweet, a smarting Naidu said, “I tried reaching out to the Prime Minister to inform him about our decision. But sadly, he was unavailable.”

At 10:30 pm, Naidu finally decided to address the media at the Secretariat and announce the withdrawal of two TDP ministers from the Union Cabinet – Ashok Gajapathi Raju (Civil Aviation) and YS Chowdhary (Science and Technology). He could not get through to either of his colleagues immediately as they were both in the same meeting with the PM.

On March 08, however, Naidu managed to speak with the Prime Minister over phone and informed him of his decision, following which the TDP Union Ministers tendered their resignations.

Jaitley Triggers TDP’s Panic Response

During his 2 hour 20 minute speech in the AP Assembly, Chandrababu Naidu took on a humble tone, narrating how he struggled to put forth the needs of state development above his personal pride and dignity. “I went there 29 times, have sent nearly 62 memorandums and made five powerpoint presentations at Niti Aayog. Every time I only asked the Centre to honour its commitment as per the AP Reorganization Act, 2014,” he said.

In his retort to Naidu, Jaitley said that the BJP had agreed to give all concessions under Special Status to AP except for the special industrial concessions – this was because, he said, under the GST regime such concessions were denied to even states that had special status. “For Naidu’s sake, we even agreed to an assistance package of 90:10 ratio under the NABARD route instead of EAP. We asked him to set up SPVs (special purpose vehicles) so that the grants would not figure in financial deficit and affect the FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Rules) of AP. But for reasons known only to Naidu, he is not satisfied,” he said in Delhi.

Naidu said he felt insulted and humiliated when he learned of a circular issued for special status to 11 states a few months ago and the same was denied to AP. “I was told that there would be no special status once the GST regime rolled out. Now I find that special status continued for those states and AP alone was singled out for denial,” Naidu told the Assembly. While TDP ministers have tendered their resignations and the BJP ministers in Naidu’s cabinet too have resigned, withdrawal from the NDA was not clearly stated by the TDP chief.

TDP Pull-Out Of NDA Final

Since the Union Budget 2018, an already prickly alliance began to show gaping holes. The Polavaram project, sharing of Krishna water, Visakhapatnam Railway Zone were some of the issues agreed to during the alliance talks ahead of 2014, by M Venkaiah Naidu, now elevated as Vice President of India.

Chandrababu Naidu’s performance in the Assembly as a hurt leader was aimed at voters in Andhra Pradesh – the message he sent out was if not for the BJP, he would have achieved all that he had promised by now. Naidu even quoted Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s commitment that he would sign the AP special status file when his party came to power in 2019. “When Rahul Gandhi says it is possible why is BJP denying it to AP?” he asked.

Political commentator K Srinivasa Rao says, “Naidu speech was full of half-truths and reeked of political opportunism.”

Naidu And Modi

TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi perhaps shared an old grouse which kept them apart more often during their meetings.

Way back in 2002, after the Godhra incident in Gujarat, Chandrababu Naidu was the first CM of the then NDA to demand the scalp of Modi. “Dismiss Modi government in Gujarat,” he had asked AB Vajpayee. Modi does not seem to have forgotten that.

Naidu considered himself as a member of the Vajpayee club and members of the Modi clique were just cubs before him.

Although the Naidu government will have a tough time in continuing infrastructure projects after snapping ties with the NDA, the Chief Minister is confident that he would get foreign investors and raise funds through other routes.

At present, the BJP does not need the TDP. The TDP has 16 members in the Lok Sabha and another 4 in the Rajya Sabha, as against 274 members of the BJP. BJP leaders say that the exit of the TDP does not affect the Modi government. “Now the development activities will be delayed, for which Naidu is to blame,” said K Haribabu, BJP state president in AP.

Another BJP leader, Somu Veer Raju, who had attacked the TDP and Naidu over the past few months said, “In 1999, after getting all benefits, Naidu had kicked the Vajpayee government and he is doing the same now.”

“Why blame Naidu, he has done what everybody else – including the BJP – is doing elsewhere in the country. After all, politics is a ball game of opportunities and exploitation, is it not?” asked TDP MP and Anantapur strongman JC Diwakar Reddy.

Besides the TDP, NDA partners Shiv Sena and the BLD are also flexing muscle at the BJP.

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