Which way will the wind blow for the BJP in Andhra Pradesh?
An alliance reshuffle saw the Jana Sena teaming up with TDP, offering an olive branch to the BJP. Meanwhile, Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest queers the pitch for TDP
The arrest of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu on September 9 on alleged corruption charges has sent shockwaves through the political landscape of Andhra Pradesh.
In the wake of widespread condemnation of Naidu's arrest, widely perceived as a politically motivated move by the Jagan Reddy government, Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan made an unexpected and impromptu announcement. He declared that his party would forge an alliance with the TDP for the upcoming elections in Andhra Pradesh, slated for April-May 2024.
Kalyan's surprise declaration came minutes after his meeting with Chandrababu Naidu within the confines of Rajahmundry Central Prison.
It's worth noting that Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena party had previously formed an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Kalyan had been actively pursuing a tripartite coalition involving TDP, BJP, and Janasena to challenge the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government led by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. He even met BJP President JP Nadda in July, although it appears that he couldn't extract a definitive commitment from the BJP at that time.
However, the BJP has remained tight-lipped about its intentions in Andhra Pradesh.
His sudden alignment with the TDP is likely to place the BJP in a challenging position. The BJP now faces the critical decision of whether to enter into a partnership with the TDP-Jana Sena alliance, a decision that will significantly alter the political landscape.
Interestingly, both the TDP and the BJP have also explored the possibility of a potential alliance. TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu held discussions with Amit Shah and JP Nadda in June last but progress seemed elusive.
The BJP, despite enjoying negligible voter support in Andhra Pradesh, finds itself in an advantageous position, with both the ruling YSRCP and the TDP vying for its favour. Both parties have their motivations for seeking proximity to Narendra Modi's government.
For Jagan Reddy, currently serving as chief minister on bail, the spectre of 11 Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) cases and eight Enforcement Directorate (ED) cases related to the alleged accumulation of disproportionate assets during his father YS Rajasekhara Reddy's tenure as chief minister looms large. These cases, pending in a Hyderabad CBI court for over a decade, have seemingly tempered his approach towards the BJP at the Centre.
On the other hand, Chandrababu Naidu learned the hard way about the consequences of alienating the Modi-Shah duo following the resounding defeat in the 2019 elections. After parting ways with the NDA in 2018, Naidu had vocally criticised the Modi government and even briefly aligned with the Congress. However, TDP leaders later deplored in private the BJP government's "preferential" treatment of Jagan Reddy.
Naidu began to take a more conciliatory stance towards the BJP, even heaping praise on Prime Minister Modi's leadership. This shift in rhetoric sparked speculation about a potential revival of ties between the BJP and the TDP.
Yet, despite the murmurings of reconciliation, little progress has been made, largely because the BJP remains hesitant to abandon Jagan Mohan Reddy, who has seemingly tightened his grip on the state through a combination of financial incentives for the disadvantaged and strong-arm tactics against the opposition.
The implications of Naidu’s arrest
It is against this backdrop that the Jagan government took the dramatic step of arresting Chandrababu Naidu while he was touring Rayalaseema, implicating him in an alleged corruption case. The government initiated additional cases to ensure Naidu's prolonged incarceration.
In the wake of Pawan Kalyan's emotionally charged announcement, the BJP finds itself in a delicate predicament. If the BJP decides against aligning with Chandrababu Naidu's TDP, it might inadvertently push Jana Sena out of its political embrace.
Complicating matters further is the reluctance within the TDP ranks to entertain the idea of a BJP partnership. Many within the party believe, though they will not say it publicly, that the BJP played a role in Jagan Reddy's audacious move to incarcerate Naidu.
Leaders from Jana Sena have made it abundantly clear that Pawan Kalyan remains steadfast in his unilateral commitment to the alliance with the TDP. Consequently, the BJP is confronted with only two choices: to venture forth alone or to seek an alliance with the YSRCP.
Historical data paints a gloomy picture for the BJP should it decide to go solo. In the 2019 elections, the party garnered a meagre share of less than 1 percent of the vote when it charted an independent course in the state. Since then, the political terrain in the state has grown even more challenging for them.
On the other hand, while Jagan Mohan Reddy's government may secretly favour a covert understanding with the BJP, openly allying with the party poses considerable risks. A significant portion of Jagan's support base comprises Muslims and Christians, both of whom hold substantial sway in the state's political landscape, and may not appreciate an alliance with the BJP with its anti-minority image. Jagan is likely to prefer a covert understanding with the BJP, which will allow him to take on the TDP-BJP combine.
The arrest of Chandrababu Naidu by the Jagan government has thus triggered a series of potential challenges for the BJP, leaving the party in a perplexing position.
D. Purandeswari, the state BJP chief, speaking to HT, emphasised, "Janasena is still with us. Pawan Kalyan will explain his stance regarding TDP to our leadership in Delhi, and we will follow their guidance."
Analysts are pointing out that the state BJP appears uncertain about how to approach this evolving situation, while the Delhi leadership seems relatively untroubled.
"Currently, Andhra Pradesh doesn't seem to be a top priority for the BJP. They have not even communicated their intentions in the state to the local leadership. Consequently, they appear unfazed by the rapidly changing political landscape in a state that boasts 25 MPs," commented a state BJP leader who wished to remain anonymous.