Chandrababu Naidu’s Return To Andhra Pradesh

TDP's sweeping victory catapulted Naidu to a kingmaker’s role in national politics after BJP failed to secure the majority required to form a government on its own

Chandrababu Naidu in Kurupam

From walking out of the NDA alliance in 2018 after no movement in the demand for the “special status” promised to Andhra at time of its bifurcation, to helping Narendra Modi and his BJP form a government at the centre in 2024, Chandrababu Naidu’s political journey has come a full circle.

The Telugu Desam Party won 16 Lok Sabha seats and 135 assembly seats in the general and assembly election respectively, that were held simultaneously in Andhra Pradesh. This sweeping victory catapulted Naidu to a kingmaker’s role in national politics after BJP failed to secure the majority required to form a government on its own. The TDP is the second largest constituent in the BJP-led NDA with 16 MPs. 

For the last few days, all eyes have been on Naidu and what he’s going to do next. What’s at stake for him?

The state of Andhra Pradesh and its people have been demanding a Special Category Status since 2014, when AP was bifurcated and Telangana was formed as a separate state. The Centre grants the Special Category Status to some states to assist their development, based on certain geographical and socio-economic disadvantages. The scheme was introduced on the recommendation of the Fifth Finance Commission in 1969.

Andhra has been demanding SCS on the grounds of the loss it had to incur in the aftermath of the bifurcation in 2014. The UPA government at the centre had then promised special status to AP to compensate for the loss of revenue, and of the city of Hyderabad, where much of the development was concentrated. 

Although TDP was part of the first Modi government in 2014, there was no headway on the special status demand. In March 2018, Naidu quit the NDA after facing criticism over the same, and launched a tirade against Modi and his government ahead of the Assembly election of May 2019. 

As TDP walks back into the alliance this election, all eyes will be on how Naidu will convince his BJP allies to grant SCS to Andhra Pradesh – a long-pending promise that even YSRCP leader and former Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy had made, albeit with no success.

Chandrababu Naidu's wishlist

Prior to the alliance, BJP’s presence in AP was a mere 0.8 per cent, explains E Venkatesu, Professor of Political Science, University of Hyderabad and member in CSDS-Lokniti network. “After forming the alliance with TDP, BJP managed to get 2.5 per cent of seats in the state on its own. Its future in the state will depend on how well it can work out the alliance,” he says.

With Naidu now as the ‘kingmaker’, he is likely to push for several plump portfolios in Modi’s Cabinet and has even demanded the Speaker’s post, according to media reports. He is also likely to seek the elevation of his son and TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh to the national stage. Lokesh had taken over the works of TDP when his father was jailed and has been publicly credited for the party’s sweep in the elections this time. 

Just few days ago, Nara Lokesh voiced his support for continuing reservation for Muslims. "It's a fact that minorities continue to suffer and that they have the lowest per-capita income...It(reservation for Muslims) has been going around for two decades and we stand by it. We intend to continue it," he said, which is in stark contrast to the Modi government's stance on reservations for Muslims.

So how the two parties balance their interests and opinions will be seen in the coming few months. “Naidu has a rich experience in working with coalition governments,” says Venkatesu, adding that he is expected to strike the right balance between regional interests and social engineering, considering that BJP cannot form a majority without TDP’s support.

Naidu’s previous run-ins with the BJP

Although their alliance worked out this time, Naidu and Modi have a chequered past, one that’s often brought up by the media when both leaders share the same frame. 

After the 2002 Godhra riots in Gujarat, Naidu criticised Modi’s handling of the situation and demanded his resignation. 

In 2019, Naidu publicly called Modi a “hardcore terrorist”. “Narendra Modi is a hardcore terrorist…If you (minorities) vote for Modi, many problems will arise…this Modi brought Triple Talaq Act to put you behind bars…I was the first person who demanded his resignation (after 2002 Gujarat riots)….Most countries banned his entry. After becoming the Prime Minister, he is again trying to attack minorities,” he said at a rally in Chhittoor. 

The BJP too has criticised Naidu in the past on multiple occasions. Home Minister Amit Shah had said in 2019 that they had ‘permanently shut the doors’ for the TDP. In his first address since the breakdown of alliance in 2018, the Prime Minister had said, “There are four truths about Naidu. First is his fear of loss in the coming elections. Second is he wants to promote his son in politics. The third is his personal wealth creation and fourth is his fear of the person standing in front of you, your chowdikar,” he said. “Ye baap-beta ki sarkar phir nahi aayegi.”