After two decades, Chandrababu Naidu back to playing kingmaker at the Centre

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After two decades, Chandrababu Naidu back to playing kingmaker at the Centre

Amaravati:  Nara Chandrababu Naidu is back to playing the role he always relished – the kingmaker in national politics.

After a gap of two decades, the seasoned politician is basking in the glory of media arc lights as support of his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has become crucial for a third term in power for the BJP.

Five years after losing power to YSR Congress Party with a crushing defeat and facing the biggest crisis of his political career, Naidu rose like a phoenix.

The 74-year-old is now gearing up to play the kingmaker, a role which he missed in 2014 as the BJP had secured a comfortable majority on its own.

Set to become the chief minister for a fourth time following the landslide victory in Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections, the shrewd politician is also looking forward to playing a crucial role in the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.

With 16 MPs, the TDP along with Janata Dal (United) are propping up the coalition government.

Known for his hard bargaining skills, the TDP chief is likely to push for some key ministerial berths and also Special Category Status (SCS) for his state as committed in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014.

Political analysts say this role for Naidu may not have come at a better time as the cash-strapped state desperately needs the handholding by the Centre to put its finances back on rails; implement a plethora of poll promises made by the TDP; realise the unfinished goal of building Amaravati as the state capital and to complete the Polavaram project, considered the lifeline of the state.

It’s also crucial that with 135 seats in the 175-member state Assembly, Naidu is not dependent on his allies Jana Sena and BJP for the survival of his government in the state.

This will give him ample room to put pressure on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government on state-specific issues.

After the worst-ever electoral defeat in 2019, Naidu had lost relevance in national politics. Though he was subsequently eager to mend fences with the BJP, the latter was reluctant to trust him and re-open the doors which it had ‘permanently’ closed.

However, Jana Sena leader and actor Pawan Kalyan’s alliance with the TDP and the changing political dynamics in Andhra Pradesh forced the BJP to join them at the last minute.

Riding the anti-incumbency wave the alliance virtually decimated YSRCP, whose tally in the Assembly plummeted to 11 from a whopping 151.

The alliance bagged 164 Assembly and 21 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats.

This was a dramatic upswing for Naidu, who was facing political uncertainty a few months after being arrested and jailed in the Skill Development Corporation scam.

He spent 52 days in jail, during which the CID filed more cases against him on allegations of corruption during the TDP’s rule between 2014 and 2019.

Six months after walking out of Rajahmundry Jail, Naidu stormed to power, handing a humiliating defeat to Jagan Mohan Reddy.

Ever since he became chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh in 1995 after leading a revolt against his father-in-law and TDP founder NT Rama Rao (NTR), Naidu remained in the political limelight.

After NTR’s sudden demise in January 1996, Naidu consolidated his position and successfully inherited NTR’s political legacy.

Known as the poster boy of new economic reforms, a reformist and a tech-savvy leader, he mastered the skills of doing business with any formation at the Centre, irrespective of its ideology.

His role in national politics began in 1996 as the convenor of the United Front when he brought together regional parties to prop up the government of a third alternative.

In 1999, he donned a similar role for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Many saw in him a shrewd politician and few branded him a rank opportunist as he aligned with the BJP, apparently to ride on the ‘Vajpayee wave’.

After losing power to his bête noire YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) in 2004 following a record nine-year stint as the chief minister, Naidu admitted his priorities were lopsided which led to the neglect of agriculture.

The TDP supremo failed to make a comeback in 2009 as Congress retained power.

The emergence of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014 offered Naidu a chance to revive his political fortunes.

He not only joined the NDA, but by campaigning with Narendra Modi and supported by Pawan Kalyan, he succeeded in storming to power in the truncated state of Andhra Pradesh.

People preferred him as he was widely credited with putting Hyderabad on the global IT map.

As a leader who always enjoyed the role of kingmaker, Naidu was uncomfortable in the new dispensation where PM Modi had absolute majority.

Though facing post-bifurcation challenges like lack of state capital and poor finances, he had no option but to quietly accept whatever was doled out to the state.

He embarked on the grandiose plan of developing Amaravati as a world-class city and the state capital but the support from the Centre for the Rs.1 lakh-crore project, was not forthcoming.

As YSRCP started targeting him for his compromise over Special Category Status (SCS), Naidu realised that he was losing ground to the Opposition.

In 2018, he pulled out of NDA, accusing PM Modi of ‘betrayal’.

From a great admirer of PM Modi, Naidu turned his worst critic and even joined hands with the Congress, his party’s sworn enemy of 35 years.

He even joined hands with the Congress in the Telangana Assembly elections of 2018 but the experiment ended in a disaster, with the Congress-led People’s Alliance biting the dust.

This was perhaps the biggest political misadventure of Naidu as alliance with a party blamed for the division of Andhra Pradesh did not go down well with the people.

The flip-flops continued as he decided not to have an alliance with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh even as he continued his efforts for the anti-BJP front at the Centre led by the Congress.

The allegations of corruption and casteism also dented Naidu’s image and ultimately led to his worst-ever poll defeat in 2019.

Absolute majority for the BJP at the Centre also dashed Naidu’s hopes of salvaging some pride with a role at the Centre.

Five years later, the wait is finally over as he is all set to play ball once again with the NDA.

 


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