Chandrababu Naidu and his dharna drama
It’s some wonder that Chandrababu Naidu, given his fallen stock, is still able to have a disparate group of regional chief ministers and party heads squat with him on dharnas in solidarity.
Rahul Gandhi of course would gatecrash at any such occasion to be in the frame but the presence of Mamata Banerjee or Arvind Kejriwal; Yadavs, be it Tejaswi, Akhilesh or Sharad; and many others, either with folded legs or upraised arms, is a complete disregard to be seen in bad company.
It’s been less than two months when Naidu and his Prajakutami bloc were thrashed in the Telangana state assembly elections (21 seats out of 119) by K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) and charges of nepotism and corruption are rife yet none of his prospective allies seem to mind.
Naidu is a veteran without doubt but he was out of power for 10 years before 2014 assembly elections. Since his return, he has squandered his mandate with both hands. He hoisted his rookie son Nara Lokesh as IT minister in his cabinet without a care to public opinion. His sense of entitlement on Hyderabad is resented by its locals and his dream of turning Amravati into a new dazzling Capital is turning sour because of financial misadventures. It’s just not massive swindling in Povalaram irrigation project, as BJP president Amit Shah has spelt out in a scathing letter on Monday, but also his massive hubris which shows his disconnect with the masses today.
Naidu wouldn’t let Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) probe corruption cases against his Telugu Dasam Party (TDP) and has banned its entry from his state. He has also announced that the Income Tax officials—who left him red-faced with raids on businessmen—wouldn’t be given police cover during the raids. Such is his intolerance that a Hyderabad techie was arrested for lampooning Naidu and his son in a Facebook post in 2017.
The corruption charges against Naidu, his family and his party, are staggeringly massive. Be it sand or land or education mafia, they abound in his state. Lokesh declared his assets to be worth Rs 330 crores in his MLC nomination affidavit which was 23 times more than the value he had disclosed only a few months earlier. Prime Minister Narendra Modi happily waded into the TDP mess in a public rally recently.
Naidu is known to go the extra mile in cultivating media houses for positive projection. It is alleged his team monitors TV channels and those who give diluted or curtailed coverage to his public appearance, are threatened with reduced advertisements to the offending channel. His projection as a leader of national gravitas is said to be promoted by crony capitalists who want to return to the good, olden days of financial laxity in the pre-BJP days.
Andhra’s politics is dominated by two castes: Reddys (YSR Congress) and Kammas (Naidu’s TDP). Kammas, with 27 percent share in state’s population, are a formidable equation. South Andhra, such as Krishna and Guntur regions, are its base. Most famous film studios in Hyderbad are owned by these Kammas. Most news media channels are also owned by the Kammas who stick to pro-TDP line.
In his dharna in the Capital on Sunday, Naidu brought his supporters on two special trains from Andhra Pradesh for photo-optics. His cabinet colleagues, MPs, state legislators, student leaders, employees groups and mass organizations all joined him. Since he pulled out of alliance with BJP last year, Naidu has staged similar dharnas in 11 out of 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh.
Naidu is a discredited leader without a mass base today but pins for a national centre-stage, not dissimilar to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. He seems to have swallowed his own image of turning over Hyderabad into an Indian Silicon Valley though the ground facts are different. Nobody is fooled by the presence of Rahul Gandhi in his dharnas even as the two parties can’t stand each other in Andhra Pradesh. (Congress is similarly opposed to TMC in West Bengal even though Rahul Gandhi swears his undying support to everything Mamata “Didi” utters these days. So is the case with Congress in Kerala—bitter rivals in state though allies in the making at national level). Without political heft or concrete agenda, his dharnas are going nowhere.