By Kalyani Shankar
Andhra Pradesh, with its 25 Lok Sabha seats, is important in the event of a hung Parliament after the current polls. The State is also going for simultaneous Assembly elections, the first since the bifurcation in 2014.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu is fighting the elections with his back to the wall. In 2014, the ruling Telugu Desam got 15 seats, YSR Congress 8 and the BJP 2 while the congress drew nil. Then the TDP and the BJP were allies but this time both are going separately after Naidu severed ties with the NDA in March last on the issue of the Centre not giving special status to Andhra Pradesh. After 2004, this is the first time TDP is contesting without a pre-poll alliance.
Though the contest will be by and large triangular between the TDP, Congress and the YSR Congress Party of YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the BJP and movie star Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena are also trying to make their presence. All parties are contesting without allies and fighting from all the seats. While the Jana Sena is strong in the coastal Godavari region and Guntur, the YSR Congress has performed exceedingly well in the Rayalaseema region. The TDP is strong in Coastal Andhra. The Congress and the BJP are minor players.
Naidu is fighting hard to defend his throne while the challenger Jagan Mohan Reddy is inching towards power. Reddy has money, workers and age on his side. He has undertaken a Prajasankalpa Yatra since 2017 covering the entire state to woo the voters. He has the backing of the influential Reddy community, which is pitted against Naidu’s powerful Kamma community
In 2014, Naidu won riding on the Modi wave, which helped to beat Jaganmohan Reddy to the Chief Ministerial chair. Pawan Kalyan also supported him. As against the vote share of 32.5 percent of Telugu Desam Party, YSRCP got 32.1 percent vote that resulted in TDP bagging 103 seats in the Assembly as against 70 of YSRCP. The TDP got 15 Lok Sabha seats and the YSRCP 8 seats.
Naidu is clearly facing the toughest challenge in his four-decade long political career this time. Fighting anti incumbency and also the charge from his critics that he could not get the special status from the centre, Naidu continues to believe that the Modi- bashing might help him get votes. A major worry for the TDP is which side the 17% Kapu community will favour this time. In 2014, they favoured the TDP due to the influence of Pawan Kalyan. Pawan’s party may end up splitting the votes this time, which would potentially harm the TDP.
For optics, Naidu has mobilised the support of other regional satraps like the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda to campaign for him. He believes that his raised national profile might impress the voters.
Jagan, as a challenger has announced ‘Navaratnalu ‘or nine welfare schemes. This includes Rs 50000 per annum to farmers, fee reimbursement to all students, Rs 15000 to women to encourage them to send their children to school, waiver of all loans taken by women from cooperative societies, ban on alcohol, construction of 25 lakhs houses, reduction of pension age from 65 to 60 etc. Jagan thinks that these liberal doles might help him capture the throne.
Pawan Kalyan is the X factor in these elections. A Kapu by caste, Pawan ‘s party has influence in the costal districts in over 50 assembly seats. He may not win, but can damage the chances of Naidu. Kalyan has tied up with the BSP and Left parties, which have a vote share about 2 per cent. Pawan has promised clean politics and also bring the chief minister under the Lokayuktha
While the ruling TDP is depending on their government’s welfare schemes, the opposition parties are depending on the anti incumbency factor. The TDP banks on the split in the opposition vote. Naidu announced a string of sops and doles on January 25 for various castes and sections of people, followed by a farm investment support scheme of Rs 10,000 per year announced on February 13. While Naidu is seen as a capable administrator, the Opposition plays up on his failure to keep promises of 2014. The world-class capital Naidu promised to build at Amravati has barely taken off.
BJP is depending on Jagan to come to its rescue in the post poll scenario, if required. Reddy can hardly afford to have a pre poll pact with the BJP given his strong support base among the Christians and Muslims. However, there is some tacit understanding between the two parties to support each other secretly wherever possible.
Andhra Pradesh continues to remain relevant in the national scenario. Ultimately, even Naidu can go back to the NDA as he has been doing in the past. (IPA Service)