Nothing pumps the adrenalin like mass adulation. Despite having been ousted from power through a coup by son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu, N.T. Rama Rao is riding high. The surging crowds which visit his Banjara Hills residence every day, and the return of 14 Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MLAs led by his other son-in-law, Dr Venkateswara Rao, have brought back the glow of confidence to the ageing patriarch's face. “I have the support of the people and that is what is most important,” he says, reassured.
There is every reason for NTR to be upbeat. His favourite son-in-law is back. His supporters no longer show any ill-will towards his wife, Lakshmi Parvati. His eldest son, Jayakrishna, has expressed support, exhorting the MLAs with Chandrababu Naidu to return and to refrain from “clipping the wings of a bird about to fly.” The MLAs who had deserted him are now sending feelers. It has taken only six weeks for the founder of the TDP to re-emerge from political oblivion.
There is a sense of alarm in the Naidu camp despite their support of 176 MLAs
in the 292-member House. The fear is that of NTR does manage to rope in 25 more mLAs, he could split the TDP and horse trading would then begin. However, Venkateswara Rao does not see any immediate change in the political scenario. “Public sentiment is with NTR. The MLAs have been talking to us. But it will take time for something major to happen,” he says.
Political observers feel that with the support of the CPI and the CPI(M), which have 19 and 15 seats respectively in the Assembly, Naidu will survive even if a few more MLAs defect. Besides, many legislators are waiting for the sops promised by the new chief minister who, the MLAs say, is committed to keeping the flock happy.
Naidu's first test will be on October 17 when he tours the districts. He will be competing with his father-in-law who is widely recognised as a seasoned crowd-puller. The chief minister is noted for his organisational abilities but has never been known to be a big draw at public rallies. Besides, he has done no more than implement the schemes promised by NTR in his election manifesto. It is a reflection of his poor public image that party workers from the districts who visit Hyderabad often call on NTR before meeting the new chief minister.
NTR will also hit the road in the first week of November. His two-point programme is to “serve the people” and bring democracy back to the TDP – in other words, oust his son-in-law from chief ministership.
According to Venkateshwara Rao, this may not be the prime concern of his father-in-law who, as chairman of the National Front (NF), will also be campaigning with the Lok Sabha elections in mind. NTR has promised to win 38 seats for the NF from Andhra Pradesh. He is seen by Janata Dal leaders Ram Vilas Paswan and Biju Patnaik as the NF's star draw in the state. The only Front partners opposed to him are the CPI and the CPI(M) who are all for inducting Naidu's TDP into the NF. NTR has made his objections to such a move very clear.
Will the NF be able to bring around the CPI and the CPM? If that happens the Left parties may have to withdraw their support to the chief minister at the state level.
With both NTR and his son-in-law going to the people, fireworks are expected in the weeks to come. Should the patriarch emerge the more popular, of the two, there could be further turbulence, for the new Andhra Pradesh chief minister.