Changing political dynamics compelled Naidu to embrace enemy

Hyderabad: A few months ago, the TDP chief rubbing shoulders with the Congress president would have been trashed as an April Fool joke but changing political dynamics have compelled Nara Chandrababu Naidu to join hands with a party that has been his enemy for 35 years.

Thursday’s meeting, during which Naidu and Gandhi agreed to come together to take on the ruling BJP in the 2019 general elections, marks a dramatic shift in the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which was founded on anti-Congress plank.

This was perhaps the most dramatic move by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister in his 40-year-long political career.

The Congress had always been the No.1 enemy for Naidu, who never minced words in attacking the party when he was Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh from 1995 to 2004 and Leader of Opposition for another 10 years.

Considered a shrewd politician and master strategist, 68-year-old Naidu has made several surprising moves in the past – like joining hands with the BJP – but the latest move to embrace his sworn enemy has left everybody stunned.

The Congress was the TDP’s principal rival in undivided Andhra Pradesh ever since actor-turned-politician N.T. Rama Rao floated the regional party in 1982 on the slogan of Telugu self-respect.

Creating a record of sorts, Rama Rao, popularly known as NTR, stormed to power within nine months of launching the party, ending the Congress party’s monopoly in state politics.

When this happened, Naidu was in the Congress party, where he began his political career with Congress. Hailing from Chittoor district in Rayalaseema region, Naidu was drawn to politics at an early age and joined the Youth Congress as a student leader.

In 1978, Naidu was elected to Andhra Pradesh assembly from Chandragiri constituency on a Congress ticket. Naidu, then 28, was Technical Education and Cinematography Minister and during this period came in contact with the legendary NTR. In 1981, he married Bhuvaneswari, NTR’s third daughter.

Naidu, who was defeated in 1983 elections, switched loyalties to the TDP and subsequently emerged as the party’s back-room strategist.

In 1995, barely a year after NTR returned to power with a landslide majority, Naidu led a revolt against his father-in-law citing the growing interference of his second wife, Lakshmi Parvathi, in government and party affairs.

Naidu then played a key role in national politics as the convenor of United Front during 1996-1998 and remained in limelight by later joining hands with NDA and extending crucial outside support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government (1999-2004).

After the drubbing in the 2004 elections, Naidu severed all ties with NDA but his fortunes did not change in 2009.

In the aftermath of bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, Naidu returned to NDA and vowed to teach the Congress a lesson for dividing the state. While the TDP, in alliance with the BJP, came to power in Andhra Pradesh and won 16 Lok Sabha seats, including one in Telangana, huge majority for Narendra Modi deprived him of a king maker’s role in Delhi.

When Modi began warming up to YSR Congress party of Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, Naidu saw a threat to himself. He pulled out of the NDA, accusing Modi of betraying people of Andhra Pradesh by going back on the promise to accord it special category status.

Naidu attributed his latest move to “democratic compulsions”. With the Congress drawing a blank in 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections in truncated Andhra Pradesh, it no longer remained a major force in the state’s politics while the YSR Congress emerged as his main rival.

With the TDP almost on its last leg in Telangana, Naidu desperately needed something to revive the party’s fortunes. It joined hands with Congress to take on Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in the next month’s assembly polls.

The recent raids by Income Tax sleuths on TDP leaders had prompted Naidu to accuse Modi of witch-hunting. He began reaching out to his old friends among opposition parties and finally embraced the Congress to cobble together an anti-BJP front for 2019 elections.