Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ratna Column: Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest will have far-reaching effects

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The sensational arrest of former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and president of Telugu Desam Party N Chandrababu Naidu in the scam related to the Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Corporation’s scheme for youth is bound to have far-reaching effects on the political situation in Andhra Pradesh, where Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy is seeking re-election solely based on his government’s welfare benefits while the opposition parties are bent upon avoiding a split in the anti-establishment votes.

One of the unintended consequences of Naidu’s arrest is the huge attention and widespread sympathy it has already drawn in various parts of the world. The sordid episode has attracted unusual attention from people belonging to many walks of life, including Telugu NRIs across the globe. The ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) seems to be mulling how to wriggle out of the unpleasant situation due to its possible negative fallout.

On the face of it, Naidu’s arrest is a positive development for the ruling YSRCP as its cadre can highlight the minus points of the administration during the Nandu regime. They can thus temper the ‘do or die ‘ spirit with which the TDP is apparently approaching the electoral battle.

Naidu has been steering the party for 28 years, apart from having had stints as chief minister in both combined and residual state of Andhra Pradesh. His questionable role in the scam involving Rs. 371 crore may affect his political life. So, the political atmosphere in AP has changed completely following his arrest. Many rallies have been held across the state, elsewhere in the country as well as abroad protesting the arrest of Naidu, with critics dubbing it as “an undemocratic act on the part of the Jagan government”.

Jagan himself must have felt the impact of the arrest as, despite being in London on a personal trip at the time of Naidu’s arrest, he witnessed protests organised by Naidu’s ‘sympathisers’ in front of his camp in England. The protesters might be sympathisers of TDP but they had rallied in the name of ‘Telugu people living on foreign soil in different countries across the globe’. Such calibrated protests have embarrassed YSRCP.

The sympathy for Naidu, growing by the day, could negatively impact YSRCP’s prospects in the upcoming polls. The salient features of the skill development programme, involving 2.13 lakh students, were appreciated by the state government in 2021. The state government’s present claim that Rs. 240 crore out of Rs. 371 crore allocated for the scheme had been misused by the previous government raises questions over how nearly 70% of the total amount could be swindled in a project that involves the operation of thousands of skilling centres.

Not many will buy the view in some quarters that Naidu’s arrest was made by the CID without consulting Jagan. The project had been handed over to the state government in 2021. This implies that the Jagan government did not act on this immediately but went ahead with the arrest of Naidu in view of the impending Assembly polls in the state. The state government has ensured maximum publicity to this episode for deriving political mileage.

Amidst all this, the ongoing protests, even in foreign countries, has altered political equations. Things have come to such a pass that TDP can now withstand the electoral challenges hurled by YSRCP from a position of strength based on new-found sympathy for Naidu.

The alliance between TDP and Jana Sena Party (JSP), announced JSP president Pawan Kalyan after his meeting with Naidu at the Rajahmundry Central Prison, has given heft to both the opposition parties. The power of this alliance will be seen in the Assembly segments that had witnessed a split in the anti-establishment votes in the previous elections. This has sent shock waves to the ruling party, which had been daring the JSP chief to go it alone in the upcoming elections. In any case, YSRCP cadre cannot effectively counter those protesting Naidu’s arrest beyond the borders of the state.

Pawan may have faced criticism for being mere flag-bearer for TDP. In the changed political context, however, he could be a pallbearer for Jagan’s rule in the forthcoming Assembly elections, considering that he has vowed to unseat Jagan at any cost.

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