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Creaky car to hot seat

Hyderabad, May 16: As Andhra Pradesh Opposition leader, Chandrababu Naidu had to battle seven years just to get the state’s Congress government to replace his rickety bullet-proof Ambassador.

Today, after 10 years in the political wilderness, the Telugu Desam Party chief wrested a lot more from his chief political adversary.

A man derided during the campaign as “Now or Never Naidu” will now rule a piece of Andhra --- the new residuary state popularly called “Seemandhra”.

At the second-floor office at Naidu’s Jubilee Hills bungalow, where he was watching the election results on TV with son Lokesh and daughter-in-law Brahmani, cheers broke out when the Desam established a clear lead over nearest rival YSR Congress.

Sources said Naidu was planning the swearing-in at a Seemandhra location, perhaps Vijayawada or Visakhapatnam, although the Assembly and the state secretariat would be located in the common capital of Hyderabad for at least 10 years.

“My first signature will be on the file of the farm loan waiver,” said the man who had lost power in an unexpected rout in 2004, when he had refused to match the Congress’s poll offer of free power to farmers. This time, Naidu had promised free power for nine hours a day to farmers as well as a waiver on farm-loan arrears.

The last 10 years had been tough for Naidu, leading a desertion-ravaged party whose leaders and cadres had been demoralised in the face of the muscle and money-power of the Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy-led Congress.

“Rajasekhar Reddy attacked me in a very uncivilised manner, often using foul language in the Assembly,” Naidu had once said about his friend turned rival, who wouldn’t flinch from calling the Desam chief a “fool” on the floor of the House.

Naidu’s official vehicle, which kept breaking down, was replaced only after YSR died and K. Rosaiah took over as chief minister.

In the 2009 elections, Naidu’s comeback bid suffered when actor Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party entered the fray and split the anti-Congress vote, taking away 18 per cent of the vote share.

A large chunk of Chiranjeevi’s supporters came from the Kapu caste, who used to earlier support the Desam. In 2009, the Desam bagged 92 of the state’s 294 Assembly seats.

YSR’s sudden death in an air crash in September 2009, however, created a power vacuum in the state, allowing Naidu to begin plotting a comeback before the grant of statehood to Telangana decimated the Congress in Seemandhra.

The “Narendra Modi factor” and the Desam’s alliance with the Jana Sena of actor Pawan Kalyan, Chiranjeevi’s brother, too helped.

Naidu was candid today when asked whether his alliance with the BJP might not cost him minority votes.

“I know the risks but my intention behind the tie-up was to get central funds for development of the state,” he said. “I shall never let the minorities suffer.”

He then struck an optimistic note about development under a Modi government at the Centre, saying: “The corrupt team (Sonia and Rahul) has been banished by the development team.”

As counting went on late in the evening, the Desam was vying with the Congress to become the main Opposition in Telangana, which will be ruled by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.

After years of fighting intra-party intrigues alone, Naidu today has at his side his son Lokesh, who could become his second-in-command in both party and government. Naidu’s bother-in law, actor Nandamuri Balakrishna, too has been elected to the Assembly.

“Both are new to politics and governance, but I am confident that Lokesh will become a good lawmaker and administrator,” Naidu said.