Why Naidu may find it hard to build an anti-Modi movement

Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu has taken to speaking about threats and conspiracies against him by the Centre at public meetings and functions and asking the people of the state to protect him

After the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) walked out the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre, Chandrababu Naidu was expected to turn the Special Category Status issue into one of an affront on Telugu pride and build a campaign around it targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Yet the TDP chief and CM has found the going tough.

Andhra Pradesh has been demanding Special Category Status (SCS) - a promise reiterated by both the Congress and BJP top leadership in the past - on grounds that the new State requires greater financial assistance to build infrastructure and capacity after the bifurcation of United Andhra Pradesh and the former capital Hyderabad becoming a part of Telangana. The demand became especially sensitive in a pre-poll scenario, piling pressure on the TDP to quit the national coalition over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) failure to deliver on the issue.

These circumstances should have been sufficient for Naidu. But instead the CM has taken to speaking about threats and conspiracies against him at every public meeting and function. Naidu says the Central government a.k.a PM Modi is conspiring against him and his son and it is the people of the state who must protect him from this politically-motivated attack.

The statements have created a perception that Naidu is fearful that the Centre has or might soon find evidence of wrongdoing on his part.

The CM has taken to speaking about his ‘nippu’-like character (pure as fire) and how he has not committed a single wrong in his life. He has been saying that he works not for personal benefit but for that of the state.

Speaking last Tuesday (April 17) in Dwarampudi in East Godavari, Naidu’s invocation of the victim narrative was on full display. He announced that the people should surround him in a protective ring if the Centre tried to create troubles for him either directly or indirectly. During the course of the same meeting he surprised everybody by naming AP Governor ESL Narasimhan and accusing him of working to unite Opposition parties in the State against the TDP government.

So what has triggered this recent rash of public comments about the Modi government’s motives?

The CM appears to have intensified his anti-Modi campaign ever since IB chief Rajeev Jain called on him on April 18. The meeting triggered intense speculation about the purpose of the visit. The State government even issued a statement on the meeting along with a picture, ostensibly, to prevent media speculation about what transpired.

Naidu’s talk of being the target of a campaign by the Centre is being seen as a direct fall out of the meeting. Political circles and bureaucrats believe that the IB chief had come to warn the CM on two counts. Firstly, that there should be no attack on central government assets or any violence on the day of Naidu’s one-day fast on April 20 on the SCS issue. He is also said to have told the CM that the Centre would brook no anti-PM violence in the run up to the Karnataka elections. And secondly, that the Centre disapproved of comments against Modi on ‘foreign soil’ during Naidu’s visit to Singapore (April 13 2018).

This anger with Modi and the Governor is expected to take concrete shape on April 30 2018 when Naidu is scheduled to address the first public meeting after he pulled out of the NDA. “The CM is likely to announce an action plan to denounce Modi all across the state,” a TDP leader who did not wish to be named said. He added that the TDP boss was planning a state-wide peaceful movement against Modi.

However, this begs the question whether Naidu can transform his ire against Modi into a Tamil Nadu-style mass movement witnessed during the Jallikattu protests in 2017.

His critics believe that the CM’s anti-Modi rhetoric and antics are state sponsored media events as was evident during his one-day fast. The collectors of Krishna and Guntur districts reportedly mobilized large crowds for the event made up of ‘beneficiaries’ of State welfare schemes. The fast itself was criticised for resembling the outdoor-darbar of a king rather than a serious protest. Hundreds of TDP leaders used this occasion to touch Naidu’s feet and seek his blessings.

The alleged multi-crore land deals of Amaravati and the corruption charges surrounding the handing out of contracts in the Polavaram project and the projection of his son Lokesh as his heir seem to have undermined Naidu’s claim of being ‘nippu’. To add to his woes, two recently retired State chief secretaries, IYR Krishna Rao and Ajeya Kallam have written about the real estate deals that underpinned the Amaravati capital project, making allegations of corruption, in their recent books.

Given the circumstances, it looks like an uphill task for Naidu to build a mass-movement across Andhra against Modi even though many feel the Andhras have no love lost for the latter.

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