With a strong showing in the north east, the BJP’s next conquest has more than a few stumbling blocks in its way. The party will face a tough task to expand its reach in Andhra Pradesh on its own. Two ministers, Ashok Gajapathi Raju and YS Chowdary from the Telegu Desam Party (TDP) submitted their resignation letters to the Prime Minister. The reason was Andhra Pradesh not being granted special status.
Aviation Minister and TDP MP Ashok Gajapathi Raju’s resignation letter to PM Narendra Modi pic.twitter.com/DXFbagSzWs
— ANI (@ANI) March 8, 2018
Union Minister and TDP MP YS Choudhary’s resignation letter to PM Narendra Modi pic.twitter.com/qDeS2yHOfA
— ANI (@ANI) March 8, 2018
Even after a phone call with the Prime Minister, Naidu, who states that he waited for four years on the issue of a special status, could not wait any longer and could not go against the wishes of the people. He has been getting support from the film and business fraternity in the state over his position on the issue.
If the state had been granted special status, it would be entitled to special grants. The issue of a special status has been brought up multiple times by the TDP; since the creation of the Telangana state in 2014. This meant that Andhra Pradesh was deprived of revenue from districts where industries are located in and around Hyderabad. The state has a predominantly agrarian economy; as a result, concessions which states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand benefited from would be economically good.
The finance minister stated that giving special status to the state was not feasible; this prompted state Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu to come to the decision to pull out two ministers from the government. The TDP was a strong ally for the BJP in the south. The Times of India editorial points out how Naidu sees the NDA and BJP as different given the recent news –
“With general elections a year away, BJP may need to pay more attention to its allies. But as the resignation of two BJP ministers from the Andhra cabinet shows, the party is not one to let a provocation go unanswered”.
The alliance between the BJP and TDP was formed before the assembly and parliamentary elections in 2014. This coalition won 17 of 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Given that the BJP polled only a relatively small share of the votes, this does provide an opportunity for the party. The Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party, the main rival of the TDP, has been pushing aggressively for the special status that was promised during the bifurcation in 2014.
“If BJP is tempted to draw closer to Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party, Naidu has pre-empted this by portraying denial of special category status for Andhra as a “betrayal” by BJP. YSR must tread with caution to avoid attracting voter ire directed at BJP”.
One of the main problems that the BJP has in the state is absence of a dynamic presence like a Naidu or Jagan Mohan Reddy. Venkaiah Naidu could have been this person, but will ideally stay away from partisan politics as the Vice President of the country. The Indian Express editorial points out how the TDP’s decision shines a light of the mismanagement of the BJP’s coalition –
“The disquiet in the TDP should also serve as a warning bell to the BJP. The Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and smaller parties in Bihar have for long been complaining that the BJP ignores and relegates its allies. The estrangement of important allies as the government enters the last lap of its term must worry the BJP”.
The important point to be noted is that even if the TDP snaps ties and breaks free from the BJP and NDA, it shows the beginnings of a crisis in governance and the difficulty in the relations between the centre and the state. The State finance minister Y Ramakrishnudu led the TDP delegation in a meeting with Jaitley; though nothing did come of it.
TDP ministers resign, but party will stay with #NDA for now. Just keeping the door open. Will be interesting to know why BJP is not budging. All this can’t be only about the special package
— Abhijit Majumder (@abhijitmajumder) March 8, 2018
Pulling out his ministers but stayin in NDA means Babu/TDP are merely throwing a nakhra or tantrums. Modi/Shah BJP won’t be so bothered
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) March 8, 2018
The political implications for the state are that now the situation is fluid. Congress President Rahul Gandhi promised special status to the state of the party were to come to power in 2019. The Deccan Chronicle editorial states that the options for the TDP are limited –
“Why the TD has quit the government but not the NDA yet is an intriguing question. But the way things have gone so far, Mr. Naidu’s hand may just be forced. After the YSR Congress announced that its MPs would resign their seats if special status was not granted to Andhra Pradesh, the TD had little room for manoeuvre left”.
The YSR Congress has been vocal in its criticism against the TDP and Naidu for not doing enough as the reason for the centre not granting the special status. Only time will tell if this opens the door for the BJP to form an alliance or risk going it alone in the state.
“The possibility is open that the two major national parties and the two main state parties will contest the next Lok Sabha poll separately. However, partial electoral arrangements can’t be ruled out.”
Going into 2019, the BJP essentially runs 22 states; some of them with allies. In the south, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are tough nuts to crack as far as the BJP is concerned. Playing this out, if the BJP does decide to go solo in the state; the Prime Minister can take his development rhetoric and appeal to those who are disappointed by the TDP. He will come up against Naidu who can counter with voicing his anger at the BJP on the special status issue. It would be a bold move for the party to try and win in Andhra Pradesh on its own. That burden would most certainly fall on the shoulders of the Prime Minister.
More columns by Varun Sukumar