N. Chandrababu Naidu has worn many hats, and with aplomb. Once an ally of the BJP, Naidu pulled out his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from the BJP-led government last year accusing the Centre of ignoring Andhra Pradesh’s interests after bifurcation of the state to form Telangana. Now, with just a few months ahead of crucial general elections, Naidu has emerged as a key figure in a possible anti-BJP formation. In an exclusive interview to M.S. Shanker, Naidu opens up about his political goals and how he plans to go about them. Excerpts…
How optimistic are you on forming a formidable anti-BJP front to take on the Modi-led BJP in the coming general elections?
The proposed mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) as a non-BJP front has received general acceptance from the Congress and a majority of other opposition parties who are at the forefront of the “save democracy” agenda to preserve the secular fabric and institutions in the country.
Are you hopeful of forging an alliance with Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which have joined hands in Uttar Pradesh minus the Congress?
The SP and the BSP have their own political compulsions in sharing seats in UP. But when it comes to national interests, they have little option but to join the non-BJP front. All political parties with secular credentials are bound to align and unite in fighting against communal forces. So, when the time comes, I believe that the SP and the BJP will join the mahagathbandhan at the national level.
Do you accept the leadership of Rahul Gandhi as the leader of an anti-BJP front? Are any other names under consideration?
Our agenda is to unseat Modi and his BJP government. And later opt for a consensus candidate as the prime minister. I am confident that consensus will emerge when we achieve our first goal or objective. Currently, my effort is to bring all parties together, which are opposed to Modi’s style of functioning, to ensure the defeat of the BJP-led NDA.
What will be your role? Will it be only as a coordinator or are you willing to accept if leadership is thrust upon by other partners?
"The SP, BSP have their own compulsions in UP. But for national interests, they have little option but to join the non-BJP front."
I am very clear right from the beginning. I am not in the leadership race. I wish to be a facilitator. We do have seasoned and matured leaders in the Opposition. Although I am the seniormost with four decades in public life, I have no ambitions. My ambition is only to develop Andhra Pradesh. What I have done during my nine-year tenure in undivided AP is there for everyone to see. Yes, I proudly claim that what Modi could not succeed in Gujarat, I have done for Hyderabad to put it on the international map. None can rob that credit from me.
Do you think that the failure of the Praja Kutami (People’s Alliance comprising the TDP, Congress, Telangana Jana Samithi and CPI) in the recent assembly polls in Telangana will have any bearing on the proposed anti-BJP front?
I justify the decision to align with the Congress to take on chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. In political churning, we too have to change. Today, democracy is at peril, and all like-minded parties have to join hands to end the undemocratic and dictatorial rule of Modi. I don’t want to attribute the defeat of Praja Kutami to EVMs. Yet, I firmly believe that technology is prone to be misused. Technology should be used for better purposes, for people’s overall welfare and development of state and country, instead of misusing it to win elections. I have proved to the world how technology can change the way of life, improve economy and living standards. True, I may not be pioneer as far as IT introduction is concerned in the country as it was Rajiv Gandhi, who took the initiative. But I gave a much-needed boost to using IT for constructive purposes and also others to follow.
KCR was the first to take the initiative to propose a federal front as a non-BJP and non-Congress coalition group. He even met (former PM) Deve Gowda, (late DMK leader) Karunanidhi and (Bengal CM) Mamata Banerjee. What will be the fate of KCR’s federal front, particularly when he has also met leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik?
"I am very clear right from the beginning. I am not in the leadership race. I wish to be a facilitator."
I wish not to comment. Can any coalition partner form a government at the Centre without the support of either the Congress or BJP, which are national parties? Regional parties, though they are ambitious with local political compulsions and wish to take part in the idea of national development, ultimately must care to save democracy in the country. After all, ours is the biggest democracy in the world and we would not afford to lose that identity.
Don’t you think two or three fronts, if formed to defeat Modi, may benefit the BJP?
There is no scope for three fronts. I assure you there will be only two fronts. One is supporting Modi and the other opposing his anarchic governance.
Why is the opposition scared of Modi?
No one is scared of Modi. He has crossed all limits and is misusing all democratic and constitutional institutions against his political adversaries. Modi has surpassed previous Congress governments as well.
What are your personal differences with Modi and the government headed by him?
Modi went back on his promises, especially to Andhra Pradesh. He did not accord special category status to the state, which was assured in Parliament. That apart, he is also not releasing promised funds for various development activities of the state, including building a new capital and the multi-crore Polavaram project, which has been declared a national project.
Why did you join the Modi-led NDA ahead of the 2014 elections?
All knew about my anti-Modi views while he was chief minister of Gujarat, particularly after the post-Godhra violence. I had also made a demand to the Vajpayee-led coalition government to dismiss CM Modi. But, due to reasons best known to Vajpayee or for internal party pressures, it did not happen. Subsequently, I felt Modi is a changed person; so, I chose to align with the BJP.