Hyderabad, Sept. 1: Seven years since he usurped power, Nara Chandrababu Naidu is still at the political and reforms crossroads, despite support from international monetary organisations, a friendly Centre and a spineless Opposition in the state.
Naidu loyalists have painted a rosy picture of growing state domestic product, increasing literacy rate and a fall in female infanticide. However, starvation deaths by farmers, lock-up deaths and a public debt of more than Rs 50,000 crore — entailing annual interest payment of Rs 6,000 crore — belie the claims.
Criticism of the government’s public finance systems from various quarters, including the Comptroller and Auditor General, did not make any impact. Besides, its failure to hold fruitful talks with the People’s War Group only served to strengthen the resolve, in some sections, to face police with bullets. The outcry of human rights’ organisations have fallen on deaf ears.
Dreams of “Swarnandhra” and “cyber dollars” remain unfulfilled, with almost 32,000 software engineers without jobs in the US and an almost equal number returning from America in the last two years. Seats in many engineering colleges were not filled despite the liberal engineering entrance examinations. In 2002, the International Institute of Information Technology could fill its seats for undergraduate courses only after the third advertisement.
However, the situation is not totally bleak. In the last five years, Naidu has minimised the glamour of film stars in politics and even N.T. Rama Rao’s actor son has disappeared from the political landscape.
There has also been a sea change in the national outlook of the Telugu Desam since Naidu took over the reins of the party. While Rama Rao tried to keep Opposition parties together, Naidu has taken advantage of the popularity of the winning combination at the Centre.
When the United Front was in power at the Centre, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister was its kingmaker. Later, when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power, Naidu became its supporter. He was a crucial player in both formulations by virtue of the number of MPs and exploited both.
The chief minister got clearances for choice airlines to fly via Hyderabad to Dubai and Singapore and procured 36 lakh tonnes of rice for anti-poverty programmes. Naidu also got a World Bank loan of Rs 1,600 crore to tide over the fiscal crisis caused by his reforms programme.
The Desam chief has also ushered in an era of privatisation, especially in tourism where guesthouses and even transport are handled by the private sector. “Soon, even the maintenance and security of monuments will be handled by private operators,” a tourism department spokesman had recently declared.
A recently document shows that Andhra is among the top five states in gross state domestic product. The growth in the primary sector is 4.44 per cent and in the secondary sector, the figure is 5.73 per cent.
The Desam chief is portrayed as the saviour of the state. His position has been strengthened by a divided Opposition and a dormant media. “Why have the 91 legislators of the Congress not raised a storm in the Assembly' Why has the media not exposed him'” ask some concerned citizens.
To ensure good publicity, the chief minister has appointed media managers in the party and the government. Although the information and public relations department has a budget of Rs 30 crore, it spends almost Rs 74 crore by drawing funds from other departments.
Naidu has also whipped up his campaign against the Congress in the last two months and has not even spared AICC president Sonia Gandhi. “We were the first to declare that she is not eligible to become Prime Minister. Jayalalithaa is just making noises now,” asserts the Desam chief.
He has charged the Congress of opposing programmes like Janmabhoomi and Food for Work after “exploiting it for its political goals”.
Congress leader Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy is alleged to have used the programmes to lay a road to his field in Pulivendla village of Cuddapah district.
The Desam chief, who is already fighting a bitter duel with state BJP leaders over Telengana and land issues, has also kept his options open on continued support to the party.
Naidu has also retained his hold over the Desam, despite promising in September 1995 to give up the presidentship of the party within six months. The Desam chief is involved in day-to-day training programmes of party cadre and also their selection.