| Naidu: First off the block
Hyderabad and New Delhi, Nov. 13: Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party today formally sought early Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, hoping to strike before an assassination attempt fades from public memory and unwilling to hitch its wagon to the BJP’s general election star.
A party resolution, adopted unanimously at a venue that had hosted many a turning point in Naidu’s political career, demanded a fresh mandate on the planks of Naxalite violence and “obstructionist” policies of the Opposition Congress.
“We are taking a historic decision to go back to the people, seeking their mandate to stamp out Naxalism, teach a fitting lesson to the opportunistic Congress and continue the development process with renewed vigour,” Naidu told 7,000 cheering delegates of the Desam.
Ever since Naidu survived a Naxalite attempt on his life near Tirupati last month, the chief minister had dropped hints that he was in favour of advancing the Assembly polls, scheduled for September 2004. The election is now likely to be held in March.
The resolution is expected to be taken up by the cabinet tomorrow. Once cleared, it will be sent to the governor with the recommendation to dissolve the House and ask Naidu to continue as caretaker.
The four-hour Desam spectacle, telecast live by some television channels, was held on the Exhibition Grounds in Hyderabad. Almost 20 years ago, Naidu, then a new enrant, was given a backseat at this venue by Desam founder .T. Rama Rao. Fourteen years later, the same ground witnessed Naidu’s emergence as the “kingmaker” of the United Front government.
A key reason for advancing the polls is the Desam’s misgivings on simultaneous elections to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha as there is a perception that Naidu will have to grapple with a “double anti-incumbency” factor.
In a delinked election, the Desam feels, more members from the minority community may vote for the party as there is no NDA in Andhra Pradesh.
If he becomes chief minister again, Naidu will be able to devote more time to the Lok Sabha polls and he will also be in an advantageous position to bargain with the BJP for more seats.
Since July this year, the BJP has been studying the pros and cons of advancing the Lok Sabha polls to February 2004. But Naidu pleaded against the move.
The BJP then toyed with the idea of advancing the Lok Sabha polls to May and sounded Naidu if he would wait till then for the Assembly elections. But the Desam boss was not willing for this gamble either.
Naidu, who wanted to delink the two polls, was worried that the BJP may advance the general elections if it did well in the elections in four heartland states on December 1.
Sources said that a few months ago, a Desam survey had suggested that the Congress might increase its Lok Sabha tally from the current five to at least 10, if not 14. Such a prospect is bound to affect the Desam performance in the Assembly polls, too, the party concluded.
Weather, too, has played a part in the schedule rejig. Last year’s drought had badly hit the image of the government with scores of farmers committing suicide. However, as luck would have it, the state was blessed with good monsoon this year.
“There is a feel-good factor now. We are not sure what will be the behaviour of rain gods next year,” said a Desam politburo member, listing the reasons for advancing the polls.
The party also did not want to give more time for the Congress to rejuvenate. The faction-ridden Congress had closed ranks of late and its padayatras have been drawing crowds.
The Naxalite attack came as a blessing in disguise. The Desam’s claim of a sympathy wave for Naidu is yet to be put to test but the attack did help the party divert attention from the fake stamp paper scam spread across over a dozen states. A Desam MLA was arrested and the Opposition had been trying to link the party’s leaders to the scandal.
Another reason being cited is astrological advice. An astrologer close to Naidu is said to have predicted that he would become chief minister again.