A pall of gloom pervades Lakshmi Parvathis NTR Telugu Desam camp. But strangely, it is not all smiles in the Chandrababu Naidu faction of the party either. Parvathis residence (the late NTRs) in Banjara Hills looks deserted as more and more legislators leave her camp to join the ruling TDP headed by Naidu. Naidu has his own problems with NTRs son Harikrishna raising the banner of revolt against his decision to align with the proposed Janata Dal led-Congress backed United Front government at the Centre.
In days to come, the depleted Parvathi faction will be left with just three legislators, G.M. Naidu, G.B. Choudhary and D. Rajasekhara Nehru (all ministers in the NTR cabinet), as the doors of the Naidu faction shut permanently for them.
As for Naidu, his jubilation at winning the elections and at playing kingmaker in the formation of a Third Front government is proving short-lived. At the Centre, there is every likelihood of fresh elections in the none-too-distant future as theres no clear mandate for any party to head a government. At the regional level, the challenge comes from Harikrishna, newly elected MLA from Hindpur, who is claiming to be the "truer inheritor of NTRs legacy".
In his much-publicised open letter to Naidu, Harikrishna questioned the T D Ps unilateral decision to oppose the Vajpaywee government and support a Third Front attempt backed by Congress. "The Telugu Desam was formed by my father to fight the Congress . Dont you think that you have deviated from the principles that my father laid down?" he asked. "Who did you consult before admitting those who crossed over f rom the Parvathi faction," he wanted to know. Naidu, who was camping in Delhi, was instantly forced to back down by saying that the "admission of the 16 legislators is not final".
At present, Naidu is pressing on with his objective of finishing off his step-mother-in-law politically. Parvathi, whose coterie lacks the credibility enjoyed by some of Naidus men, has also had to contend with the Nandamuri familys propaganda against her.
However, she blames her poor showing at the hustings on the chief ministers "undemocratic" tactics. Says she: "People are aware of the dubious methods that Naidu employed to win 16 Lok Sabha seats." Parvathi demands that her charges against Naidu be verified by "an impartial probe by either the Election Commission or the Centre to check the number of telephone calls that the chief minister made to bureaucrats and policemen drafted for poll duty on election days". But Parvathi also accuses the EC of having acted "unfairly" by denying her party the "cycle" symbol. "My rival derived maximum benefit from this."
The Parvathi faction received its biggest setback recently when its working president and NTRs second son-in-law, Daggubati Venkateswara Rao, MP, quit the party. Raos complaint was Parvathis alleged failure to ensure his smooth election to the Rajya Sabha in the recent biennial elections. He narrowly escaped defeat at the hands of Congress-backed independent T.Venkataram Reddy, editor of Deccan Chronicle.
However, Parvathi remains unfazed. " There is no death in politics," she says, confident of bouncing back to the centrestage sooner rather than later. "Look at Karunanidhis DMK in Tamil Nadu, how it has bounced back to power," she points out. NTR s widow is now determined to rebuild the party from the grassroots, revamp the set-up and introduce into the party new faces who are willing to serve selflessly. "I am confident that there are many who are wedded to the ideals of their Anna (big brother) NTR. I seek their help to rebuild the party cadre," she says optimistically.
The optimism may not be ill-founded. Harikrishnas letter is viewed as the beginning of the parting of ways in the Naidu faction. Harikrishna is suspicious of Naidus intentions, and feels he wants to cut him down to size. "Naidu is mistaken if he feels I won the byelections because of him and his governments policies. I won because I am the proud son of N.T. Rama Rao," says Harikrishna.
Parvathis supporters are confident that the entire rank and file of the ruling Naidu faction will get embroiled in the ongoing war set off by Harikrishna, with the latter emerging the immediate winner. And if theres a split, Parvathi will gain. Or so she hopes.