Naidu 2.0: Can he recre­ate 1996 in 2019 in the Cap­i­tal?

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Nation - vinod sharMa vin­od­sharma@hin­dus­tan­ po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor

NEW DELHI: Nara Chan­drababu Naidu, 68, is a se­ri­ous politi­cian. He is not given to po­lit­i­cal armtwist­ing, knee-jerk re­ac­tions or fits of rage as­so­ci­ated with most re­gional satraps. Proof of his ma­tu­rity lies in the fact that rather than pulling the plug and forc­ing polls, he dis­tanced him­self from the AB Va­j­payee gov­ern­ment af­ter the 2002 Gu­jarat ri­ots. The Tel­ugu De­sam Party (TDP) leader cut his teeth in po­lit­i­cal match-mak­ing dur­ing the 1996-98 United Front (UF) gov­ern­ment.

In those years that saw three short-lived regimes, he worked with VP Singh, HS Sur­jeet, Jy­oti Basu, M Karunanidhi, SR Bom­mai and Lalu Prasad in the mak­ing of two Prime Min­is­ters: HD Deve Gowda and In­der Gu­jral. That was af­ter the end of Va­j­payee’s 13-day stint for want of a ma­jor­ity.

In his sec­ond avatar as a coali­tion builder, Naidu ploughs a lonely fur­row.

The stal­warts with whom he teamed up over two decades ago are ei­ther no more or are in semire­tire­ment. Prasad is in jail; Mu­layam Singh has made way for his son Akhilesh in the Samjwadi Party. Even the Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (DMK) has had a gen­er­a­tional change with MK Stalin suc­ceed­ing the late Karunanidhi.

The wheel, in fact, has turned full cir­cle. Deve Gowda was PM with the out­side sup­port of the Congress, which now shares power with his son and chief min­is­ter HD Ku­maraswamy in Kar­nataka. The na­tional al­liance Naidu seeks to build is an ex­ten­sion of sort of his Te­lan­gana ex­per­i­ment where he has a deal with the party headed by Rahul Gandhi.

Re­gard­less of the poll out­come, the Congress-TDP covenant is sig­nif­i­cant in that it marks a shift away from the party and the man’s anti-Con­gres­sism of yore. Naidu’s test is in mak­ing the paradigm ac­cept­able to play­ers on the anti-Bharat- iya Janata Party (BJP) spec­trum.

The Congress, with which the Andhra chief min­is­ter dealt in the late 1990s, was fall­ing apart un­der Si­taram Kesri, who had an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous ouster when So­nia Gandhi en­tered ac­tive pol­i­tics. That was shortly af­ter the UF dis­in­te­grated and Va­j­payee got his sec­ond shot at power in the Fe­bru­ary 1998 polls.

Naidu didn’t just exit as con­vener of the UF that was formed to keep out the saf­fron party. He swung far right by his stan­dards, join­ing forces with the Va­j­pay­eeled Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA). He gave it the life­line till the 2004 polls which un­ex­pect­edly brought the Congress-headed United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance (UPA) to power.

If his out­side sup­port kept the NDA-I alive, Naidu’s shoul­der to Naren­dra Modi’s wheel in 2013 lent the lat­ter’s cam­paign the cred­i­bil­ity it needed to cap­ture power in Delhi. Their part­ner­ship didn’t last be­cause the Modi dis­pen­sa­tion had lit­tle use for the con­sen­sual ap­proach Naidu shared with Va­j­payee and wanted to with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.

On meet­ing Modi and be­com­ing the first Op­po­si­tion leader to ex­press sup­port for him, Naidu told this writer that his was but a fleet­ing ac­quain­tance with the new BJP mas­cot.

The lack of fa­mil­iar­ity didn’t mat­ter as what guided him was the po­lit­i­cal ne­ces­sity of a TDPBJP pact. The tie-up cracked even­tu­ally for want of con­vivi­al­ity.

What broke the camel’s back was the de­nial of spe­cial sta­tus to bi­fur­cated Andhra. In an­other throw­back to his­tory, Naidu turned it into a fight for “Tel­ugu pride” in the man­ner his late fa­ther-in-law, NT Ra­ma­rao, had against the Congress-con­trolled Cen­tre in the 1980s.

The po­lit­i­cal ter­rain to­day is vastly dif­fer­ent and way more po­lar­ized. The threat to demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions then per­ceived from the Congress un­der Indira Gandhi are ex­actly the same threats many op­po­si­tion lead­ers be­lieve th­ese in­sti­tu­tions face from the BJP un­der Modi.

The big ques­tion is whether Naidu can repli­cate 1996 in 2019 by flaunt­ing the green shoots in Kar­nataka and Te­lan­gana? Or will the void left by de­parted stal­warts who had the heft to join po­lit­i­cal frac­tures be too wide to fill?

What’s re­quired is not a repli­ca­tion of the jerry-rigged UF. The new po­lit­i­cal front won’t be cred­i­ble with­out a strong core that as­sures its longevity. The onus to re­al­ize that is on the Congress and the in­her­i­tors and suc­ces­sors of re­gional play­ers, in­clud­ing Mu­layam Singh and Prasad. The Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party wasn’t part of the UF but will be a nat­u­ral—rather nec­es­sary---com­po­nent of a fresh nonBJP coali­tion.

It was at Mu­layam’s be­hest that Mayawati was left out in the cold. Two decades on, his son is in talks with her for an al­liance that could be a game-changer in Ut­tar Pradesh. Friends or en­e­mies, as they say, aren’t per­ma­nent in pol­i­tics. Proof of that are the bed­fel­lows in Te­lan­gana, Kar­nataka and pos­si­bly UP.


Andhra Pradesh chief min­is­ter N Chan­drababu Naidu and DMK pres­i­dent MK Stalin an­nounced in Chen­nai on Fri­day that they will work to­gether against the BJP.

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