Hardly been able to gain a foothold in the south of Vindhyas, other than Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  is trying to pull out all the tricks from its bag. Having all its strategies failed in Kerala, including the Sabarimala Issue, despite luring and rewarding all its leaders from the State at the southern end of the country, including making Kumanam Rajendran, the Governor of Mizoram (Later he resigned from that post and contested for the Lok Sabha polls in Thiruvananthapuram and lost), followed by very recent elevation of its former State Head, Sudharkaran Pillai as Governor of Mizoram. In between, the BJP also had rewarded another political heavyweight of the party  in Kerala, V Muraleedharan by inducting him as the Minister of State in the Union Government.

Despite all these efforts, in the recently concluded by-election for five Assembly seats in Kerala, the BJP cut a sorry figure, except an increase of vote share at Kasargod, a border town near Mangalore. The increase of votes there too is for various other reasons as the support base of BJP in Manjeswaram and Kanjangad areas are of non-Malayalam speaking population consisting of Bhunts, Rays, Hebbars and others (they speak languages like Kannada, Tulu and Konkini).

Desperate To Gain Foothold In South

As the BJP is in a tight spot, the party is desperate about gaining a foothold in the South. In Tamil Nadu too, the party’s former State Head, Tamizhisai Soundararajan was rewarded for her initiatives in terms of adding more members to the party and given her the gubernatorial post of Governor in Telangana. In Tamil Nadu too, after Pon Radhakrsihnan becoming the Central Minister, the party could not make inroads one bit.

Even in Telangana, dispatching Tamizisai as Governor is not without any solid strategy. The newly formed State of Telangana, which was carved out of the undivided Andhra Pradesh by the Jai Telangana Movement, is being headed by the strong man of Siddipet, K Chandrasekhara Rao, who formed a political party of his own, Telangana Rashtra Samithi. After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Andhra, Rao swept the polls and became the new State’s Chief Minister, routing both Congress, TDP and the BJP. If at all the BJP has some visibility in the whole of combined Andhra Pradesh, it was mainly in the Telangana area, although, the BJP had rewarded leaders like Nirmala Sitaraman, Muralidhar Reddy and others, but after the bifurcation of the Andhra Pradesh, there is considerable erosion of its base in the new State of Andhra.

Marginal Presence in Telangana

So, the BJP has a marginal presence in Telangana. At least, this kind of base, the BJP could gain, was through the alliance the party had forged with the once formidable politician, N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP). At the time of bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the TDP was in alliance with the BJP and was part of the NDA. If in the combined Andhra Pradesh, Naidu and his TDP could take on the might of Congress and ruled the State twice, after bifurcation, again it continued the streak in the residual State of Andhra too. Naidu continued the alliance with the BJP hoping that he would get the much needed funds for setting up the capital city at Amaravati, aiming at converting the destination like that of Singapore.

The BJP conveniently sidelined the TDP. Frustrated over mounting pressure from the people of Andhra, he had to sever ties with the BJP and come out of the NDA, which cost him, dear. By then, the opposition party, YSRC, led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of former Congress Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, late YS Rajasekhara Reddy,  had made inroads. In the ensuing elections, TDP was rejected. Reddy’s party emerged victorious. The TDP won only 23 seats in the 175-member Assembly. When the TDP was routed with a mere vote share of 0.96%, the BJP was wiped out of the scene, not being able to win a single deposit.

BJP’s New Strategy In Andhra

With the experience gained from the States like Maharashtra and Haryana, the BJP is now trying to play the same card in Andhra as well. In Maharashtra, the BJP befriended Shiv Sena and joined as its junior partner and eventually marginalised it to become the principal party. Till 2014 the BJP was playing second fiddle to the Sena and in the ensuing election, the equation changed.  Shiv Sena was split after its founder, Bal Thackeray’s demise. There was a rift between his son and his nephew, having two factions. The BJP cashed in on the situation and took the reign of control and managed to garner full majority in the previous Assembly election. That was how Fadnavis became the Chief Minister of Maharasthra. Similarly, if you take the BJP’s strategy in Haryana, it is equally interesting. Till 2014, the BJP was a miniscule player. Subsequently, the party rode to power. So, with all these experiences, the BJP has now gained enough courage to try its same strategy in Andhra as well.

Chandrababu Made Scapegoat

The BJP initially gagged Naidu by starving for funds and eventually made him a scapegoat in the State. Then the defection from TDP towards BJP began. After losing power, Naidu is facing flak from all sides. During the Lok Sabha election, Naidu visited the heads of all major opposition parties looking to stitch an alliance against the NDA, which infuriated BJP. When Naidu lost the Assembly election real bad, Jagan Reddy is now slapping quite a number of cases against the TDP leaders in general and Naidu in particular.

The BJP is waiting for TDP’s disintegration freely allowing defections and intimidations. In the Assembly elections held in Andhra, the TDP had just won 23 seats, from its 2014 tally of 117 seats in the 175-member House. Similarly, the TDP’s Lok Sabha seats also nosedived from 16 seats to a mere three seats. As part of its defection strategy, the BJP had roped in three Rajya Sabha MPs of TDP out of the five members Naidu’s party had. Now TDP is left with only two members. There too, Naidu was throttled. The plight of Congress in Andhra is equally pathetic. Once the dominant player in the undivided Andhra Pradesh for many decades, the national party too has been relegated to the lowest ebb having able to garner only a mere 2 per cent votes in both the State as well as the Parliamentary elections from Andhra Pradesh.

Adding Insult To Injury

Now, the BJP has emboldened itself to call shots and it has ridiculed the TDP stating that there was no question of having truck with the regional party. Cashing in on one of Naidu’s admission during a speech that leaving the NDA alliance was a wrong decision, the BJP is now sending feelers that it might possibly consider a merger of TDP.  The local dailies in Andhra recently quoted Naidu as saying that the TDP decision of calling it quits with the BJP-led NDA was proved the nemesis. Immediately after the release of this report, the BJP swung into action and promptly asked TDP to merge with it, through its State leader, GVL Narasimha Rao. He extended the offer to Naidu twice. In a recent statement, Rao assured Naidu that he would initiate a talk with the central leadership, if TDP is ready for a merger.

Political Engineering Begins

At the outset, it might seem to be awful business proposition from the part of BJP to ask the regional party for a merger, especially when the BJP had polled less than 1% vote in the Assembly elections held in April this year. What gall the BJP had when Rao asked TDP to merge with it to a party which had managed to at least win 40% and was ruling the newly formed State until then? Either disintegration of TDP or merger with it and offering him a key post in the BJP is the strategy to gain a foothold in South India. The BJP has already started its political engineering and began the game of fishing in the troubled waters. Will the BJP’s game plan work? A seasoned politician, Naidu got into politics when he was in college representing the TDP’s student’s wing. The TDP was formed by Naidu’s father in law, the formidable iconic actor turned politician, NT Rama Rao.

A Proverbial Phoenix?

When Naidu became the Chief Minister of undivided Andhra after the demise of his father in law, the former did bring in lot of innovation in governance including setting up IT Parks and more. He was media savvy, amiable to all and a people’s man. Then the Telangana Agitation happened and the then UPA decided to give nod to the division of Andhra into two states, hoping to cash in on the situation to seize power. Unfortunately, luck did not favour the Congress and while the TRS rode to power in Telangana in tandem, Naidu became the CM of Andhra. As he has seen many political ups and downs, this time around, when he is gagged from all corners, will Naidu rise from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix, only time can say. 

– Jayashankar Menon

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