Naidu’s 3 % problem or why BJP can’t be written off in AP

Chandrababu Naidu is a master of using numbers and stats to gain mileage, but cannot wish away prospect of BJP improving its vote share. For now, Naidu has to stick with BJP in love or hate

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is an acknowledged master of using numbers and statistics in his political communication to voters and investors alike. But there is one particular statistic that has been the CM’s bugbear lately.

That number has to do with the result of the 2014 general elections – which swept the TDP to power in the newly carved-out state after the bifurcation the undivided Andhra Pradesh. The numbers from that election revealed that Naidu was far from infallible.

Out of the total Assembly seats in the newly carved-out Andhra Pradesh state, Naidu’s TDP won 102 seats while the rival YSR Congress Party (YSRCP of YS Jaganmohan Reddy) bagged just 67 seats out of a total of 175. In terms of numbers, while the TDP polled 1,33,72,862 votes, the YSRCP tally was at 1,27,71,323. Though the difference in polled votes was a mere 6,01,539, in terms of percentage points TDP (46.3 %) was ahead by 2.6% of the YSRCP (44.47%).

That number is significant. In 2014, TDP had fought the election in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which bagged three per cent vote share on its own steam. Therefore, unsurprisingly this one statistic has been the source of Naidu’s discomfort. To make things even more difficult, the party internally assess that the BJP’s vote share may go up from three per cent to five per cent if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘magic’ is once again able to sway voters.

This is a far from ideal situation for Naidu, who claims to have a global reputation as the CEO of Andhra Pradesh much like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. On a recent visit to Singapore, Naidu publicly acknowledged that Yew, the founding father of the city-State, was his inspiration. By building a new capital, the much-touted Amaravati, and the multipurpose Polavaram dam, which he often claims are his two eyes, Naidu has tried to lay claim to being the father of a new AP.

The TDP chief was under the impression that global investments would flood into the state and make it a second Singapore. Nothing of that sort has happened – not the construction of Amaravati, which has run into many delays; nor the Polavaram project which is facing a funds crunch. Naidu is aware that he keenly needs a friend to survive the 2019 election. The alliance with the BJP is not just a support, his very survival is at stake.

Having sensed that Naidu would be in trouble in 2019, the non-Kamma (Naidu belongs to the Kamma caste) sections of the BJP have been demanding that the party break its ties with the TDP. They allege that the TDP has been scuttling the growth of the BJP in AP. They are in support of an alliance with the YSRCP, or for going it alone in the next general elections. But, the Kamma leaders of the BJP, a vocal and influential section in the party, have been successful in silencing the anti-Naidu voices in the party, many say at the bequest of Naidu himself.

On the other hand, YSRCP’s Jaganmohan Reddy has openly declared that he is ready to join hands with the BJP if Modi promises to bestow special category status to Andhra Pradesh. It is believed that were the BJP to come forward, he would offer more Lok Sabha seats to the saffron party than the TDP.

Naidu knows well that he cannot afford a quarrel with the BJP and force a break up. In fact, the saner elements in TDP think it would spell disaster for the party in 2019. “We won’t leave the NDA on our own. The harsh criticism regarding the Budget from TDP leaders should be taken in its stride. We will continue to mount pressure on the Union government for justice to Andhra Pradesh,” a senior leader told SouthWord..

While Naidu has remained above the fray as far as criticism of the BJP goes, his MPs, JC Diwakar Reddy and TG Venkatesh, almost declared war on BJP for what they described as “injustice meted out to Andhra” in Budget 2018. Naidu has hit upon the strategy of allowing TDP leaders to attack BJP from all sides while he himself remains silent on the issue.

This is exactly what happened between February 1 and 4. After all the posturing, an emergency meeting chaired by Naidu on Sunday signalled against a hawkish stand against the Modi government.

Emerging from the meeting, Union minister YS Chowdary said BJP would remain with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and it had never been their intention to hurt the alliance with BJP.

All through the public airing of discontent by the TDP, Naidu himself did not utter a single word to the press. His fear of a single electoral statistic seems to have robbed him of his usual flair with numbers. The fact is that in the face of a dismal developmental record, Naidu cannot afford to anger the BJP.

So, Naidu has not expressed any dissatisfaction even though he has been denied an appointment with the PM for nearly one-and-a-half-years. The TDP stalwart has no option but to sail on with Modi, whether in love or hate, to avoid a fatal Jagan-BJP tie-up.

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