Chandrababu Naidu plans 1996 repeat, with Deve Gowda as PM

Chandrababu Naidu plans 1996 repeat, with Deve Gowda as PM
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By S. Rama Krishna

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president N. Chandrababu Naidu wants to repeat a 1996 United Front (UF) type experiment post the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, with H.D. Deve Gowda as Prime Minister, in case the Bharatiya Janata Party falls short of the halfway mark of 272 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha and also fails to find allies to take it to the magic number. By this, Naidu not only hopes to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from returning to power, but also intends to install a government which is completely amenable to the demands made by the regional leaders, say political observers. Moreover, thus he too can preside over the coalition just the way he did as UF convener in 1996.

Naidu was in Bengaluru to attend the swearing-in of H.D. Kumaraswamy as the Chief Minister of Karnataka. There, he held one-on-one meetings with his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav. After his return from Bengaluru, Naidu has been talking of how he played a key role in installing the United Front government at the Centre in 1996, when Congress failed to achieve a simple majority in the Lok Sabha and how he, along with Left veterans Harkishan Singh Surjeet and A.B. Bardhan, had selected Deve Gowda as Prime Minister, with the backing of the Congress, which was then led by Sitaram Kesri.

“We did not allow him (Gowda) to complete his full term of five years, because of the Congress’ decision to withdraw support. Now the Congress can compensate for its misdeed by allowing him to complete the remaining period of the term,” Naidu is believed to have said, according to sources.

Naidu wants to cobble together a coalition of regional parties and take the help of the Congress to form government at the Centre. Though the Congress may be the single largest Opposition party, Naidu wants the Congress to play the second fiddle and reserve the PM post for a regional leader, Gowda, as he is from the South and a veteran non-Congress figure.

According to those who accompanied him to Bengaluru, Naidu was the centre of attention for all non-Congress leaders who wanted to take further the spirit of Karnataka’s coalition experiment and urged him to take the lead. Even Deve Gowda was keen on Naidu taking an active role in national politics and congratulated him for walking out of the NDA two months ago.

Naidu, who has been going through a low moment in Andhra politics, thanks to friend-turned-foe BJP and an aggressive YSR Congress leader, Jagan Mohan Reddy, is elated over the response he got from the regional leaders in Bengaluru. “Perhaps, this is the happiest moment for him (Naidu) in recent days,” said an official in the CM office.

The Andhra CM is expected to hold a conclave of regional parties either in New Delhi or in Amaravati to forge greater unity before the next elections. Mamata Banerjee and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury specifically asked Naidu to take the initiative. To begin with, a conclave of non-BJP parties will be held, based on the rights of the states and the federal structure.

Naidu is aware of the efforts being made by several leaders to forge a federal front or a third front at the Centre. Telangana CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao has been touring several states and meeting regional leaders to muster their support for a federal front of his own version, while Mamata Banerjee is actively encouraging whoever wants to take on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Naidu is also aware of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s efforts to rub shoulders with regional chieftains who are away from the BJP camp. But for Naidu’s plan to succeed, a scenario has to emerge where the Congress is left far behind, and provides support to a government formed by regional parties. Naidu hopes to preside over such a coalition like he did in 1996 when he was the United Front convener. Andhra special representative in Delhi and former MP Kambhampati Rammohan Rao told this newspaper that Naidu had the experience of being in a leadership role at the Centre. “He (Naidu) has all the political and administrative experience and acceptability among many regional parties and the Left camp,” said Rao. In fact, Naidu even said this at a TDP convention in Hyderabad on Friday: “I am the senior most Chief Minister in the country and even senior to PM Modi in politics. I can run national politics and would be playing a key role in Delhi after 2019.” At the same time, he made it clear that he would continue to be the Chief Minister in Andhra.

“I got an opportunity to become the PM twice in the mid 1990s when Gowda and I.K. Gujral were selected as PM eventually. But I decided to stick to AP as CM as I wanted to serve my people,” said Naidu.

BJP MP G.V.L. Narasimha Rao downplayed CM Naidu’s comment, saying that the latter had declined the PM post knowing well that it would be a short-lived joy due to the conditions prevailing at the time.

Courtesy: Sunday Guardian Live