By T S Sudhir
Last week, for three days, at the Telugu Desam’s Mahanadu (annual convention) in Hyderabad, party supremo Chandrababu Naidu was a man of many parts. He dressed as a farmer, a shephard, a warrior and so on. But his heart clearly is set on one other role.
At 60, Naidu wants nothing more desperately than his visiting card to state `Chief Minister, Andhra Pradesh’ once again. For a person who blushed with visible pride when fawning industrialists called him the CEO of Andhra Pradesh Inc. rather than CM of AP, Naidu now takes extra care to be politically correct. For the last six years, he has tried his best to convince everyone around him that he is a changed man. That he is more at home talking about the farmers of Warangal and Anantapur than with Bill Clinton and Bill Gates.
But selling ver.CBN2010 has not been easy. Because the software using which Naidu’s managers uploaded his hi-tech image between 1995 and 2004 makes it difficult to delete it from the memory of eight crore people. Any search engine will give you more dope on the laptop-wielding Naidu than a Naidu holding dried-up groundnut crop.
In fact, YSR, after his victory in May 2009, in his first post-election interview to Uma Sudhir of NDTV, claimed what helped him most in ensuring a victory was Naidu’s “lack of credibility”. “Everyone knows if Naidu is voted to power, he will log on once again to http://www.chandrababunaidu.com and get connected to everyone but the poor people of Andhra Pradesh,” joked YSR.
To ensure against that perception, Naidu went on a social networking overdrive before the elections, accepting friendship requests from just about everyone. From TRS to CPI to the CPM. But it did not work. The economics student in him, with a fascination for numbers, has spent the last one year lamenting that just one per cent more vote could have made him CM instead of YSR. Only if Chiranjeevi had not played the role of a villain in Naidu’s political life and split the anti-Congress vote. Only if Naidu had not overestimated KCR’s electoral clout in Telangana. Only if Junior NTR had not met with an accident, ruling him out of the election campaign. Only if … The list of viruses that affected the TDP’s hard disk goes on.
But it is not as if Naidu does not have his admirers. There are a sizeable number of them. The last few months have seen only confusion and a state of inertia in the corridors of power, with ministers engrossed more in politicking and bureaucrats trying to guage which way the political winds are blowing. It is in this vacuum that a Naidu is being missed, especially in the urban pockets of Andhra Pradesh. Citizens feel reassured if they think there is a pro-active government that works. Naidu gave that sense of dynamism, of being in control. Now there is a sense of desperation, of having a government working in no visible direction and Naidu needs to cash in.
Realising that 2014 will be a make-or-break year for his political career, Naidu has begun fortifying the TDP. Naidu knows only a straight contest between the Congress and the TDP will give him a chance to beat the ruling party and so Chiranjeevi’s political theatre will have to be demolished. Therefore, all the TDP leaders who were part of the Megastar’s political debut in 2009, are now being wooed back. Some like Devender Goud and Kala Venkat Rao have returned, some more may follow.
Political analysts however dismiss this homecoming as nothing but old wine in old bottles. Many of these leaders have been part of the TDP’s furniture since 1982 and are seen as incapable of offering anything new to either the party or the voters.
Knowing his charisma is no longer what it used to be when he was in power, Naidu is now even more dependent on the NTR clan, desperate to translate the crowd-pulling abilities of actors Balakrishna and Junior NTR into votes. His antennae shot up when the two landed up at Naidu’s sister-in-law, (Union minister of state for HRD) Puranadareswari’s place on Friday, to unveil NTR’s statue as Lord Krishna, as part of a NTR family get-together. So the two stars were asked to make an appearance at the Mahanadu as well, to demonstrate that All izz well between Naidu and the duo.
Not that Naidu does not have a hold over the two. Naidu has forged matrimonial alliances with both of them. Balakrishna’s daughter is Naidu’s daughter-in-law and Junior NTR is engaged to the daughter of Naidu’s niece.
But political analysts wonder if the NTR magic would work in 2014, eighteen years after the thespian passed away. With an entire new generation of young voters who have not grown up on NTR’s films, Naidu could be making a mistake by depending too much on invoking the TDP founder’s name and legacy.
Naidu’s biggest obstacle, however, could be the verdict the modern-day Srikrishna delivers on the contentious Telangana issue. So far, Naidu has kept his feet in both boats, claiming that Telangana and Andhra-Rayalaseema are like his two eyes and therefore he will not choose between the two. But the farsighted Naidu would realise he cannot be like the cat who closes his eyes while drinking milk, and thinks no one is watching. Naidu will be forced to take a stand, sooner rather than later and that is sure to have a bearing on his political future.
It is a tradition at the Mahanadu that Naidu keeps a clock in front of him to time each speaker and to press the buzzer to indicate his time is up. Naidu knows only too well that if the TDP’s bicycle does not reach the state Secretariat after the next elections, whenever they are held, there will be many an angry yellow shirt desperate to ring the bell and hand the CEO the pink slip.