Chandrababu Naidu, Rahul Gandhi end 35-year-old rivalry to 'save democracy'

TDP chief Naidu presents a shawl to Congress President Gandhi during a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday | PTI Photo
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Congress president Rahul Gandhi decided to consign the 35-year-old political rivalry of their respective parties with each other to address a joint press conference outside the official bungalow of the Congress chief on Thursday afternoon to announce their intent to work towards forging a nationwide anti-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front for 2019 polls. They said the opposition will hold joint protests and rallies, and subsequently come out with a common minimum programme.

Naidu’s father-in-law NT Rama Rao and Gandhi’s father Rajiv were bitter political rivals, but the two said “democratic compulsions” have brought the two together to save democracy. Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Congress also finalized their seat sharing formula for the Telangana assembly polls, scheduled for December 7.

Gandhi termed the two leaders coming together a “momentous” occasion. With Naidu by his side, the Congress chief said both of them have decided "not to get into the past" but talk about the present and the future as it is "critical" for the country. "Some of you have doubt about our past. It is a democratic compulsion now, we are joining together to protect this country,” Naidu said.

Both insisted the question of leadership of the opposition alliance will be decided post-election. However, Naidu gave enough hints that he believed Gandhi would be the natural leader of the opposition alliance. He said coalition governments have succeeded only when led by either of the two national parties – the Congress and BJP. The TDP chief said the National Front experiment of 1989-90 and United Front of 1996-98 had failed as they didn’t last their respective full terms. He said the Congress was the largest opposition party, and Gandhi its chief.

During the course of the day, Naidu also met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Ajit Singh, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and former union minister Arun Shourie.

Naidu said he was in constant touch over phone with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, and will also contact Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Deve Gowda and H D Kumaraswamy and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leadership. On his visit to Delhi on Saturday, Naidu had met Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Loktantrik Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav.

Later in the day, Naidu said Modi-led government has disappointed the people, destroyed the economy and was weakening institutions. He said history has shown coalition governments, in the post-liberalisation era, have delivered better and inclusive economic growth. On who could be the alternative to Modi, Naidu said he believed “any leader would perform better than Modi”.

On the question of leadership of the alliance, Gandhi said both leaders have agreed that the principle idea is to defeat the BJP and defend democracy and institutions of this country. "All other ideas, we will discuss later. Everything else is secondary. We will do what is our primary challenge," he said.

Later in the evening, Naidu also said the time wasn’t to demand a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe on Rafale fighter jet deal, but time had come for “rapid action” from the opposition.

Pawar said Naidu will take the initiative and talk to other non-BJP parties, including the Congress, for a joint meeting. A common minimum programme will be drafted once the non-BJP parties come on board to discuss the matter, Pawar said. Naidu said there were to platforms in front of the people - the BJP-led and anti-BJP. He said time will tell which political party will play what role.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) chief S Sudhakar Reddy welcomed Naidu’s efforts to unite secular democratic forces. AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi questioned Andhra CM’s credentials. Owaisi said Naidu was a supporter of BJP till recently and during the 2002 "Gujarat pogrom".

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