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TDP’s ‘Struggle For Justice’ Initiative May Actually Help BJP’s Cause

In times to come, it will be interesting to note how far the TDP succeeds in asserting itself against Modi and the BJP.

During a recent visit to my village, I found life-sized flexi boards erected by Telugu Desam Party (TDP), canvassing for a Dharm Poratam (Struggle for Justice) against the Union government led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). One of the billboards put up in Vijayawada read: “Chandrababu Naidu is only the one who can fight against dictator Modi.”

This assertion clearly conveys the message the so-called Dharm Poratam campaign is trying to drive home. Chandrababu, usually known to be good at browbeating opponents, has failed in his struggle to garner special status for Andhra Pradesh. Political developments over the last three months clearly indicate that the ruling TDP also failed to shape the course of events in the State. Not only that. Now there is talk about the need to “change mindsets”, which has been Chandrababu’s favorite choice of phrase for the past two-and-a-half decades.

It was the YSR Congress led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of late YS Rajasekhar Reddy, that set the stage for extreme steps such as attempting to bring a no-confidence motion against the Union government, followed by resignations by its Members of Parliament and a hunger strike at Andhra Pradesh Bhavan in Delhi.

The TDP attempted to match YSR Congress’s actions by, first, getting its ministers to resign from the Central cabinet, and then, walking out of the NDA followed by moving a no-confidence motion.

The no-confidence motion moved by elected representatives from Andhra Pradesh reflects the sentiment of the people of the State. It is likely to go down as the first attempt of its kind made by a State against the Union government of the day.

Had the motion been accepted by the Lok Sabha Speaker, it would have made history. The Modi government successfully managed to divert the issue by refusing to control members from AIADMK who, on the pretext of the Cauvery water dispute, created enough din in Parliament to ensure it did not function.

In the whole episode, the BJP and its Parliamentary Affairs Ministry failed to assert the primacy of Parliament, which was once termed as the temple of democracy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

Subsequently, the TDP chief, imitating Modi, sat on a one-day hunger strike protesting against the Union government’s inaction over the demand for special status. Now with the TDP firm on continuing with Dharm Poratam until January 2019, the TDP-BJP one-upmanship has reached the streets.

People who have observed these developments closely will say the events were orchestrated to secure and safeguard one’s own political sway more than garnering special status for Andhra. In times to come, it will be interesting to note how far the TDP succeeds in asserting itself against Modi and the BJP.

The entire focus as of now is centered on targeting Modi individually rather than targeting the policy framework, which impedes his government’s actions in meeting people’s aspirations.

The TDP itself, under the stewardship of Chandrababu, is an integral part of legitimising such a policy framework. The CM has been adroit at discarding public sentiment in the interest of guaranteeing enormous profits to foreign and domestic investors. There is a need to change this mindset, especially in people who want the special status for Andhra, so as to move away from the neoliberal policy framework, which, in essence, withdraws all authority from the governments and rests them in the hands of investors.

This process has been piloted by none other than Chandrababu himself in his earlier stints as chief minister. He also headed several planning commission sub-committees, which indigenised the neoliberal policy frameworks drawing heavily from Western experiences and policy prescriptions. Now, the BJP is using the same policy instruments to undermine the state governments’ proposals or demands for special status.

This phenomenon of investors steering the policy discourse is evident in many states, including those ruled by regional parties such as TRS, TMC and DMK. This change of mindset also provides the much-needed impetus for the so-called federal front, which is under construction. Granting special status and harmonising neoliberal policy framework with that of Constitutional provisions, rather than undermining the latter altogether, will be a test case for the upcoming federal front if it wants to prove its utility in national politics.

The speeches that have been delivered to launch a scathing attack on the PM as part of Dharm Poratam reflects Chandrababu’s agonised individuality–captured perfectly in the banner mentioned above. The TDP’s attack is more focused on establishing the muscle power of Chandrababu rather than highlighting the cause for which it is fighting. Also, the attack centers more on the YSR Congress and less on the BJP, which is a pointer to the future direction.

Like the TMC and the AIADMK, the TDP is also banking on soft Hindutva instead of executing an all-out attack on the BJP. The TDP doesn’t want to annoy the middle class and upper middle class, which played a key role in entrenching BJP in TDP circles. The middle class’ notion of anti-corruption is influencing TDP’s strategy of portraying YSR Jagan as the Badshah of corruption.

Earlier, when the Left had aligned with the TDP, it had led to large-scale desertion of a considerable section of the Left’s vocal segment into Chandrababu’s party. Something similar unfolded when the TDP allied with the BJP. The alliance lasted for four years and it led to a shift in loyalties of TDP’s middle-class voter base to the BJP.

The TDP’s firepower, forced to take on the YSR Congress and the Left besides the increasingly influential BJP, is bursting at the seams. Such a misguided focus aiming at consolidating its political ranks is going to dent TDP’s image as well as base and do no favours to the demand for special status. This failure of Chandrababu’s party is helping the BJP swell its ranks.

 

Veeraiah Konduri is a senior journalist and commentator.