TDP faces existential crisis under Naidu; his son has failed him

Gali Nagaraja

Hyderabad: Nara Chandrababu Naidu, president of the TDP and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, turned 70 on Sunday.

The occasion apparently gets stalked by the looming question whether the party founded by movie mogul N.T. Rama Rao nearly four decades ago will survive after Naidu.

It is not because of the TDP suffering the worst-ever crisis under his leadership. For that matter, the party weathered many electoral reverses and storms since its inception. The TDP survived a couple of infamous coups—one engineered by Nadella Bhaskara Rao, a close confident of NTR in August, 1984 to dislodge him from power with the help of then Governor Ram Lal—and the other one led by Naidu himself against his own mentor and father-in-law.

During the crisis in 1984 the whole party closed its ranks and stood behind NTR.  Chandrababu, known for his organisational skills, played catalyst, in launching the “save democracy movement” that forced then Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to sit up and take notice. In the succeeding revolt that came under the leadership of Naidu in the same month of August in 1994, a charismatic leader like NTR was thrown out of his own party. The party survived even then  as Naidu emerged as a successor of NTR with the appropriation of people through the successive elections.

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This steered clear of questions over leadership issues beyond NTR then. The TDP continued to hold its sway over the undivided Andhra Pradesh regardless of change of guards at the top up to the state bifurcation in 2014. Later, it faced serious existential issues and gradually faded into the pages of history in Telangana as an “outsider party”.   

The party’s dismal performance in the Parliament and Assembly elections in April, last year brings to the fore the question over its future after Naidu. He is aging and his 36-year old son Nara Lokesh failed to prove himself as the heir apparent with his humiliating defeat in the Mangalagiri Assembly constituency in   the capital region. Incidentally, Naidu fought that election, facing criticism from the opposition over his patronising dynastic politics.

The TDP ranks openly admit the fact that Lokesh is not a match for his father in terms of leadership traits and organisational skills. It’s true that Naidu with a meagre two acres of farm land in his native Naravaripalli in Chittoor district rose in politics like a colossus with fire in his flight. He had no God father and yet survived in politics for four decades.

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It is a different story for Lokesh. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father achieved power through tough battles. But Lokesh, as a prince of Nara family, became member of the party’s highest decision-making body, politburo, member of the AP Legislative Council and minister with plum portfolios of Panchayat Raj and IT– all in a span of three years since he joined the party.

Besides the leadership crisis, it is dilution of the party’s core values, marked by it opening doors for turncoats that is shaking its very foundation. That Naidu is not faithful to any particular school of political thought is evident with his oft-repeated saying, “I am a person with 30 per cent of Congress blood.”  The party still enjoys a strong cadre down the line.

Goratnla Buchaiah Chowdary, an old-timer in the party since NTR days, asserts that the TDP will continue to be relevant in Andhra Pradesh, a home to bipolar politics. There is no other party, including the BJP, within sight to fill the opposition space, he adds.

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