Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu, a key player in the United Front and NDA, distanced himself from the BJP-led alliance after the Gujarat riots. Despite a severe drubbing in the recent bypolls in Andhra Pradesh, Naidu says TDP will always remain a secular party. Excerpts from an interview to Madhavi Tata:
Would you support Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate of the NDA?
I am not going to say anything against the National Democratic Alliance now but ours is a secular party and we cannot unite with communal forces. The Congress is drifting and the BJP is not going anywhere. There is no question of supporting Narendra Modi as a PM candidate.
Baba Ramdev called on you recently and even in the bypolls, your campaign has focussed on corruption. But do you think voters have become immune to corruption?
The present issue is corruption —be it the CBI case against Jaganmohan Reddy, the liquor scam or Gali Janardhan Reddy bail, bribe scam. Political parties are creating role models like Gali Janardhan Reddy for the youth. Politicians like Jagan are trying to convey that corruption is an acceptable phenomenon. As a leader, I have to fight this even though it is an uphill task.
Which Presidential candidate will you support?
It is a choice between the UPA and NDA. We cannot support a candidate which the BJP puts up because it is not a secular party. And Pranab Mukherjee is a Congress candidate. We will have to decide. One thing is for sure, we will not abstain.
You are seen as a CEO politician and an able administrator but the farmer's vote eludes you.
During my tenure, I created wealth and the dividends paid off for the Congress government after 2004. I did several things for the farmers —be it timely supply of fertilizers, pesticides, seeds. Unfortunately, there were four years of drought at the time. Even then I introduced programmes like Food for Work. I am certainly more pro-farmer than the Congress. Even when I was part of the United Front government, we fought for farmers and introduced loan waivers. Farmers are in severe distress now. Every programme that the TD will launch will target the poor and focus on their uplift. In fact, we will now demand a separate budget for farming and agriculture every year.
What will Chandrababu Naidu's USP be as a chief ministerial candidate in 2014?
Good governance, honest administration, commitment to welfare and development programmes. We will restore AP's pride.
There have been a series of bypoll defeats for TD. What do you think is the primary cause?
There have been 65 bypolls in the state in six years. As an opposition party, it is really difficult to face so many bypolls. Repeated bypolls are bad for society. Both the Congress and YSR Congress spent ill-gotten money in the bypolls. We do not have such resources. During the current by-elections, Jaganmohan Reddy's arrest created a wave of sympathy. Whenever, there is a sympathy wave, people tend to forget their own problems and are easily misled. In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha boycotted bypolls. There is an ongoing discussion in TD if we too should follow the AIADMK's example and fight only general elections.
Will the situation be any different in 2014?
I am not a defeatist and will never be. I am 100% confident that people will vote with a balanced mind in the general elections. People will realise that corrupt leaders like Jagan or the Congress cannot give them good governance. The political uncertainty caused by constant bungling by the Congress has reduced AP to a defunct state. Anything and everything is a scam. In 2014, people will weigh and analyse all issues when they cast their votes. The situation will certainly be different. It will be Victory 2014 for the Telugu Desam.
Do you think that the Kamma (caste) votebank which traditionally belongs to TD is being eroded by YSR Congress?
The TD is a secular party which has always done social justice. We give due importance to all castes and religions. That being said, even if there is some division in the Kamma vote, it is only temporary because of the sympathy factor.
Some TD leaders feel that the candidates contesting the bypolls were not motivated enough.
Everyone is fed up with frequent bypolls and our candidates cannot be blamed. It was a huge burden on them too. I did my best but some factors worked against us and voters were swept away.
Is there a rift between the Nara-Nandamuri families? There is talk of your nephew, actor NTR Jr being miffed. Will he campaign in 2014?
Speculations are always there especially in big families. But I always welcome everyone and carry family members along with me. I give due respect to all family members and party functionaries. In fact some of my family members are in the Congress. Have I ever disrespected them? NTR Jr campaigned for the party in 2009 and I will welcome him in 2014 too.
Do you fear any desertions from TD to Jagan's party?
People are not foolish. By 2014, both the Congress and Jagan's party will be in trouble. The TD has no scandals. I am confident that I can keep my flock together.
A shorter version of this interview appears in print
Chandrababu Naidu can stoop to any level for minority votes (‘No question of supporting Narendra Modi’). Modi-bashing is one such compulsion.
Chandru Mani Iyer, Bangalore
There was a time when the TDP was actually the principal opposition party in India. This was during the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, when every state voted the Congress in the aftermath of the Indira Gandhi assassination except one state, Andhra Pradesh, which voted TDP. NTR was truly a remarkable man and his efforts towards the creation of a national political alternative to the Congress can never be forgotten. It will be a tragedy if the party founded by him goes extinct. Naidu should therefore focus on the real task at hand, of reviving the TDP as a serious non-Congress alternative in his state, instead of wasting time on secularism/ communalism tamashas.
When the BJP gets 200 seats in Parliament, these same parties who call them communal now will run to support the party and its candidate.
Shesh Kumar Jha, Darbhanga
Looks like Chandrababu Naidu hasn’t learned his lesson after the thrashing in the recent AP elections. The man is a shameless opportunist.
Naidu’s flip-flop on Telangana has not only damaged his party in Telangana but also in the rest of Andhra. The man has no credibility at all.
Y. Babblloo, Vijayawada
Naidu should first try winning his own seat at Kuppam. His immediate threat comes from his own family members who are keen to throw him out and occupy the slot.
Naidu is a spent force. He does not matter in the politics at the Centre at all. He is a rank opportunist displaying a secular badge.
Joshua Miranda, Chennai
Naidu’s crooked posturing is just another sign of the corruption that prevails there.
Sanjay M., Beverly Hills, US
I wonder if Modi really needs Naidu’s support. The recent bypolls show his party will be extinct by 2014.
Once Modi’s candidature is assured, these same people will mill around him.
Very prophetic interview!!!
Who cares for support of CBN.Who ahs asked you for support and what have you got to support others.You are already zero in andhra politics.In my constituency in west godavari your party lost deposit in recent bypolls .CBN dont do tamasha with modiji name as if you have no other work to do.First worry where your party is going.It wont win more than 25 seats of 294 seats and zero parliamentary seats.Dont compare yourself to modiji
who needs ur support...the recent by polls show u will be extinct by 2014..anyways first u try and support urself and ur party.then u can think of supporting Modi
This joker would do anything to get minority votes. what this man was doing when he was with the NDA! Modi bashing has become apolitical compulsion to get minority votes. shameless politician.
Just to add, most of present generation folks do not know that there was a time, when TDP was actually the Principal opposition party in India. Yes.. this was in 1984 LS polls, every state in India voted for congress in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi assasination except one state AP which voted TDP.
NTR was truly a remarkable man and his efforts towards creation of national alternative to Congress can never be forgotten. He is one remarkable man, a true brave leader who dared to question and challenge the feudal autocracy of the Indira-Rajiv dynasty. He is one of the countless leaders in India because of whom india is not yet another one party, one family ruled autocracy.
It will be a great tragedy if the party founded by such a wonderful leader goes extinct and it will be good if CBN focusses on the real task at hand, that is to revive TDP as a serious non congress alternative in AP, instead of wasting time on secularism/communalism tamashas.
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