Sweet are the uses of adversity. This quote from William Shakespeare in ‘As You Like It’ applies more to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu than to any other leader in the country.
Having gone through a difficult phase in his stint as the first chief minister of the truncated state of Andhra Pradesh, he now appears poised to pick up the precious ‘jewel on the head of the toad’ of misfortune that has befallen him in the form of an unhelpful Centre.
If Naidu is slowly growing tall and is occupying national political space, it is all because NDA knew little about Naidu's DNA and pushed him too far. Already fighting a battle with his bete noire YS Jaganmohan Reddy on his home turf, Naidu is always fit and battle-ready. When he had to open another battle-front against the BJP and Jana Sena, he did not have to struggle much. It came as a second nature to him.
Now Naidu's has emerged as a national leader and is poised to become a rallying point for non-NDA regional parties, a la National Front of which he was the convenor. After Congress has died a horrible death in 2014 in AP for its sin of dividing the State, there seems to be no scope for any green shoots in the grand old party though old warhorse Oommen Chandy has been asked to resurrect it.
As there is practically no Congress in the State, Naidu has one enemy less. He only has to reckon with Jaganmohan Reddy, who is a challenge to him; the new kid on the block, Pawan Kalyan, is barely out of his diapers in politics.
After landing in Delhi a couple of days ago, Naidu immediately got down to business before getting his counterparts on board. He met the mercurial and temperamental Mamata Banerjee and other non-BJP chief ministers, including HD Kumaraswamy and Pinarayi Vijayan who too were in the nation's capital for NITI Aayog’s fourth Governing Council meeting on Sunday.
They had a ready issue for them to get together - expressing solidarity with Arvind Kejriwal, who is staging a sit-in at Raj Niwas, protesting against the IAS officers' non-cooperation with the government allegedly at the behest of the Centre.
Naidu and his comrades-in-arms called on Kerjiwal's wife when Delhi Lt Governor's office did not give them permission to visit Kejriwal and express solidarity with him.
Kejriwal is fighting his own battle with the BJP leadership in Delhi and summoning the spirit of Opposition unity, which was on display at Bengaluru on the day Kumaraswamy assumned office, Naidu and his colleagues lashed out at the Centre for derailing the Delhi administration.
Before Naidu delivered his address for about 20 minutes at the NITI Aayog governing council meeting, overshooting the time given to him, he had done floor coordination with the other three chief ministers on Saturday itself on cornering the Centre on issues that were at stake. Though Andhra Pradesh has only one issue that dominates everything else - special category status - others had different irons in the fire.
Mamata Banerjee’s priority was fighting against the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission which sought to do injustice to the performing States as it was asked to take 2011 Census rather than 1971 Census as the basis for recommending central devolutions.
Till the other day, Naidu was fighting a lone battle with the BJP after stepping out of NDA, upset with the BJP not honoring any of the commitments made in the AP State Reorganisation Act, 2014 and the promise of special category status made on the floor of Rajya Sabha by the then prime minister Manmohan Singh.
He had not bothered much about the awakening that took place in regional parties in the other states that they should fight the saffron party. He just kept pummeling BJP for the injustice meted out to AP. Till than, his focus was to consolidate the people of AP against the BJP so that he could gain electorally at the time of reckoning.
Later, he seemed to have sensed an opportunity in playing big at national level, which would fetch him handsome electoral returns back home as he would be viewed more as a national leader. This way, he is understood to have thought that he could make good the damage that may have been done to the party by taking up special category status issue, which is a complete U-turn.
Luckily for Naidu, he does not have the problem that Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has in forging unity among the regional parties at the national level since it is still believed that any formation that takes place would have to have either the Congress or the BJP as its leader.
KCR cannot accept Congress as the leader of the coalition of non-BJP regional parties since it is his principle opposition party in his State and the regional parties tend to veer towards the Congress, notwithstanding KCR’s cry that the Congress should vacate the political space for regional parties to fight the BJP.
But Naidu has no such problem as there is no Congress in his State and therefore if a need arises that the Congress should lead the non-BJP alliance, the AP leader may not have much objection though it is at present argued that the TDP is dead against the Congress.
Though it is too early to say which way the cookie would finally crumble, Naidu's stature as a national leader appears to work as a tailwind for his party in the elections at home.