Vajpayee-era a great chapter, recalls Chandrababu Naidu
Andhra Pradesh may not have a benefactor in future as generous as the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee The state was in a position to get anything it wanted from the BJP strongman during his third term as prime minister of India between 1999 2004
Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh may not have a benefactor in future as generous as the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The state was in a position to get anything it wanted from the BJP strongman during his third term as prime minister of India between 1999-2004.
N Chandrababu Naidu, who was the chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh during this period, ensured maximum returns to the state from the TDP's outside and issue-based support to the NDA at that time. Naidu, for his part, remained a dependable ally and an all-weather friend for Vajpayee. Whenever the NDA slipped into trouble, the TDP stood solidly behind Vajpayee, whether it was in the wake of Gujarat riots in 2002 or Tehelka defence scam in 2001.
That Naidu carried a lot of weight with Vajpayee was no secret. He, in fact, ensured that his candidate - Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi by influencing Vajpayee's decision. Naidu, in a statement on Thursday, said in Vajpayee's death the nation lost a great humanist and a leader with principles.
He credited the former NDA Prime Minister for taking initiative for the development of national highway from Tada to Itchapuram in AP, sanctioning World Bank funds to Velugu project, 50,000 tonnes of rice under Food for Work programme, IT development in Hyderabad, the international airport at Shamshabad and outer ring road for Hyderabad.
“Vajpayee appointed me as chairman of micro-irrigation task force,” Naidu reminisced. He also recalled that it was Vajpayee who inaugurated Cyber Towers in Hyderabad during TDP rule.
“I had a personal attachment with Vajpayee. Vajpayee-era remains as a great chapter in the history of Indian politics,” Naidu said. On his decision to extend support to the NDA from outside in 1999, he said: “Though Vajpayee offered eight Cabinet berths to TDP, the TDP stayed away from the Union Cabinet.”
Vajpayee served as prime minister three times - for 13 days in 1996, 11 months from 1998 to 1999 and for a full term of five years from 1999-2004. From the beginning, Naidu stood by the BJP, despite knowing that he was rubbing the Muslim community on the wrong side and finally paid a heavy price in 2004 when he lost to YS Rajasekhar Reddy of the Congress.
Naidu never pulled the rug under the feet of the NDA during its five-year term and remained a trusted friend to Vajpayee. For instance, when the NDA was rocked by riots in BJP-ruled Gujarat in 2002, Chandrababu Naidu stood by Vajpayee. At a time when the entire world was condemning the horrendous attack on Muslim minorities in Gujarat following the slaying of 59 kar sevaks in a train in Godhra in February the same year, Naidu lent the much-needed support to the NDA as it was navigating through a choppy sea.
Naidu's support was not just in the form desisting from increasing the heat on the NDA government but extending the much-needed reassurance that he would do what is needed for the NDA to restore people's confidence in the BJP. A magnanimous Vajpayee later opened flood gates of centre' granary for supporting the state government's flagship programme of food for work.
When Tehelka broke the first defence scam - Operation West End in 2001 - which led to the ignominous exit of the then BJP president Bangaru Laxman, Naidu again reiterated his support to the BJP and helped the NDA find its feet. The scam had hit the government like a maelstrom with 34 people in senior positions, including politicians in the government stepping down. Later, when the Centre sanctioned IRDA for AP, it was said that it was Vajpayee's way of repaying gratitude to Naidu.
Naidu's detractors pounce on him saying that he had used his position as the leader of the TDP which had 28 Lok Sabha members, to seek benefits for the state, deftly conveying the message that it would be in the interests of the NDA if it helped the AP.
In fact, the third term of Vajpayee was the golden era for Telugu Desam government in AP as there was no end to the largess that flowed to Hyderabad from Delhi. If the ISB came up and if IT majors like Microsoft set up their offices in Hyderabad, it was because Naidu's writ used to run large then.
Vajpayee never ran out of resourcefulness even in tricky situations. This correspondent remembers Vajpayee coming up with a repartee on why the BJP should depend on film actors in the general elections during his visit to Visakhapatnam in 1999. For a few seconds, he remained silent and then said: "What can I do? Stars themselves have come down from heaven to campaign for us."