THE barbs seem to have struck home. India's most business-friendly chief minister, the man who was being described as the Mayor of Hyderabad because of his infotech drive and who made no bones about his partiality to World Bank prescriptions, is falling back on the good old stunts patented by his father-in-law. Rice at Rs 2.50 a kilo for all in Andhra Pradesh (NTR's Rs 2 bonanza) was restricted to the underprivileged - Chandrababu Naidu's latest policy U-turn - is a belated bow to the rural sector, aimed obviously at the elections slated for year-end.
Forget about the accolades he was collecting for his hi-tech plans. Away from the capital, it was always a different story. An ominous discontent was brewing among district-level tdp leaders on account of Naidu's Hyderabad-centred policymaking. To make matters worse, last fortnight, on NTR's third death anniversary, his third son Nandamuri Harikrishna raised the banner of revolt. Denouncing Naidu for drifting from his father's path and bowing to World Bank diktats, he declared his intention to form a new party - bad news in an election year.
Harikrishna's action will not only push the 16-year-old tdp towards yet another split, it will also divide the family into three groups - NTR's five sons, including actor Balakrishna, who have joined hands to fight the third brother-in-law; Naidu's Telugu Desam Party; and NTR's widow Lakshmi Parvati heading NTR tdp.
With assembly elections scheduled towards the year-end, introspection has deepened within tdp ranks. Many are seriously debating whether the policies enunciated by the leadership have alienated the rural masses from the party. Many tdp legislators, particularly those belonging to the backward north Telangana and north coastal Andhra, where there's no let-up in the left-wing extremist violence, agree in private that the picture isn't too encouraging.
The genesis of this line of criticism can be traced to the point when Naidu, soon after dislodging NTR, discontinued his populist schemes at the World Bank's instance. The power tariff was hiked to compensate the Andhra Pradesh State Electricity Board's mounting losses of Rs 2,000 crore; the party's election promises of subsidised rice scheme were scrapped; power supply to the farm sector was abandoned.
Simultaneously the state began to borrow from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and central financing agencies for infrastructure projects. A move which has been roundly criticised by the Opposition as also Harikrishna. Notes former pcc chief and MP, K. Rosaiah: "What has Naidu and his government achieved? It has only helped the public debt soar from Rs 11,670 crore in 1994-95 to Rs 20,430 crore!" The cpi(m) has published a booklet in an effort to nail the lies of Naidu. Naidu's logic that investment in the state will eventually solve Andhra's problems, makes sense only in Hyderabad's boardrooms.
Even Naidu's pet 'Janmabhoomi' programme has not generated the response and support it was expected to. Naidu himself faced the wrath of the people in Telangana during the just-concluded ninth-edition of the programme. Says state revenue minister T. Devender Goud: "It may be true that some sections of the people are unhappy with the pace of work. That does not necessarily mean that 'Janmabhoomi' has not yielded the expected results." As for implementing election promises, Goud feels that in a fast-changing economic scenario, it may not be possible for any government to stick to appeasement policies.
Naidu's rural electorate is far from impressed. Rice costs more, so does power. Unemployment levels are on the rise. Public health is being neglected - last year more than 2,000 tribals died of gastroenteritis, ostensibly because of lack of timely help from the Primary Health Centres.
Says Congress Legislature Party leader P. Janardhan Reddy: "With the backing of the media, Naidu might have buried the basic problems of the poor in the backyard. But he has to pay the price." The popular perception remains that Naidu is concerned only with beautifying Hyderabad. The Congress and the bjp have already brought out chargesheets against the state government. More importantly, an internal survey conducted by the tdp reveals it weak in as many as 80-90 constituencies, forcing the chief minister to press the panic buttons. Cautioned Naidu at a recent meeting of party workers: "Unless we pull up our socks, it would be difficult for us to fight our rivals."
If he has to win the elections, Naidu will have to look up from his laptop. The NTR-style rice scheme is the fruit of this rethinking. Obviously, Naidu realised it was high time he changed the popular perception that he was concerned only with beautifying Hyderabad.