Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s efforts to revive his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Telangana have sparked a buzz about a political realignment for next year’s Assembly elections.
The TDP chief last week addressed a public meeting in Khammam, triggering a new debate among political circles.
The good public response to the public meeting, the first in Telangana in four years, and Naidu’s tone and tenor leaves no one in doubt that while he may be focusing on Andhra Pradesh, he has not given up on the hopes of a revival of TDP in its former stronghold.
Political analysts say that this development may further spice up Telangana politics ahead of 2023 elections, which are likely to see multiple players battling it out for power.
Almost a year before the state goes to polls, Naidu’s renewed interest in Telangana also sparked a buzz of a grand alliance among BJP, TDP and Jana Sena Party (JSP) led by actor Pawan Kalyan.
While BJP is going aggressive to achieve its goal of coming to power in Telangana, Pawan Kalyan, who is an ally of the saffron party in Andhra Pradesh, has already declared his intention to contest a few seats in Telangana.
JSP leader, who has been working for TDP-BJP-JSP alliance in Andhra Pradesh for 2024 polls, is likely to play a key role in cobbling up the grand alliance in Telangana too.
Though the BJP has been projecting itself as the only alternative to Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which has now become BRS, and may be reluctant at this stage for an alliance with TDP and JSP, political observers say that the saffron party may finally have to settle for it once it realises that such a combination alone can help it realise its dream.
Naidu may address more public meetings in Telangana, especially in Khammam and some other places where TDP is still believed to be enjoying good public support. “By doing so, Naidu will look to enhance his bargaining power,” said political analyst Palvai Raghavendra Reddy.
Unlike in the past, when TDP was considered the dominant partner in the TDP-BJP alliance, today BJP appears to be stronger in Telangana. “Though BJP may not like to blink first, both Naidu and Pawan Kalyan would want it to blink,” said the analyst.
Chandrababu Naidu has already expressed willingness to join hands with BJP again and is waiting for a green signal from the saffron party.
Some of the recent developments including Naidu and Pawan Kalyan’s separate meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi also set off speculations of an imminent alliance among the three parties.
Last month, the actor politician met Modi during latter’s visit to Visakhapatnam. It was their first meeting in eight years.
Pawan Kalyan had backed TDP-BJP alliance in 2014 elections to state Assembly and Lok Sabha. Jana Sena had not contested the polls but the actor had campaigned for the alliance and addressed a few public meetings along with Modi and Chandrababu Naidu.
Though TDP and BJP formed a coalition government, Jana Sena parted ways with both the parties for not granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh as committed at the time of bifurcation of the state in 2014.
In 2019, Jana Sena had contested the elections in alliance with the Left parties and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) but the party could win just one seat in the 175-member Assembly with Pawan himself losing in both the seats he contested.
TDP, too, had severed ties with BJP in 2018 over the issue of special category status and Naidu had become the biggest critic of Modi. Both the parties had contested the 2019 elections in Andhra Pradesh on their own. While TDP lost power to YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), BJP drew a blank.
Chandrababu Naidu had admitted after the crushing defeat that parting ways with BJP was a mistake. Since then, he has been sending feelers to the saffron party.
Naidu met Modi during the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav National Committee meeting held in New Delhi in August. This was their first meeting since TDP snapped ties with the BJP.
Last month, the TDP chief again attended a meeting presided over by Modi. The meeting of all parties was convened to discuss strategies to be adopted at the G-20 nations to be hosted by India next year.
In united Andhra Pradesh, Telangana was a strong base for TDP. As Naidu at his Khammam public meeting pointed out, TDP’s policies under its founder and former chief minister N. T. Rama Rao immensely benefited Telangana. The backward classes were the biggest beneficiary of the policies of NTR, who is also remembered in the region for doing away with the Patel Patwari system.
However, Telangana agitation dealt a blow to TDP in Telangana and after formation of Telangana state, it came to be seen as a party from Andhra. TDP contested the 2014 elections in alliance with the BJP.
The TDP, which had fielded candidates in 72 constituencies out of total 119, won 15 seats while its ally bagged five seats. The BJP had clearly benefited from the alliance with TDP. This was proved as the saffron party could win only one seat in 2018 elections which it contested on its own.
The TDP, which had lost almost all its MLAs and many prominent leaders to TRS before elections, could secure only two seats in 2018 polls which it contested in alliance with Congress, Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and Communist Party of India. The Maha Kutami as the alliance was known bite the dust as TRS retained power.
TDP’s representation in Telangana Assembly came to an end after both the MLAs defected to TRS.
Naidu recently started focusing once again on Telangana. This comes in the wake of TRS becoming BRS to expand pan-India.
“Unlike in 2014 and 2018 when Telangana sentiment was strong and TRS countered Naidu by projecting him as a leader from Andhra trying to gain domination in Telangana, the situation this time will be different. The same argument will not hold as TRS has become BRS and it is also looking to expand in Andhra Pradesh,” observed Raghavendra Reddy.
Pawan Kalyan has also gone on record that JSP will contest 35 Assembly seats in Telangana.
In 2020, Pawan Kalyan had backed BJP in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls. His decision not to contest has upset JSP cadres. The actor may not like to disappoint them again.
While for both Chandrababu Naidu and Pawan Kalyan, Andhra Pradesh will remain the first priority. They are likely to flex muscles in Telangana to increase their bargaining power and make the Assembly polls in Telangana a testing ground for a possible grand alliance.