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Opinion: For Chandrababu Naidu’s Bicycle, A Puncture Is All It Takes

ciq3ma1 chandrababu naidu

Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu would often take a jibe at every public meeting he addressed — that his political rival Jagan Mohan Reddy has spent time in jail.

For the YSRCP and its leader, it rankled.

Mr Naidu liked to say he was the upright one, who was among the first politicians to voluntarily declare his annual income and that of his family. He boasted that he was an apostle of truth and uprightness who stood for development of the state.

Now YSRCP leaders openly say it is payback time. Videos have spawned featuring an old video of Jagan Mohan Reddy saying he took a slap and his time will come.

That time, it seems, is now.

Chandrababu Naidu has been sent to jail by a special court in Vijayawada, which accepted prima facie evidence that he was the prime conspirator in a case of diverting government money to private entities.

There are videos of celebrations by YSRCP leaders and cadre, even though they were reportedly told not to celebrate.

The image of a 73-year-old politician, widely respected by the people, being sent to jail could evoke sympathy. That is a chance the YSRCP would not want to take.

Its leaders, however, say there is no question of sympathy for Mr Naidu.

They point out that when Chandrababu Naidu advanced elections in 2004 following a Maoist attack on his life, hoping to cash in on sympathy, he had lost to the Congress and YS Rajasekhar Reddy.

Telugu Desam leaders and cadre appear stunned and yet to figure out how to fight this onslaught. There were audio leaks of TDP leaders asking its cadre to come out and show their frustration.

But the YSRCP government has managed to stop the protests from turning violent and taking over headlines.

With elections just months away, the YSRCP versus TDP battle will be fought as much, if not more, in the public domain than inside courts — because public perception matters more in the theatre of politics.

This time, if Mr Naidu and his team are busy playing defence, trying to stay out of jail and trouble, putting up a full-fledged fight for victory in elections could become a challenge.

Politics in Andhra Pradesh is personal, vicious and nasty. It is a battle where punching straight and punching below the belt are practised routinely for political impact.

So while the technicalities are argued in court, it will be a free-for-all outside, with YSRCP calling the TDP names and the TDP accusing the YSRCP of playing dirty.

Both YSRCP and the TDP have their loyal following in Andhra Pradesh and so at political rallies, very often, there are clashes when the two come face-to-face. That is only likely to get worse.

Already, Chandrababu Naidu has spent five years out of power and for a regional party, that makes matters tough. Mr Naidu’s Telugu Desam was once a party with deep pockets, with many businessmen-turned-politicians providing it with the fuel to fight elections.

In the last few years, many of those friends in business parted ways with him as criminal cases filed by multiple Central agencies put their primary business interest in danger.

Mr Naidu made a costly mistake in 2018-19, when he split ways with the BJP and took on its leadership, demanding special category status for Andhra Pradesh. Many see it as a trap set for him by Jagan Mohan Reddy, who had played his cards carefully and cleverly.

Mr Naidu has realised that it does not pay to have powerful enemies and tried multiple times to extend a hand of friendship again towards the NDA. But the BJP was apparently not willing to forgive and forget.

For Mr Naidu, walking away from the tag of Remand Prisoner number 7691 at Rajamahendravam Central Jail is going to be tough because while the legal battle is fought, his political opponents will throw it at him at every possible opportunity.

YSRCP leaders are talking about how this is only the beginning. There is much more to come and not for Naidu alone. His son Nara Lokesh will be arrested soon, said state tourism minister Roja. The state CID chief had also hinted at questioning the former IT minister.

Less than two weeks ago, there were reports that Chandrababu Naidu had received notice from the Income Tax department that he had not disclosed Rs 118 crore income that he allegedly got as kickback from top infra firms Shapoorji Pallonji and L&T. The firms were awarded contracts worth thousands of crores in Amaravati when he was Chief Minister.

All that is going to make it tough-pedalling for Chandrababu Naidu. Given his age and a dearth of second rung leaders, it will be an uphill task for the bicycle. A puncture is all it takes.

(Uma Sudhir is Executive Editor, String Reveals)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.