Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Will Naidu gain public sympathy enough to hit back at critics ?

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The arrest of Telugu Desam Party president and ex-chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu for alleged involvement in the ‘AP skill development scam’ has given rise to a theory that he could benefit significantly from the sympathy factor that has emerged as a fallout of the way he was put behind bars. The larger question is: Can he gain public sympathy that is enough to beat his opponent? That is a moot question because in the past riveting political dramas involving politicians did not yield expected gains. But Naidu’s admirers insist that he will get public sympathy enough to gain an upper hand over his critics. Neutral political observers have, however, kept a stiff upper lip.

After Naxalites made an attempt on his life in October 2003, Naidu, then combined AP’s chief minister, with his hand in plaster cast, used to be greeted by a large number of people every day for a few days at his home. People who had poured into Hyderabad from different places across combined AP used to chant “long live Naidu” before dispersing. Despite the show of strength by peopledescribed by the party as Naidu’s die-hard supporters, the TDP suffered a humiliating defeat in the subsequent Assembly elections that brought Congress party’s YS Rajasekhara Reddy to power. YSR went on to become the most popular chief minister in the annals of combined Andhra Pradesh.

Now, with Naidu in Rajahmundry Central Jail, the scenesare being repeated for obvious reasons.A section of the media is projecting the visit of the rich and mighty, IT professionals and others to Rajahmundry amid the perceived sympathy wave across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Neutral political observers see the present predicament of Naidu as just another episode in his mission to grab power. When he was the chief minister, he embraced the new economic policies, thereby distancing himself from not only the poor but also farmers and agricultural economists. He was praised to the skies by a section of the foreign media whose representatives had visited the combined Andhra Pradesh on a conducted tour. His affair with the media ended when the Congress bounced back to power in the combined Andhra Pradesh with a massive majority under the leadership of YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Despite succeeding in bringing together all non-Congress parties, including the Communists, to beat YS Rajasekhara Reddy, Naidu suffered humiliation. He could rebuildhis political career only after the tragic death of YS Rajasekhara Rao and the arrest of his son YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.

In the 2014 Assembly elections, the missteps of Jagan Mohan Reddy took their toll on YSRCP. In just four years, the political fortunes of Naidu nosedived. What happened in four years and what led to Naidu’s humiliating defeat once again in 2018 is attributed to people’s anger over his policies that did not allow the benefits of the growing economy to trickle down to the poor. This is also one of the assessments by agricultural economists.

Naidu was accused of transforming the police force into instruments of state repression when mounted police personnel used their horses to supress protesting Anganwadi women. Naidu’s admirers may not hold him responsible for such events, but these painful events remain fresh in people’s minds.

Today, the police in Andhra Pradesh are not seen as instruments of repression. He, however, has given carte blanche to the special force, called the Crime Investigation Department, to target high-profile politicians. They are doing their job and how! Even at court, Naidu’s lawyers, instead of repudiating the charge of his involvement in the Rs 360 crore skill development project scam, harped on the failure of the CID police get the mandatory prior sanction under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act before instituting criminal proceedings against the former chief minister.

Naidu owes people an explanation about the disappearance of his personal assistant P Srinivas, an aide to him for many years. Even the Income Department officials examined Srinivas. The IT Department even served a notice to Naidu over unaccounted income totalling Rs 100 crore. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government too should explain why the CID has not issued a lookout notice for Srinivas so far.

Followers of YS Rajasekhar Reddy recalled how Telugu Desam Party leaders had mocked them when Jagan Mohan Reddy was arrested and how they tried to tarnish the image of YSR. The TDP leaders threw mud at YSR, though it did not stick to the departed leader. Considering that the skill development case is sub judice, suffice to say that Naidu seems to have lost his capacity as a great strategist. It remains to be seen how he wriggles out of the current situation.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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