In the see-saw battle for one-upmanship in championing the state’s interests, as far as Andhra Pradesh goes, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu appears to have stolen a march over his adversary YS Jaganmohan Reddy in owning the struggle for a steel plant in Kadapa district.
What was till now a dormant issue, Naidu, with his political dexterity, converted it into a potent sentimental weapon, with which he had portrayed the BJP as the villain of the piece. By recreating the spirit of 1960s agitation for Visakhapatnam Steel plant, Naidu seems to have succeeded in stoking the flames of hatred against the BJP.
His Rajya Sabha member CM Ramesh fought a brave battle by being on hunger strike for 11 days. Considering the gradual shrinking of hunger strikes to one or two days, Ramesh’s was a valiant effort for a ‘cause’.
He looked really very pathetic after 11 days, rousing sympathy from the people who were surprised to learn that the MP had so much fight in him. Naidu had, in fact, compared Ramesh’s hunger strike with that of Potti Sriramulu. It is a different matter altogether that Sriramulu went on his protest strike in the then Madras on October 19, 1952 and died while on hunger strike on December 15.
The agitation for steel plant has netted two benefits for Naidu: He has shown how expensive he can turn a broken promise for the BJP and demonstrated his prowess in wresting the initiative in taking up the state’s cause from YSRCP leader, whose pal, the tainted Gali Janardhan Reddy had promised to set up a steel plant in Jammalamdugu in Kadapa district but did not do it. More spiteful is that Janardhan Reddy sent iron ore meant for Brahmani Steels Limited out of the country.
According to analysts, Naidu with his steel plant agitation had made good of the initiative he had lost in espousing the cause of special category status to Jaganmohan Reddy. Naidu is reportedly planning to organise a similar hunger strike by MP K Rammohan Naidu at Visakhapatnam for carving out a railway zone with Vizag as its headquarters.
In fact, railway zone has remained a sentimental issue for north Andhra despite the opposition in Rayalaseema and central coastal Andhra districts for taking forward such a move, Having fought for the steel plant at Kadapa, Naidu does not foresee any antipathy from the people of Rayalaseema if he presses for railway zone with headquarters at Visakhapatnam.
As another major agitation is also being planned for funds for Amaravati, the central coastal districts too might not have much objection for the railway zone. If Rammohan Naidu goes on hunger strike and shows tenacity like his Rayalaseema colleague, railway zone would become a much more explosive issue, sending reverberations across the nation.
As there is a talk of early elections for Lok Sabha, Naidu wants to be ready to deal a sledge-hammer blow to Narendra Modi, given that the Prime Minister cares more about Lok Sabha elections. As far as early Assembly elections are concerned, unless AP consents, there is no way early elections could be held till December as only then the Election Commission would have the right to order polls as the remaining term of the Assembly would be less than six months.
Though Naidu did not say anything about whether he welcomed early elections to Assembly, Lokesh did indicate that they would wait until the five-year term is over which means that if Narendra Modi goes in for early polls, elections in Andhra Pradesh would only be for the Lok Sabha.
Though BJP has no hopes of winning any Lok Sabha seat in AP, it is banking on the number of seats the YSRCP is likely to win so that it could seek its support for forming government at the Centre, should the need arise. As far as Telangana is concerned, KCR anyway appears to be moving closer to BJP, after giving silent burial to his anti-BJP and anti-Congress federal front concept.
KCR has already said that he was game for early Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. This indicates that he would dissolve the Assembly at the opportune time to facilitate holding of Assembly elections along with that of the Lok Sabha polls.
In this scenario, Chandrababu Naidu is planning to discredit the Centre to every possible extent so that the sentiment-driven people would rally behind him. If this polarisation happens, Naidu hopes to vanquish his enemies – YSRC and Pawan Kalyan and thereby derail the BJP's applecart. Naidu’s dharma Porata Deekshas and the other agitations are intended to keep the anti-BJP kettle boiling all the time.
If Jaganmohan Reddy scored brownie points with the electorate by taking a lead in espousing the special category status cause, Naidu has stolen thunder from YSRC MP’s resignation “charade” at Delhi. Proving Naidu right, the MPs who had announced that they would resign for special category status in the past did not do it till recently.
The Speaker took her own time in accepting them. When she did it finally, the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha turned out to be less than one year which meant there would no by-elections. Naidu repeatedly sought to call the bluff of resignations game that as there is no scope for by-elections, the MPs had resigned. Naidu had been saying that YSRC MPs were only making a show that they had sacrificed their positions hoping that people would believe in their special category status credentials.
In this political roller-coaster ride, it remains to be seen who would finally stay at the summit: Whether it is Naidu who is ploughing a lonely furrow or Jaganmohan Reddy, who is reportedly enjoying invisible support from the BJP.