The BJP’s march to power in 2014, unprecedented indeed, was essentially due to the wave that Narendra Modi rode then. But then, the party did cobble alliances across the country. The end result was the total decimation of the Congress party as much as parties that remained in what was then called the UPA.
The BJP-led combine was stopped from winning seats only from states where it was challenged by regional outfits that did not ally with the Congress -- West Bengal, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.
Andhra Pradesh was among the states that saw the BJP riding on the back of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to win only two seats in the Lok Sabha but Modi could count upon the 15 TDP members in the 16
th Lok Sabha as his own party’s.
The TDP had remained the BJP’s ally since 1998 and the party had sailed with it even in its bad times between 2004 and 2014. The TDP, in this sense, was only next to the BJP’s older allies such as the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.
It was, then, a jolt to Modi and his party when N Chandrababu Naidu decided to withdraw from the NDA, in March 2018, and began spending a lot of time in New Delhi. Naidu was attempting to re-emerge into whatever he had been between 1996 and 1998; he was the convener of the United Front, a post-poll combine and an experiment that sought to prevent a BJP-led government in Delhi and keeping the Congress out of the coalition even while depending on its support in Parliament for survival.
Naidu’s emergence then as convener of the front was a sheer accident; he happened to command the state’s guest house in New Delhi where MPs elected from his party and others that were joining this front were securely hosted. He had, however, taken his role with a lot of seriousness and yet did not have any compunction switching sides with the BJP-led combine in 1998. So, when he decided to drop out of the Modi-led NDA, it was no surprise.
The switch-over this time was more of a desperate move by the TDP given the realities that stare at his face inside Andhra Pradesh; the starkest of those being elections to the state assembly too slated along with the coming general elections.
The YSR Congress Party, led by Jagan Reddy remained and continues to hold sway over the Rayalaseema region, kept the pressure on raking up the idea of a special status for the state after Telangana was created; Naidu’s promise of a building a capital city – Amaravati – met with several roadblocks and the city is still in the making all these five years.
Jagan’s base in Rayalaseema only grew in size while Naidu’s TDP faced erosion after Pawan Kalyan, whose support helped the TDP shore up its votes in 2014, announced a party of his own.
In the caste-ridden political discourse of Andhra Pradesh, the Kaapu community seemed to rally behind Kalyan and also the 18-24 years old generation flocking to his rallies across the state and this was happening even in the coastal districts as much as in Rayalaseema.
Naidu’s gamble to draw Kalyan back to his side by way of getting the two Left parties – whose thin support base is spread across the state – which were seen guiding Kalyan, did not take off. The Left parties in Andhra Pradesh refused to play ball and Kalyan too insisted on staying away and plough the lone furrow.
While the BJP was and is a small party in Andhra Pradesh and unlikely to swing the results any which way and could end up without a seat in the Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh or even in the state assembly, the contest for the 25 Lok Sabha seats and the 175 member state assembly (the party had won two Lok Sabha seats and four assembly seats in 2014 riding on the shoulders of the TDP), the dynamics this time will be marked by a three-cornered contest -- the TDP, the YSRCP and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party. The Congress too will contest and struggle to stay relevant in this scenario.
It is necessary to stress here that the TDP’s win in 103 assembly seats and 15 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 was possible in 2014 with the Modi wave as much as the Kaapu community voting for its candidates when Kalyan supported Naidu. While the Kamma community, which had been the TDP’s mainstay ever since NT Rama Rao arrived in 1982 and won the assembly elections in 1983, the Kaapus with their ‘natural’ resistance to the domination of the state’s politics by the Reddys are more likely to side with the Jana Sena Party this time around.
Jagan Reddy, meanwhile, seems to have held on to his hold over his support base – close to 29 percent of the votes his party had polled in 2014 (and just about 20 percentage points less than the TDP’s votes then) and this is where the loss of Pawan Kalyan’s support to the TDP and his decision to go it alone could affect Naidu.
Add to this the anti-incumbency the TDP suffers from and also the alienation of the war horses who had stuck to Naidu over the years due to the ascendancy of Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh, in the party and in the government.
Well. If the prospect of a hung Parliament turns real in the afternoon of May 23, 2019, it could be that Jagan Reddy, commander-in-chief of the YSRCP could emerge into the importance and even play a role that Naidu assumed to himself and played in May-June 1996.
Jagan’s late father remained steadfast in the Congress party; his son has not shown any such commitment to his father’s party after his claims to the throne upon his father’s accidental demise was denied by the then Congress high command chief, Sonia Gandhi.
The importance of Andhra Pradesh could soar up post-May 23 despite the state, after bifurcation, sending only 25 MPs, less than one-third of the number of MPs from Uttar Pradesh, to the Lok Sabha.
Andhra Pradesh is scheduled to go to polls, for the Lok Sabha as well as the state assembly, in a single phase on April 11, 2019.
V Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok.