THIEF Minister Chandrababu Naidu has reason to be upset. Factional feuds and groupism are catching up with his Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The growing indiscipline in the party is reflected in actor-turned Rajya Sabha member Mohan Babu's assault on a senior party functionary, Sankara Reddy, in Tirupati; in Renuka Chowdhary, the newly-inducted minister in I.K. Gujral's Cabinet, calling her party colleague, Jayaprada, a 'bimbo'; and in the stone-pelting of a minister, Veera Reddy, by the supporters of former MP, Palakonda Rayudu. The warning signals are very clear: the TDP is a divided house.
Cornered by the blatantly anti-party acts, the chief minister had no option but to place at least one, the Mohan Babu incident, before the party's disciplinary action committee. However, the actor-turned-politician refused to respond to the show-cause notice issued by the committee headed by Vadde Sobanadreshwara Rao. Instead, Mohan Babu claimed the charges were fictitious and held an impressive dharna at Tirupati to exhibit his clout. He also had a tete-a-tete with the controversial Naxal balladeer Gaddar. Taken aback, the party leadership preferred to stay silent. The actor-MP had even threatened to quit the party if the leadership didn't take note of his complaint against B. Gopala-krishna Reddy (minor irrigation minister), who, he said, instigated Sankara Reddy to file a police complaint. A case is pending against the MP for assaulting the latter in the chambers of the vice-chancellor of Sri Venkateswara University. Mohan Babu is now out on bail.
Former chief minister N.T. Rama Rao had a spontaneous way of handling such crises: by summarily showing the errant person the door. He suspended Renuka Chowd-hary when she criticised Lakshmi Parvati, his second wife. But Naidu is no NTR. The former TDP leader was known for quick decisions, including the wholesale sacking of 35 cabinet colleagues in 1988, when he suspected them of leaking the state budget to the media.
Naidu is more restrained. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister did not step on too many toes at the TDP's state executive. The only reference to Mohan Babu was indirect: "While I expected all public representatives to strive for the development of the state unitedly, most of them seem to prefer involving themselves in quarrelling." Even when he did take names Naidu religiously avoided roping in Mohan Babu. The chief minister instead pulled up his cabinet colleagues, T. Seetaram (information & public relations) and Basheeruddin Babu Khan (major industries) for their poor performance and for being irregular at party meetings. The end of his speech reflected the state of affairs in the party: "Stringent action would be taken against those ministers and party MPs who fail to behave and live up to the expectations of the people. Those seeking to form groups would not be spared," he warned.
But was that enough? Even TDP insiders are surprised by Naidu's soft approach, particularly in the Mohan Babu case. But obviously, Naidu has his reasons.
The three main players—the chief minister, his cabinet colleague Gopalakrishna Reddy, and Mohan Babu all hail from Chi-ttoor district. Clearly, Naidu is afraid of taking any stringent action against the actor as he is capable of turning the tables on him on his home turf. Mohan Babu is an ardent fan of NTR, who had inducted him into the TDP. Moreover, the actor and Naidu have long been business associates and ran a company—Heritage Foods—together. The chief minister was earlier the main promoter of the company, but his interests have now been transferred to his wife.
The chief minister also has close ties with Gopalakrishna Reddy who had helped him during the 1995 'coup' which turned the tables on NTR. Reddy helped Naidu hold the legislators 'captive' in a star hotel owned by his brother-in-law. As far as Ren-uka Chowdhary is concerned, Naidu's restraint is because he is well aware of Ren-uka's close proximity to Central leaders. Now Jayaprada says she feels let down—she expected Naidu to condemn the remarks. Discontent is also simmering among middle-level TDP leaders. Many had assumed they would be rewarded with chairmanships in several government-owned corporations but the chief minister has not obliged. It is said Naidu now has serious differences with senior colleagues like Revenue Minister T. Devender Goud and Finance Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju.
In addition to bickerings within the party, Naidu has problems aplenty. These include rising Naxal violence, acute power shortage and senior politicians of Telang-ana threatening to revive the movement for a separate state. Former minister P. Indra Reddy has deserted NTRTDP to form a regional party to fight for the rights of Tel-angana. And former DIG police M.V. Bha-skar Rao, of the dominant Kapu community in coastal Andhra, has formed the Telugu Nadu party. Rao hopes to rope in leading film personalities, Chiranjeevi and Dasari Narayana Rao, to help his party.
To add to Naidu's woes is the World Bank's doomsday forecasts. In its recent report, the Bank observed that the state's outstanding debt will rise sharply from Rs 15,090 crore in 1995-96 to Rs 38,080 crore in 2001-2002. This was in response to Naidu seeking a Rs 8,000 crore loan for a total restructure of the state's economy. Despite these harsh realities, Naidu is announcing one scheme after another. Where the funds will come from is not clear.
The present crisis in the TDP is not of the magnitude to splinter the party or threaten Naidu's chief ministership. But it has exploded the myth that Naidu's writ runs undisputed in a united TDP.