Perhaps not many outside Andhra Pradesh are aware that Nara Chandrababu Naidu and Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy were close friends and young ministers in the same Congress government in undivided AP 40 years ago.
The three-time chief minister and TDP chief Naidu is now fighting a “do or die” battle with his friend turned foe’s son YSRCP chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy. For both it is a question of their survival in politics.
Naidu, who “hijacked” the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from his father-in-law and thespian NT Rama Rao or NTR in 1995 to become the CM of AP, has come a long way.
Both Naidu and YSR won their first MLA election in 1978 on the Congress ticket. Both are from Rayalaseema region and went on to become junior ministers in the T Anjaiah-led government in the early 1980s.
Incensed by the treatment meted out to CM Anjaiah by AICC general secretary Rajiv Gandhi at Hyderabad airport, the Telugu matinee idol NTR founded TDP to uphold Telugu pride and rode to power in the 1983 Assembly elections.
However, his son-in-law Naidu was still with the Congress and lost his election to TDP. Later, he joined his father-in-law’s party. And friends YSR and Naidu fell out after that. Till that moment both were supporters of Sanjay Gandhi and leading figures in the youth Congress.
His moment of glory came a few months later. While NTR was away in the USA for medical treatment, the then PM Indira Gandhi toppled his government and installed “rebel” TDP man Nadendla Bhaskar Rao as the CM. NTR took this as a challenge and moved his MLAs to neighbouring Karnataka ruled by the friendly Janata Party.
Young Naidu impressed him by ensuring that no MLA switched sides to other camp and earned the confidence of his father-in-law.
NTR once again won and made Naidu general secretary of the TDP. During NTR’s rule between 1984 and 1989, Naidu played a major role in AP politics proving his mettle.
In the 1989 Assembly elections, Naidu won from Chandragiri defeating the Congress wave which had swept the entire state. NTR made him a coordinator of the TDP to handle the party affairs and Naidu managed that well establishing himself as a key figure in AP politics.
NTR returned to power in 1994. Naidu was his finance minister. He and some TDP leaders staged a coup over NTR’s second marriage to a Sanskrit lecturer Lakshmi Parvathi and succeeded in unseating the matinee idol. Naidu became the CM of AP in 1995 and projected himself as a progressive, modern ruler who focused more on technology-driven growth.
During the HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral’s 1996-98 governments Naidu was one of the key regional leaders in New Delhi. Later he switched sides and joined AB Vajpayee’s BJP-led NDA as a main ally. Between 1999 and 2004, Naidu was the second most important man after Vajpayee because of his party’s strength in the Lok Sabha.
During his nine-year rule, Hyderabad emerged as an international IT hub and he had put AP firmly on the global map. He even survived a Naxal ambush on him at Tirupati in 2003.
He was at the peak of his popularity and power in 2004. But a re-energized Congress led by Dr. YSR handed out a shock defeat to Naidu in the 2004 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
According to him, the 10 years between 2004 and 2014 was the worst period of his life. He had to sit in the opposition for 10 years and many had written him off.
A shrewd, gritty and calculative Naidu surprised everyone by returning to power in the 2014 elections by defeating Jaganmohan Reddy. Naidu had an alliance with Modi-led NDA in that election.
The English media started referring to Naidu as CEO of AP for his overly corporate friendly policies during his second term. According to his close confidantes Naidu got carried away by that high decibel campaign and ignored the real issues like rural distress. That finished him in 2004. After the bifurcation of AP, Naidu's influence has diminished drastically and he is now trying to project himself as a son of the soil who cares for farmers and rural people.
But, he was not happy with the way he was treated by Modi whom he calls his junior in politics. Speaking to media he had said “Modi is my junior. Just to satisfy his ego I call him sir”.
In early last year TDP walked out of Modi government over “step motherly” treatment to AP.
Naidu knows that nothing is impossible in politics. He shocked everyone by aligning with the Congress in Telangana Assembly elections. But that alliance was doomed and dented his image badly.
The TDP and Congress have decided to fight separately in the coming Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in AP. The YSRCP has dubbed it as another drama by him.
Naidu became a minister at the age of just 28 and has completed 41 years in electoral politics. Born into a small farming family at Naravarapalle in Chittoor district, he had to walk 11km daily to reach his middle and high school.
In AP politics, Naidu is phenomenon. And he is also one of the top regional leaders in the country. If he beats Jagan and Modi this time, he may even go to New Delhi to helm a Congress backed non-BJP government at the Centre claim his confidantes. As usual Naidu is keeping the cards close to his chest.