By T S Sudhir
“My MLAs are sick now because of your treatment here. There are no bathrooms, MLAs are suffering from diarrohea. For nine years I was chief minister. Behave properly. You are inhuman.”
This was an anguished Chandrababu Naidu letting off steam at the SP of Nanded district, on Monday night after he found to his shock and dismay that a vehicle used to transport undertrials had been arranged for him and the 60-odd other Telugu Desam leaders to shift them to Aurangabad jail.
That was not all. Wiping his moist eyes, Naidu then took on Maharashtra’s chief minister. Incidentally, Nanded is Ashok Chavan’s home district.
“Andhra Pradesh will teach him a lesson. You tell him. What are you thinking? Are we beggars? Convey my anguish, my anger. This is the anger of Andhra Pradesh. Even roadside beggars are treated better than us. I have seen politicians for the last 30 years.”
Not that more comfortable buses weren’t available. The volvo buses in which the TDP leaders had travelled from Hyderabad to Dharmabad on Friday were parked right outside the ITI campus in the town, which had served as prison for the VIPs since Friday evening.
“No, we cannot transport them in this as they are part of the seized records,” said a police officer. Law is blind, they say. You realise sometimes it is not streetsmart and practical as well.
Soon visuals of marks on the bodies of MPs and MLAs leaked out through MMS, which suggested the honourable men had been assaulted by Maharashtra police. Hyderabad went into a tizzy.
“This is an insult to Telugu atmagauravam,” thundered Mohan Babu, melodramatic actor and at one time, a Rajya Sabha MP courtesy NTR.
Back in Hyderabad on Tuesday night, Naidu tore into Rosaiah for not coming to his rescue.
“When we were there for five days, tortured by the police who were kicking us with their shoes, what was this CM doing? Dear chief minister, posts are not important. You have got this post by the people’s mandate. When that Telugu community is being dishonoured, don’t you have any shame or courage to protect state’s interest?”
TDP leaders’ securitymen claimed they were assaulted first by a group consisting of two DSPs and four constables. According to their version, on instructions from higher-ups, this group would pick up on a MLA or a MP, take him into an adjoining room, thrash him and put him back. Sounds very filmy but the TDP leaders had their bruises, bandaged feet and elbows to display as evidence.
Chief minister K Rosaiah believes there was no need for Naidu to up the ante by indulging in this kind of drama.
“He has in fact done a huge disservice to Telugus settled in Maharashtra. Half of Sholapur is Telugus,” he pointed out. “The issue is for Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra governments to sort out but the animosity to Naidu has made people on both sides hostile to each other.”
Expectedly, Naidu’s action met with an equal and opposite reaction from the more rabid elements in Maharashtra. Both the Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray’s MNS jumped into the fray in Dharmabad and Aurangabad.
“How dare you come to shoot at Babhli from Andhra,” thundered a Shiv Sena goon when we were taking shots of farm labour on a field in the backdrop of the Babhli barrage. As they let loose the choicest abuses in Marathi and threatened to smash our camera, my cameraperson bluffed that he was actually shooting for an agricultural documentary. Knowing it wouldn’t be long before someone in the village revealed we had already shot at the barrage, we made a hasty exit.
Back in Dharmabad town, a group of locals asked every pressperson, “Tum Andhra waale ho?” “Tum?” “Aur tum?”
One of the them noticed our OB van and piped up. “NDTV ka gaadi AP registration number hai.” Over the next half hour, journalists tried to make them understand that Hyderabad was only a geographical point from where we operated, it did not mean we peddled only the Andhra point of view.
For security reasons, all Telugu TV channels were kept out of Maharashtra to avoid providing target practise for MNS and Shiv Sena elements.
If nothing else, politicians cutting across party and region lines have mastered the craft of dividing people, their hearts and minds on geographical lines. In Andhra Pradesh, vehicles with MH registration were vandalised, ditto those with AP registration in Maharashtra.
The drama continued on the tarmac at Aurangabad airport, with Naidu refusing to board the special IC 001 arranged for the TDP group. “I will not leave Maharashtra till I am shown Babhli.” No pleas or threats worked and Naidu soon found himself in the airspace between Aurangabad and Hyderabad.
But not for anything is Naidu a crafty politician. On that 45-minute flight, he would have realised that behind the dark clouds, is a silver lining.
Naidu’s ambiguous stand on statehood to Telangana was a political embarrassment for his party but by patenting the Babhli campaign, Naidu has earned psychological comfort. TDP could not open its mouth in Telangana, because statehood votaries would demand to know its stand on Telangana. Now it can claim to have fought against `British-type ill-treatment’ for the people of the region.
Two, the last few months have seen a chorus for Jagan as the CM-in-waiting, almost as if there is no other claimant to the post. Naidu wants to tell the world he is in the race as well. What will help Naidu is that despite his two eyes theory on Telangana, the TDP still remains a vibrant political force in the region.
Three, Naidu’s aim is not to excel in these byelections. It will hardly make a difference to his fortunes even if his tally goes up by a couple of seats. His real target would be the local bodies elections and Babhli has succeeded in uniting different regional factions in the TDP after Telangana exposed the fissures. To that extent, Babhli waters have helped rejuvenate the party.
And last, if anything happens in Andhra Pradesh’s favour over Babhli or any of the other so-called `illegal projects’ constructed by Maharashtra over the Godavari, Naidu will get all the credit.
One only wishes that the former CM who styled himself as the CEO of AP Inc for nine years, didn’t behave like a troublesome trade union leader, trying to break the police cordon on the Andhra-Maharashtra border. That was a typical case of a sacked CEO crossing the line.