Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu took his protest for special category status for the state to Delhi on Monay, when he staged a 12-hour dharna at Andhra Bhavan. In these 12 hours, nearly two dozen Opposition leaders flocked to the protest seemingly to show solidarity for Naidu’s cause.
However, what was meant to be a platform to press for the demand for special category status in accordance with the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, turned into a stage for Modi bashing, but more importantly, one to showcase Opposition unity. From Congress president Rahul Gandhi, former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and HD Deve Gowda, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, to rebel BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha, former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and leader of BJP ally Shiv Sena, Sanjay Raut, Naidu garnered the support of Opposition leaders from across the spectrum.
At the dharna in Delhi, these leaders not only reiterated their support for special status for Andhra Pradesh, but also took the opportunity to bring up what they believe are failures of the Modi government. Ever ready to bring up the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal, Rahul said: “The prime minister has stolen from the people of Andhra Pradesh and given that money to Anil Ambani. I want to let you know that we all stand together. We are going to defeat the BJP.”
But Manmohan, who was the prime minister when Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated and Telangana was carved out of it, stayed true to the cause and said: “This demand had the support of all parties when it was discussed in Parliament. I stand in solidarity with Naidu.”
Naidu played smart by holding his protest in Delhi instead of in Andhra Pradesh. His hunger strike not only drew the attention of national media, instead of just a section of the media, it made enough of an impact for BJP president Amit Shah to issue a statement on Naidu, and not have one of his lackeys hold another press conference to counter any charges pressed against the BJP or BJP-led NDA government.
In an “open letter to the people of Andhra Pradesh”, Shah wrote that the TDP chief “is back to theatrics and histrionics” and his “desperation for grabbing headlines is understandable as he is aware that his political fortunes are declining rapidly”.
The BJP does not consider Naidu or his TDP a threat. It has repeatedly dismissed his efforts to bring the Opposition together to form an anti-BJP front. But the Opposition’s latest show of strength at his protest in Delhi, which can be considered comparable to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s 19 January United India rally in Kolkata, appears to have rattled the BJP enough for Shah to speak up for the saffron unit himself.
“The enlightened and politically-conscious people will see through his desperation to retain power. They will teach a befitting lesson to him in the coming elections for having joined hands with the Congress, which bifurcated the state in a unilateral, hasty and unscientific manner, ignoring the interests of the state,” he said, regardless of the fact that Manmohan has repeatedly urged Parliament to keep his Congress government’s promise to the people of Andhra and grant the state special category status, the very demand that the BJP government has been ignoring.
The BJP chief also sought to draw attention to the way Naidu had usurped the TDP throne from its founder, NTR, and also drill home the fact that he was joining hands with the Congress, the very party against which the TDP was formed.
In a near clear bid to save face, the Congress has been backing Naidu’s demand for special category status, more so since the election season began. In this regard, Shah’s statement may not hold ground as it is his party that’s blocking the move, as a result of which the TDP pulled out of the NDA government in March 2018.
Staving off Naidu’s anti-BJP efforts may not have been high on the party’s priority list, but Monday’s dharna changes things. The turnout of nearly two dozen of Opposition leaders threw the BJP off enough to have a party biggie step in with its usual politics of blame.
In fact, Shah’s reaction proves that Naidu got exactly what he wanted with this protest — he wanted to draw eyeballs; he wanted to get noticed by those whose views matter in current politics, which is surely not the BJP’s go-to spokesperson Sambit Patra; he wanted to showcase that he could garner Opposition support if he wanted to.
“His actions smack of political opportunism,” Shah wrote in his open letter. Whether or not he is right about Naidu’s intentions, the tactic is nothing new to Indian politics, especially to the BJP which jumps at any opportunity to target the Congress, especially the Gandhi-Nehru family, and stops at nothing to ridicule the Opposition.