He can be the PM

He can be the PM

Let me, at the very outset, say kudos to TDP President Chandrababu Naidu for his successful completion of a historic walkathon. It was indeed a long...

Let me, at the very outset, say kudos to TDP President Chandrababu Naidu for his successful completion of a historic walkathon. It was indeed a long walk. For a 63-year-old politician, striding more than 2000 km in seven months is truly strenuous and laborious. It calls for an iron discipline and a will of steel. Naidu had proved many times earlier that he has both in large measure. Even though the trekking seemed listless on most of the days evoking some sympathetic remarks that Naidu does not deserve this punishment, which is self-inflicted, the way the sojourn was rounded off has created a positive impact on the people. The euphoria that was visible after the concluding public meeting at Vizag and the mammoth reception in Hyderabad must have sent positive signals to the party cadre as well as general public. The grand show can be expected to put an end, to an extent, to the migrations from TDP to other parties.
There will be enough funds forthcoming for the party to fight elections next year or later this year. Whether the voters have been really enthused or not would be known only after counting of votes whenever they are polled. A leader can only create an atmosphere. Naidu did it with great aplomb. It is for others in the party to take it forward. Naidu has been saying that he is now a changed man. He has gone back, according to him, to the pre-reforms days in 1999, when the World Bank bee had bitten him. It was the development model pushed by the World Bank that had changed the very demeanor and character of Naidu. He started behaving in outlandish ways describing himself as the CEO of AP Corporation. As he himself admitted more than once, he had taken his job too seriously without bothering to consider the consequences. He had, in the process, alienated the farmers, the employees and even party workers. He was not amenable to advice. There was an air of over- confidence bordering arrogance. This attitude has put off even well-meaning friends. If what Naidu says now is true, he is back to his old ways of moving with people in a friendly manner and being a good listener with his ears close to the ground. Naidu promised to work for the Third or Fourth Front. Saying that he would work it out at an appropriate time, he added, in his interview to the Economic Times, "We will do it. First, I have to build my State and government. Then everybody will come to me. Without having any base, nobody will talk to me, right? I am confident of building my State. Then I can play a positive role for the nation". There is bit of incoherence here. In the same interview he said Mulayam and all others are talking to him and he is in touch with all others. Moreover, the nation cannot wait till his State is "built." Both have to be done simultaneously. Elections are due to both the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly. "It is very clear that the Congress party has failed and it is going to be very difficult for it to sustain in the next elections. But being in the Opposition, the BJP is not gaining in any way", Naidu commented. Does it sound familiar? The same was said of the TDP in AP. While the Congress party has been becoming hugely unpopular with ministers and bureaucrats cooling their heels in jail fighting corruption charges, the TDP has not been getting any popular. This was exactly why Naidu had taken up the stupendous task of walking for more than 200 days. He wanted to turn the tide in favour of his party. YS Rajasekhara Reddy walked straight into chief minister's office after completing the marathon exercise. Would Naidu repeat the feat in style? Would the promises he made during the 'yaatra' suffice to propel him into power? Did he lose his core constituency when he promised everything under the Sun to everybody in his anxiety to make up with the sections that were rubbed on the wrong side during his tenure as chief minister? Would his "Welfare Avatar" be lapped up by the people? Does his ambivalent stand on Telangana help him? The answers to these questions would indicate whether he would be able to build the State or the nation or both. Before taking up Telangana question, let us consider his promise of freebees. A person of his standing and track record should talk of empowering the poor. When Sheila Dikshit stood her ground in the case power tariff, her image went up. Narendra Modi, who has his eyes on prime ministership, has never promised doles. Still he is popular. One should not promise something which one knows is impossible to deliver. If he goes for an overdrive on welfare, his hard-earned image as a reformer would take a beating. Naidu has a unique opportunity in the present context. In spite of losing two successive general elections, he remains the tallest politician in AP. As a former convener of the Third Front, he has close rapport with most of the national and regional leaders. He enjoys an eminent, if not pre-eminent, position in the Opposition spectrum that others like Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa or Mamata cannot boast of. He has a chance of becoming Prime Minister if he plays his cards well. It was in this regard that I ventured to render unsolicited advice to Naidu when I met him in Karimnagar district when he was walking there. Only two of us were there in the bus when we discussed politics. I did not take his permission to divulge what went on between us. Since I am not going to say what his reaction was, I think I am free to inform you what I told him. I said it was a blunder to have electoral tie-up with the TRS. I also told him that he would have become chief minister in 2009 had he stuck to the line that the TDP was born to keep the Telugus united and declared unambiguously that his party was against a separate Telangana State, come what might. His invention of two-eye theory had no takers either in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema or in Telangana. It was proved in 2009. It will not be different in 2014 whatever may be his confidence level of his resurgence. Naidu knows it too well that he would not be in the reckoning if he did poorly in next elections. He said it in so many words during his yaatra. None of the above mentioned regional leaders with national ambitions can win, I argued, more than 30 Lok Sabha seats on their own in 2014. If Naidu can manage to get that number, he would be the king and replace the Singh.
He was chief minister for nine years and the Opposition leader for more than nine years. What is the charm in taking up the reins in Hyderabad again? This job could be left to a lesser soul whom he trusts and he could move to centre-stage by leading the Third Front or Fourth Front government in Delhi. He would be the most acceptable leader among those who are going to constitute the new Front. There are at least four persons, among the regional leaders, who are dying to lead the country. They are not prepared to accept any one of them as the leader. They may arrive at a Common Minimum Programme and may even muster 272 members after elections, but the country needs a prime minister. Dissensions would start the moment a prime minister is named. In this background, Naidu stands a better chance than any other regional leader because of his pro-reform image. Mumbai, financial capital of India, like New York in the US, has a definite say in making and unmaking of governments in Delhi. A Even in Mumbai, the acceptance rate of Naidu is far greater than that of any other regional satrap. The million-dollar question before TDP supremo is how to get 30 LS seats. I was very clear when I told him that if he continues with the present stance on issues concerning AP, he would never get that number. He has to make his take on the Telangana tangle crystal clear without any more indulging in polemics which had only harmed him and the people. Since he says he stands by the letter he gave to Pranab Mukherjee, he should declare that he is for a demerger of AP and convince the leaders, cadres and the people in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema of the desirability, in the given situation, to go for a division and revival of Andhra State to put an end to bickering among brothers that has been going on for more than a decade. Since he is, hopefully, going to be in charge of affairs in Delhi, he can oversee the formalities of bifurcation like an uncle does when brothers go their separate ways. He would be in a position to give large package for construction of a capital for the new State. In the event of taking a clear pro-active stand on Telangana, he would be able to bag majority of LS seats in the region, and if his party can manage to convince the people in other regions of the benefits of having a capital city which they can call their own and the prospects of a faster growth, he might pick up good number of seats in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema as well, taking the tally to past 30. The Congress and the YSR Congress are not prepared to take a pro-demerger stand. The TRS has no infrastructure that is needed to convert popularity into votes. The party network has not been built. The BJP has a long way to go. The TDP has the strength of established leaders and workers both in Telangana and Coastal Andhra. If he is not prepared for the gamble, he has to declare that he is firmly opposed to the division of the State. He has to convince the leaders and workers in Telangana to change their stand and fight aggressively to preserve the unity of the State. But playing the cat on the wall and asking the Congress to take a decision since it is ruling both in Hyderabad and Delhi may pass as clever politics but not responsible politics expected of a statesman, as Naidu would like to describe himself. He may win elections and become chief minister again and then try to weaken the separatist movement, as his friend YSR did. But this opportunistic and treacherous game has taken its toll on the State already. The logjam has to be broken one way or the other. And Naidu is the best person to do that because of his stature and caliber. I am not going to tell you what Naidu's response to my argument was. You will know for yourself.
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