Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, by trying to woo Muslims, appears to be on a political course correction. Naidu, who paid a heavy price for joining hands with the BJP in 2004, does not want a repeat now. Having abandoned the NDA in March for whatever reason, Naidu now wants to get the best out of his departure from the saffron camp. He is trying to win the confidence of the Muslim minorities as a spin-off benefit from his long - drawn-out battle with the saffron brigade.
In 2004, Naidu himself had admitted that he lost the election because the Muslim had turned against him for being with BJP. The wounds of the post-Godhra carnage of Muslims in Gujarat being fresh in their minds in 2004, the Muslims are perceived to have left Naidu’s company.
Naidu, after the carnage, lodged a protest with the NDA but, it is alleged that he subsequently kept quiet when the Centre promised liberal support to AP’s the then flagship programme Food for Work. Naidu may have forgotten the issue but the Muslims did not and are said to have avenged the betrayal in 2004.
They continued their support to the Congress in 2009 too and then after the death of YS Rajasekhar Reddy, they continued to stay with Jagan Mohan Reddy. In 2014, though the Muslims had softened a bit, Naidu’s alliance again with the BJP had made them stay in the YSRC camp.
The Muslims trounced TDP candidates in about 25 to 30 assembly constituencies in 2014, mostly in Rayalaseema, thus helping the YSRC win them, in the process. Now he is beckoning them to come back to TDP fold from the influence of YSRC.
Naidu, eager to cash in on Narendra Modi’s mojo ahead of 2014 election, hugged him, not bothering about his action causing consternation among the Muslims. As the writing on the wall was clear that Muslims were angry with him, he did not field anyone from that community from anywhere, barring in Pileru in Chittoor which the TDP lost to YSRC, as expected.
After he called it quits with the BJP, he has made a slew of promises to the Muslims – like construction of a Haj house, allocation of over Rs.1,000 crore in budget for them, celebrating Ramzan with them in Vijayawada, and planning a major Muslim outreach programme at Guntur on August 23 where the party cadres hope that not less than one lakh people would attend.
It is perceived that most of the Muslims are still with YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and getting them back into TDP fold is the main challenge for the TDP. The YSRC leaders are sure that they would continue to enjoy the support of the Muslims but the TDP honchos are counting on Muslims throwing in their weight behind the TDP this time since Naidu had come of NDA and now does not have any tinge of saffron anywhere on his clothes.
To hasten the process of migration of Muslims back to the TDP, Naidu is trying to script an audio-visual melodrama that Jagan Mohan Reddy has an invisible saffron streak in him and that both the YSRC and the BJP are on the same page. Naidu and his acolytes never run out of breath in painting a picture that Jagan Mohan Reddy is, in fact, Narendra Modi’s poodle, as the former needs the support of the latter than vice-versa.
This the TDP leader explains is on account of Jagan Mohan Reddy being neck deep in CBI cases and to get off the hook, Modi’s help is a sine qua non. They say that if YSRC Rajya Sabha members had voted for NDA nominee for vice-chairman’s position of the Upper House, it was because of the tacit understanding between the two parties.
But YSRC leaders keep harping that parting of ways with the BJP by Naidu was a stage-managed show intended to pull the wool over the Muslims. Both Naidu and Modi are enemies in the open but are friends on the sly and refer to Chandrababu Naidu appointing the wife of Maharashtra’s BJP Minister as a member of the TTD board in support of their argument. This political jockeying is being done by both the parties, sources say, only to retain the support of Muslims.
At the moment, Naidu is thinking of taking a Muslim into his cabinet but unfortunately, he does not have any among his MLAs except the two legislators who had defected to the TDP from YSRC. After taking four MLAs from YSRC into his cabinet, he has received enough flak from the Opposition and if he takes one more – either Jaleel Khan or A Chand Basha - Naidu would be walking on thin ice in justifying his actions.
Among the two MLCs, N Md Farooq is already the chairman of the council and there is a lone TDP MLC Sharief Mohammad Ahmed who might be considered for a berth in the cabinet. The YSRC MLA who crossed over to TDP Jaleel Khan has poor chances of becoming a minister as he has become a laughing stock after he claimed to have studied physics in B Com.
In TDP circles, it is said that Naidu had a strong reason when he aligned with the BJP ahead of 2014 elections and abandoned the BJP ship ahead of 2019 elections. Naidu, who found out from his surveys that Modi was the hot favorite for the youth in 2014 as he was emerging as some kind of a supernova, benefited from the rub off by staying with him.
Now Naidu does not want anything to do with Modi, because his surveys point out that Modi’s graph had crashed, and that NDA may not come to power. He seems to have thought it would be foolhardy to travel with Modi as the BJP appeared to be a sinking ship for him, what with an anti-Modi wave is perceived to be building up in the country. He took the leap of faith by coming out of the NDA hoping, among other things, the Muslims, who are about seven percent of the total population, would return to his fold.