Sunday, 25 August 2019 06:51 GMT

Modi versus Naidu - it's a deliberate gamble by both

(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Indians in general are an emotional, sentimental lot. A cricket stadium where their national team plays any of the major Test-playing teams is a prime advertisement for the expression of these emotions. Perhaps that is as it should be. For, what is sport but a mixture of laughter and tears, celebration and mourning, depending on the fortunes of the team you support?
But can governments, too, be run on emotions? Yes, says Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who, otherwise, is known to love computers more than anything else. He says his state's demand for a 'special category status is an emotional issue for his people and since Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not willing to extend it to Andhra Pradesh, his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is walking out of the federal government.
It is only ‘emotional' for Naidu because much of the financial privileges that accrue to a special category state have already been extended to Andhra Pradesh during these past four years since it came into being and, curiously, even constitutionally the state does not attract that ‘special' nomenclature.
The loss of Hyderabad to Telangana had left Andhra Pradesh high and dry in terms of revenue. Special status could make up for it by way of direct financial grants as well as tax holidays that could attract private investments.
Naidu feels his people had been led up the garden path by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Modi and, therefore, would not want to be part of it. Last week he asked his two ministers, Ashok Gajapati Raju (Civil Aviation) and Yalamanchili Satyanarayana Chowdary (Science and Technology and Earth Sciences) to resign. But Naidu did not walk out of the NDA as such, leading to speculation he may be keeping the door open for a return in case Modi concedes his demand.
In February 2014, then prime minister Manmohan Singh told parliament that special category status would be accorded to the successor state of Andhra Pradesh for five years. But those were the days when the prime minister had little say in matters. Even his own party leaders objected to the announcement and states like Tamil Nadu rose in protest.
Eventually, when the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, under which the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, was passed, it did not provide for any special status. All that the Act said was the federal government 'may, having regard to the resources available to the successor state of Andhra Pradesh, make appropriate grants and also ensure that adequate benefits and incentives in the form of special development package are given to the backward areas of the state…
Then the 14th Finance Commission, constituted in January 2014 and headed by former Reserve Bank governor Yaga Venugopal Reddy, incidentally from the undivided Andhra Pradesh, submitted its report in December of that year. Meanwhile the Manmohan Singh government gave way to the Modi regime in May. Personally, Naidu was the beneficiary of the bifurcation as the people of the state felt betrayed by the Congress Party and voted overwhelmingly against it in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
It is a fact that in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, when the TDP joined hands with the BJP, Modi had promised to consider special category status to Andhra Pradesh if he became prime minister. But that was before the Act was passed by parliament and before the Finance Commission, which defines the federal-state relationship in financial terms, said in its report that special category status should be done away with except in the case of the seven north-eastern states as well as the three hill states, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.
So, what is this special status all about? Special status ensures that 90% of federal funds for state projects routed through the National Development Council was regarded as grants, meaning it need not be returned. Naidu's two showpiece projects, his capital city of Amaravati and the Polavaram hydro-electric project, were to be built with federal funds.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has time and again promised on the floor of parliament that Andhra Pradesh would not be left to fend for itself and that the promised funding will be extended but without the special category status. According to one BJP leader, much of the financial assistance that was designed to be defrayed over ten years has already been delivered in four years.
Modi and Jaitley are also concerned that if they concede one request from an ally, there will be a series of similar demands from other allies like the Janata Dal (United)-led government of Bihar and even the BJP-ruled states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
If the money had been coming in, why is Naidu still angry? The reasons may not be far to seek. As the old saying goes, all politics is local and this one too has more to do with Andhra politics than with federal funding and special status.
Though Naidu has a decent majority in the present state assembly, the challenge from Jagan Mohan Reddy's YSR Congress is formidable. Though he has sent enough signals to the BJP that he would not be averse to a tie-up ahead of next year's elections, Reddy had been harking on the special status point just to spite Naidu and show him as ineffective. By quitting the federal government Naidu wants to send out the message that he is ready for any sacrifice for the sake of his people.
Though somewhat remote, Naidu must also be aware of the possibility of a hung parliament in 2019, a scenario in which he would not want to miss out of playing the kingmaker. The possible coming together of some regional parties, including the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh, has kindled nascent hopes of a larger alliance to take on the BJP.
Having left the government, it is just one step away for Naidu to leave the NDA and move to another alliance and, if luck would have it, even lead it. After all, what is a politician without ambition?
The problem for Naidu is he is up against a man who is the master of the game. Modi does not seem to be too much bothered about alliances of disparate regional parties. He knows that as long as he has the Congress Party under the radar, he should have it relatively easy in next year's elections. Hence the continued harking on the alleged misdeeds of the Manmohan Singh government though four years have passed since then.
Some may see his willingness to sacrifice the only ally in South India as a gamble, but Modi is fully confident of his brand value that has stood in good stead for the BJP in state after state. With the Congress a totally spent force in Andhra, the BJP has conveniently occupied that space and is expanding its base relentlessly. It will be suicidal for Naidu or Reddy not to anticipate the possibility that the Modi-Amit Shah combine, that has managed to sweep every poll in the past four years except in Delhi and Punjab, could well be sitting on the right side of the aisle post-2019 polls.
But hubris has been the undoing of many politicians, big and small. Modi cannot be an exception to that rule. The previous BJP government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee was also doing well on both economic and social fronts. Vajpayee's advisers were confident, nay over-confident, that another election victory was assured. So, Vajpayee called elections six months in advance and promptly lost.
Will Modi let history repeat itself this time by alienating allies, or will he make one? Will he go the Vajpayee way, or will he become the first non-Congress prime minister to retain power? We will know the answers in about 14 months.


Modi versus Naidu - it's a deliberate gamble by both


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