N Chandrababu Naidu is using his magic touch as honest broker, again

File photo of N Chandrababu Naidu
Has anyone noticed how often Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu is visiting Delhi? He now comes to the national capital at least once every two weeks. Interlocutors suggest the frequency will increase as the general elections draw near.

Naidu is conscious that (a) he has valuable experience in bringing big egos together against one enemy; (b) his salvation lies in winning Andhra Pradesh assembly elections only if a ‘friendly’ government is in place at the Centre; (c) the BJP is distinctly unfriendly to the point of being an adversary and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Last week he was in Bengaluru, celebrating the by-election victory (the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) won four out of five seats) side by side with the JDS. Later, he called on Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M K Stalin and held discussions with him. The breach between him and the Communist parties, caused in 2013 when he refused to attend an anti-communalism convention and prepared to jump ship to join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), appears to have been mended: he spent a long time talking to CPI M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury earlier this week. Naidu has also met Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and Arvind Kejriwal.

In India today, there are two people who understand Opposition unity and the problems in bringing it about most thoroughly. One is Jairam Ramesh of the Congress, the man who has unparalleled experience in writing common minimum programmes; and the other is Chandrababu Naidu who has extensive experience in putting together United Fronts. “Wherever there are two politicians, you can be sure that there must be at least three political parties and five different views,” he once said at a public lecture. “Politicians love politics! In my view, however, good economics is the best politics! That is why I refuse to engage in politics except at the time of elections,” he added.

But the time for elections has come and Naidu is terribly busy. The first time Naidu mobilised the Opposition was for his father-in-law, N T Rama Rao, in the 1980s. When N T Rama Rao, popularly known as NTR, was dismissed — despite having a majority — and replaced by Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, it was Naidu who liaised with Opposition leaders behind the scenes and started conclave politics. He understood the whims and fancies of these leaders and also got a shrewd assessment of where each one stood in their states. The National Front — forged in 1988, just ahead of the 1989 general elections — may have appeared to be the brainchild of NTR, but it was Naidu who did the hard work. That was followed by the United Front in 1996, once again the result of Naidu’s unique networking skills.

Now, ahead of the 2019 elections, Naidu is attempting to use his magic touch as honest broker again. At a recent press conference in New Delhi, after he broke with the BJP, Naidu said: “I have no ambition to become Prime Minister. In the past, I have rejected the offer twice. I want to be in the state and to develop both Telugu states.” He also explained why India needed an alternative to the BJP and why he himself needed one.

“My objective is to put Amaravati (bifurcated Andhra’s under-construction capital) among the top three cities in the country by 2022 and make it the number one city by 2029,” he announced, but the BJP-led central government has been putting impossible conditions to release money for the new capital and while Telangana had a cash surplus, a new struggling state like AP does not have that luxury. The net result is, Naidu needs the BJP out. Many in the cast of Opposition characters are old sinners but there are some new ones as well. Naidu had dealings with Biju Patnaik, not with son Naveen in Odisha. He had to mediate and sometimes intervene in friction between G K Moopanar of the Tamil Maanila Congress and the DMK. Now, M Karunanidhi is gone and so is Moopanar. Most important, now, it is Rahul Gandhi on the scene, not Sitaram Kesri and Manmohan Singh.

But Naidu is known for agility and will likely find his feet quickly. It is not clear how the new opposition front will pan out. But one thing is certain: Chandrababu Naidu will give his all to it.

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