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Election 2024

Chandrababu Naidu: Return of the King Maker

After nearly 28 years and several ups and downs in his political career that saw him flirting with both the BJP and Congress, Naidu has once again emerged as the flavour of the season; a king maker set to shape the destiny of the NDA 3.0.

News Arena Network - New Delhi - UPDATED: June 6, 2024, 07:12 AM - 9 mins read

PM Modi and Chandrababu Naidu at the NDA meet.

Chandrababu Naidu: Return of the King Maker

PM Modi and Chandrababu Naidu at the NDA meet.


Basking in the national limelight as a king maker of the United Front coalition government in 1996, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, then the Chief Minister of combined Andhra Pradesh, had famously said that he was offered the Prime Minister’s post but he declined it. 

 

The reason he cited then was that serving his home state remained his top priority.

 

After nearly 28 years and several ups and downs in his political career that saw him flirting with both the BJP and Congress, Naidu has once again emerged as the flavour of the season; a king maker set to shape the destiny of the NDA 3.0.

 

All eyes are riveted on Naidu’s next political moves as his Telugu Desam Party has emerged as the largest ally of the NDA with 16 Lok Sabha seats and holds key to the stability and longevity of the BJP-led coalition government.

 

There is an expectation in political circles that the presence of Naidu, an astute strategist, and a pragmatic politician, would have a sobering effect on the functioning of the coalition government and, more importantly, force Prime Minister Narendra Modi to shed his autocratic streak and adopt a more accommodative and consensual approach.

 

The question that is uppermost in the minds of the political observers is whether Naidu (74), a three-time Chief Minister, will move to the Centre if the post of Deputy Prime Minister comes his way. 

 

His supporters argue that such a role, in the given coalition dynamics, would pitchfork Naidu into playing a transformative role in not only shaping the policies of the central government but also help in clipping the wings of the Modi-Shah combine.

 

However, a source close to the TDP supremo ruled out such a possibility. “Remember that his party has got a massive mandate from the people of AP (TDP won 135 seats in the 175-member assembly while its allies Jana Sena Party and BJP bagged 21 and 8 seats respectively). 

 

His priority will be to revive the state’s economy and complete his dream project of building the capital city of Amaravati,” a close aide said.

 

Naidu is likely to be made the convenor of the NDA, a post that would help him rebrand the image of the grouping and scout for new allies. 

 

The coalition building skills that he had displayed in bringing together 13 parties to form the United Front in 1996 could come in handy for him this time around.

 

The TDP is reportedly seeking the post of Lok Sabha speaker, a bargain that is reminiscent of the 1998 situation when Naidu’s party extended the much-needed support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in return for its nominee—GMC Balayogi—being made the LS Speaker. With 29 seats, TDP was BJP’s biggest ally during 1999-2004.

 

The regional party’s wish list this time includes ten cabinet berths and a liberal financial assistance to the state.

 

“From my experience of working with Naidu’s government in the past, I can tell that he is clear about what he wants from the Centre. 

 

When he walked out of the NDA in 2018, the special category status was the key issue. Now that he is returning to the NDA, he will certainly revive the demand. 

 

He will also ask for quick completion of Polavaram irrigation project and also substantial financial help for Amaravati,” said Dr Parakala Prabhakar, noted economist, author and political commentator who worked as chief communication officer to the AP government in the past.  

 

In his third term, Modi will have an unenviable task of meeting the demands of the key allies and doing business with senior regional satraps who had opposed his leadership tooth and nail in the past. 

 

Both Naidu and Janata Dal (U) chief Nitish Kumar were vocal critics of Modi in the not-so-distant past. Both are bound to demand special status for their respective states.  

 

“Modi will have to make a climbdown on this issue. If he doesn’t deliver, it will lead to instability in the coalition,” Dr Prabhakar said.

 

Poster Boy of reforms

 

Naidu was the toast of the national media as his tenure as AP Chief Minister from 1995 to 2004 was marked by sweeping economic and administrative reforms and a tech-driven vision, earning him the moniker ‘CEO of Andhra Pradesh’.  

 

His initiatives had helped in transforming Hyderabad as an Information Technology destination, rivalling Bengaluru.

 

Naidu's efforts were recognised globally, earning him several accolades, including being named ‘South Asian of the Year’ by Time magazine in 1999.

 

However, his pro-industry,  urban-centric and tech-savvy image proved to be his undoing in the 2004 elections. 

 

The charismatic Congress leader Dr YS Rajasekhar Reddy steered his party to victory for two consecutive terms in 2004 and 2009.

 

Naidu attempted an image makeover by offloading the reforms baggage, embracing populism with gusto and opting for electoral alliance with left parties in the hope of regaining the support of rural voters. However, his political metamorphosis could not arrest the slide of TDP.

 

After spending a decade in the Opposition, Naidu made an impressive comeback in 2014 in the bifurcated AP but the political landscape proved challenging by then. 

 

His alliance with the BJP was short-lived and the TDP suffered a severe drubbing in the 2019 elections at the hands of the YSR Congress Party headed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. 

 

Adding to his woes, his 52-day incarceration last year in a skill development scam seemed to mark the end of his political career.

 

However, Naidu’s dogged determination and a sustained campaign put him on a comeback trail. 

 

Riding high on anti-incumbency against the YSR Congress government and promising a blend of welfare and development, the TDP pulled off a landslide victory in the recent simultaneous elections to the assembly and Lok Sabha and emerged as a key player at the Centre.

 

Swinging political pendulum

 

“The era of ‘isms has ended. The only ism that is relevant is tourism.” 

 

This used to be Naidu’s favourite quip at seminars and meetings with industrialists during his tenure as CM of combined AP. 

 

And, it used to invariably evoke appreciative nods from the gatherings.

 

No wonder that the TDP has traditionally chosen pragmatism over ideology while picking its partners. 

 

The party’s political pendulum has been swinging wildly ever since Naidu took over the reins of the regional party after dethroning his father-in-law in a midnight political coup in August 1995. He had aligned with the Left and the Right at different points in the last three decades.

 

He was widely seen as a king maker for his role in the formation of United Front and NDA governments at the Centre. 

 

As convener of the United Front, he played a key role not only in policy making but also in deciding the prime ministerial candidates. 

 

Later, during the NDA regime, his party's outside support became crucial for the survival of the BJP-led coalition. 

 

He had a six-year-long association with the NDA and fought the elections in 1999 and 2004 in alliance with BJP.

 

However, after losing power in the combined AP in 2004, Naidu severed links with the saffron party and moved closer to the left parties, only to return to the saffron fold ahead of the 2014 general elections.

 

Soon after, his party joined the Modi government, only to leave the alliance in 2018 ahead of Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh in protest against the denial of special category status to AP.

 

In November of that year, Naidu joined hands with Congress to build an anti-BJP alliance at the national level.

 

However, his political flip-flops did not go down well with the voters who handed out a crushing defeat to the TDP in the 2019 elections. 

 

Casteism, corruption, skewed developmental priorities, unfulfilled promises, rising unemployment, and lack of progress on the construction of capital city turned out to be his party’s undoing. 

 

As a result, Jagan Mohan Reddy, a brash and unconventional politician with no administrative experience, stormed to power.

 

Naidu faced the biggest crisis in his career when he was arrested last year in the alleged Skill Development Corporation Scam case, largely seen as an instance of political vendetta by the Jagan government.

 

Naidu was apprehended in a pre-dawn raid on September 9 and spent nearly two months in Rajamahendravaram Central Jail.  

 

However, he was granted interim bail on October 31, which was made permanent on November 20.

 

His recent decision to return to the NDA fold was guided more by political expediency. The TDP felt that a joint fight alone could help dislodge the YSRCP government.

 

The 2024 Lok Sabha mandate has thrown up an opportunity for him to become a kingmaker again and herald the resurgence of his party that has suffered serious setbacks in the past few years.

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