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Chandrababu Naidu Versus Narendra Modi

A furious AP Chief Minister has hit the brakes on protests against the NDA for now, but the alliance is on shaky ground

 The weekend high drama in Andhra Pradesh on the issue of zero allocations in Union Budget 2018 for development of the new State turned into a damp squib on Thursday.

After high voltage developments and brickbats on TV channels, the political storm in AP has subsided, as most experts had indeed expected.

Union Minister YS Chowdhary gave an ultimatum to the Centre to begin the process of implementation of AP Reorganization Act, 2014 benefits to the State within 15 days or else provide a 2-hour discussion in Parliament on the bifurcation benefits to State.

After directing the party MPs to protest in Parliament since Monday, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo and AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu left on Wednesday to Dubai on an investment scouting trip.

Party MPs too toned down the tempo of their protests. But the TDP threw its weight behind the Left-sponsored AP bandh on Thursday, bringing normal life to a grinding halt.

Since Monday TDP MPs, partners of the NDA and political allies of the BJP stomped around the well in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha protesting against ‘injustice to AP’ in the union Budget. Their sloganeering in the House was on par with that of the YSRC (YSR Congress) and Congress parties in the ensuing days before Budget presentation.

TDP MLA from Penamluru Bode Prasad tonsured his head in protest against the NDA. Galla Jayadev (scion of Amaraja group) and TDP MP said – “This is the last union Budget and if there is no justice to AP, it means the NDA is blind to our demands.” Another MP N Siva Prasad in the garb of Narada staged a protest and said self-respect of the Telugus was once again in peril. The eccentric JC Diwakar Reddy, TDP MP from Anantapur asked what the point was in continuing in the alliance if there was no benefit in being an NDA ally.

The Andhra Intellectuals’ Forum led by Chalasani Srinivas, dormant since 2014, demanded all MPs to collectively agitate and resign if needed. “The current issue is as good as fighting against bifurcation,” he told MPs in a public appeal on Friday.

When BJP leaders from AP led by Visakhapatnam MP Haribabu met Union Minister Nitin Gadkari for State funds in Parliament central hall on Wednesday, the union minister said that TDP leaders were making a mountain of a molehill. “We have been telling them of the position on special status for the last 4 years. They agree then, but suddenly TDP is raising demand for Special status as the opposition campaign is gaining ground politically. This is not correct,” said Gadkari.

MP Jay Galla has also tweeted that it was now or never, providing a link to his speech in Parliament.

He also tweeted – “The people of AP demand an explanation from FM and PM. Our Chief Minister visited Delhi 29 times and submitted report after report. It’s shameful for the NDA government to ignore them. Centre’s grants are lower than the Bahubali collections,” he wrote.

More vexed was TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu, who burnt the midnight oil with party politburo members and cabinet colleagues on Friday and Saturday on how to challenge the party members and vented his own angst against Centre and Modi government.

He was sour that TDP and AP and most of all he, was not taken seriously by the Centre even with 15 Lok Sabha and 3 Rajya Sabha members. Hardly a week before the Budget he had sought a special audience with the PM and explained the demands of the State in view of AP reorganisation and assurances given in lieu of Special Status. “They have fooled me with assurances,” Naidu told party men and asked them to put up a big show from Monday onwards.

TDP sources said Naidu refused to take calls from Union ministers on Saturday and Sunday. At least five union ministers kept calling him and he finally received the call of Modi’s No 2 man, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, appealing to the TDP to not cause disturbance during PM Modi’s address which would be in favour of TDP. Little did Naidu or the TDP know that Modi would use TDP once again to criticise the Congress party.

Aftermath Of Union Budget

Both Telugu speaking States were furious with the Centre after the Union Budget 2018 gave them blank cards without any special grants for flagship projects such as Polavaram and Amaravati for AP.

Andhra Pradesh had submitted a wish list for Rs 56,000 crore of which only Rs 650 crore had reflected in the Budget. Snubbing all the demands put forth by the State, the Centre allocated Rs 108 crore for the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, Rs 32 crore for the Petroleum University, Rs 10 crore for a Central University, Rs 10 crore for a Tribal University, Rs 54 crore for NIT and Rs 50 crore for IIT Tirupati amongst other allocations.

AP had put up a demand for a separate railway zone, Duggirajapatnam port, educational institutions and funding for Polavaram and Amaravati. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s special mention that a special package was envisaged for AP in lieu of Special Status did not pacify the TDP chief or party MPs.

“Jaitley seems to have completely forgotten about existence of State of AP while presenting the Budget,” State Agriculture Minister Somireddy Chandramohan Reddy said.

According to Union Finance Ministry, Special Status is given by Niti Aayog to States whose annual income or revenue is less than 20% and is provided funds as grants of 90% for all projects. In lieu of a special package to AP the Centre was giving 60% grant and in EAPs (Externally Aided Projects) Centre provided for 90% grants as a special case. “Even Manmohan Singh would not have bettered our package,” Venkaiah Naidu had told Chandrababu Naidu some time ago, according to TDP sources.

Aftermath Of Political Drama

After the Union Minister Anant Kumar’s response to TDP leader and union minister YS Chowdhary the storm appears to have passed, for now. BJP leaders heaved a sigh of relief that TDP and Naidu were not pulling out of the NDA, at least for now. Not that Naidu’s exit would have mattered much to Modi government, but BJP strategists said it would have hurt the BJP’s image.

“Modi wanted to set an example that unlike his predecessor Atal Vajpayee regime, his rule was smoothest,” says BJP spokesperson at Hyderabad, Krishna Sagar Rao.

The reason for Naidu lumping his fury though has a more practical bent. Walking out of the NDA and snapping the alliance is politically unwise for Naidu. Amaravati construction would take longer and since it is declared as an externally aided project by the Centre which facilitated the World Bank loan, his pet project would take a hit. Polavaram project needs another Rs 58,000 crores over and above the Rs 12, 000 crore already spent.

TDP, however, is known for its touch-me-not political approach with BJP and it is likely to walk away, the moment the NDA is doused with communal colour in the Ayodhya case. Naidu was the first CM to demand Modi’s resignation as Gujarat CM after the Godhra incident. Political activist and columnist of Vijayawada Pasam Jagannadh Naidu said – “Chandrababu is not a friend of BJP but only a political ally and as such he would put his personal future (his son Lokesh) more than TDP or BJP’s.”

On Sunday, Chandrababu Naidu wanted national publicity for AP over the Union Budget and asked his media consultants in social media and print and electronic media to whip up a strong campaign – TV debates and attack on the Centre through Telugu media. “Why is the NDA nonchalant towards the needs and demands of five crore people of AP and persistent requests for last 4 years? Our MPs should stall even the PM’s speech on Wednesday, if needed they should continue the protests for last two days of this session,” Naidu had said in party meetings.

Both Chandrababu and TDP are aware of the fact that dealing with Modi and BJP is tougher than dealing with Atal Behari Vajpayee who was a Statesman and deeply dependent at the time on the 35-member TDP MPs. Thanks to that clout, Naidu got National Games, IT corridors projects and also tons of rice for the Food for Work program.

But PM Modi is more a businessman than a politician and it does not appear likely that he will go out of his way to please Naidu. “Naidu is very ambitious and might change sides if  he sees it fit to snap BJP alliance and go alone in AP and also rope in Left parties as allies,” said BJP leader Kanna Lakshminarayana.

But AP financial advisor Koteswar Rao who has been deputed to Delhi on Monday to appraise the State’s financial situation and seek more funds says that the Centre had promised to help AP in meeting the revenue deficit of over Rs16,000 crore in a phased manner. “For all other demands, AP has been advised to approach Niti Aayog in the proper format,” he said.

What is now clear is that the Centre may not be in a position to give much more for AP in view of the similar demands from other States for funds and grants. So Modi seems to be applying the methodology of his mentor Vajpayee – wait and see. Having waited four years without much luck, will Chandrababu Naidu wait for a few more months?

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